Tag Archives: ornithology

What is a “seahawk” anyway?

A sports team of ambiguous nomenclature and symbolism takes the field today. The seahawk logo matches the appearance of no Seattle bird that I know of. The logo design itself appears not to be a hawk, but an eagle, a design taken from the Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask of the Coastal Indians. Even though the NFL knows all about property rights and branding, no Indian got any royalties, to my knowledge.

The captive bird that flies out before games is an Augur hawk from Africa, a distant relative of the red-tailed hawk, in the Buteo genus. It is not a seabird, but feeds in mountains and grasslands. Thanks to the Smithsonian Magazine for that interesting tidbit. This captive needed some serious training to prepare it to face the whooping Seattle fans.

“Seahawk” might refer to either an osprey (not a hawk, but a bird in its own family, a relative of hawks and eagles) or a skua (a fierce cousins of gulls). The osprey has a bold eyestripe, not a two-tone head, so the color match with the sports team logo is imperfect, as is the size of the beak. Ospreys feed by swooping down on fish with great skill and elegance. Skuas, our other contender for “seahawk,” look nothing like the logo. They feed by robbing other birds, eating the afterbirth of marine mammals, preying on the eggs and young of other seabirds, scavenging dead meat, and generally scraping the barrel of respectable behavior. We’ll see how the game goes, then decide which bird is the better fit.

Bird skeletons alight in the library

“…there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone”

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This morning a small procession of bird skeletons made its way from the science building to the library: one last flight for the calcified remnants of wild lives that ended on windshields and picture windows in and around Sewanee. These skeletons are the result of the work of students in my Ornithology class, each of whom received a bird carcass at the beginning of the semester. The students have now cleaned and articulated the skeletons. Their work is on display within the belly of David Henderson’s Brief History of Aviation sculpture.

These unclothed cousins of ours reveal the relationship between unity and diversity in biology. The tension between these poles is what animates life: one theme, many variations.

Many thanks to Kevin Reynolds and the staff of duPont library for their fabulous help with this project and to David Henderson for letting my students use the remarkable space that he has created.