CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

June 26, 2012

The Great Auk and Dodo Birds


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

THE GREAT AUK AND DODO BIRDS

(The great auk was) Rich in protein, chock-full of nutritious fats and oils, and great for baiting fishhooks, this flightless seabird was, well, great…3

A snippet of a news magazine article I discovered stated that the Wabanaki Indians left shell heaps along the shores of Maine’s Downeast region, which the Europeans discovered this area in the 1600s.2

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The main character in the first part of my article, Madame Rosalie de Leval, had negotiated with land speculators Gen. Henry Knox and William Duer to purchase acreage in Downeast Maine, on the mainland across from Mount Desert Island. Madame planned on developing a French colony there for her countrymen, refugees from the French Revolution.

Gen. Henry Jackson, Gen. Knox’s agent, accompanied Madame on a voyage from Boston to Frenchman Bay, where she expected to examine the land included in her tentative land sales contract. The sloop anchored at Naskeag Point, from which Mount Desert Island was in view, to pick up a new pilot.

It was likely that the new pilot told her and Gen. Jackson about the nature of the country at Naskeag Point.

“The soil is strong and productive. Signs show that this area was once inhabited by an unknown people. That this is true is shown by antiquities, such as such as arrowheads, stone hatchets and chisels, and pieces of rude pottery found here. Residents have also discovered the bones of moose, deer, bear, and a variety of birds amid the shell heaps that cover acres of land in this area. Among the bones of birds that have been unearthed are those of the extinct Great Auk, which tends to show that an arctic climate once prevailed here.”

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The auk, Found on the rocky islands and coastal areas on both sides of the North Atlantic, was already extinct when Madame and her settlers arrived in Maine. That was too bad, since it was such a great food source (as if there was any lack in wild game and fish at that time in Downeast Maine): Rich in protein, chock-full of nutritious fats and oils, and great for baiting fishhooks, this flightless seabird was, well, great…(it) was hunted for its feathers, skin, and eggs to boot.

Starting in the early 16th century, sailors began marching the clueless creatures up the gangplank and pushing them into the ship’s hold by the hundreds…The last auk pair was killed on an island off the coast of Iceland back in 1844.3

The auk was described as being a somewhat smaller version of (another extinct bird) the dodo, with the brains to match.3

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The dodo birds referred to above were Bigger than turkeys and didn’t exactly have the best survival strategy on the block…Not only was the dodo a flightless bird, it also had tiny wings, a small tuft of curly feathers on its bum, and it laid only one egg a year.

European sailors who landed on the shores of Mauritius in the early 16th century got a big laugh out of the clumsy bird, which, in addition to its previously lamented attributes, had absolutely no fear of man.3

Dutch settlers called the dodo walgvogel, or “disgusting bird.” Although the dodo wasn’t as tasty as the auk, and was said to be close to inedible, The sailors also got quite a few meals out of the aves.).

Pigs, rats, and monkeys introduced to the island helped man kill off the bird by 1681.3

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It’s too bad the great auk and the dodo bird are extinct. They might make a great addition to bird watching in today’s world.

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ADDITIONAL READING:

Eliminate feral birds: A call for political action

FERAL BIRDS: THE LATEST COMMUNITY HAZARD

A BLUE BUTTERFLY and STAR GAZER LILIES

OBITUARY FOR BLUE BUOY (A Blue Lobster)

THE SNITTY CAT LIKES PUMPKIN PIE?

SOURCES

1A Survey of Hancock County, Maine, Samuel Wasson

2American Profile (Newspaper magazine), undated article, pp. 12   No print copy

3mental_floss presents FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE, A wickedly SMART GUIDE to HISTORY’S NAUTIEST BITS, pp 178-179

Photos:

Auk:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Auk

Dodo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo

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