The Mysterious Tradition of the Wren Hunt

wren

How would you react if on the day after Christmas a small procession of boys in costume came to your door chanting some bizarre ditty? Although the group may indulge in song, you couldn’t confuse these kids with carolers. After all, besides wearing face paint and masks, they are carrying what appears to be a lifeless bird fastened to a pole.

Upon sight of such a strange mob, one’s first impulse, rather than opening the door, may be to call the authorities. Regardless of whichever decision one makes, you would eventually discover that these so-called “wren boys” are as harmless as Halloween trick-or-treaters. They’re simply asking for money, sometimes requested to bury a small, dead bird. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, such a practice must seem incredibly odd.

Nothing Says “Thank You” like a Good-Luck Feather

Commonly referred to as the “Wren Hunt” or “Wren Day”, the custom of carrying a wren door-to-door during one of the first days following winter solstice dates back at least several centuries. It was popular in parts of Ireland and Britain (1). At one time, it was also practiced in areas of France (2) and even in St. John’s of Newfoundland, Canada (3).

The bird generally was not harmed or bothered throughout much of the year, except during the time of the Hunt. Boys usually would capture a wren on or around Christmas, with the bird often perishing in the process, though occasionally some would survive (4, 5, 6). On December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day and the usual date for Boxing Day in the United Kingdom), the adolescent boys and young men, donning disguises, would collect money from their stops throughout the village, to be used later to put on a party referred to in Ireland as a “Join” or “Mummer’s Ball” (7).

As mentioned before, the wren boys are known to sing during their money-gathering visits. One of their chants—many versions exist—goes in part something like this:

A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer
Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.
So up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren. (8)

In the past, people who contributed to the boys’ funds were given a feather plucked from the wren, a token considered good luck. But retribution could await those folks who refused charity, for the boys, as a traditional means of cursing the person, would bury the dead bird on his or her property (9). Today, of course, this isn’t a problem, for real wrens fortunately are no longer used (10).

A Saint’s Stoning, an Army’s Betrayal, or a Fairy’s Curse?

As to the origins of this strange practice, they appear to be long buried in history. Some people attribute the custom as a reaction that later developed in response to St. Stephen’s murder, saying that the bird coincidentally disclosed the first Christian martyr to his enemies (11, 12). Do note, however, that Chapters 6 and 7 of Acts in the New Testament make no mention of the bird’s involvement in Stephen’s arrest or subsequent stoning. The only connection between the saint and the bird appears to be the timing of the hunt.

Some folks link the annual capture of the wren to the bird’s supposed role to another act of betrayal.  A host of parallel stories indicate that a wren inadvertently alerted invading enemy forces (e.g., Vikings, Cromwell’s army) to a surprise military attack by Irish defenders, resulting in calamity for the latter (13, 14). Many other such narratives are recorded. Depending on the story, the two factions consist of various parties. Nevertheless, the wren’s treacherous actions remain similar in the accounts.

One tale reported from the Isle of Man is remarkably different. This explanation instead blames the practice on a beautiful femme fatale, who led multitudes of men to drowning with her siren-like voice. In some cases, she is referred to by the name of “Cliona” (15). According to Joseph Train’s 19th-century account, a “knight-errant” was almost able to destroy the “fairy” or witch, but she used her supernatural powers to escape, transforming herself into a wren, a form to which she was subsequently condemned every year. This story, unlike others, explains the idea behind the wren feathers as a good luck charm. According to Train, one who possesses a feather from the fairy-wren supposedly will not suffer shipwreck for the following year (16). Thus, such a charm, particularly for coastal fishing communities, was understandably deemed an invaluable talisman.

Taking the Hunt into a New Century

Despite the prevalence of lore surrounding the Wren Hunt’s origins, the custom’s original source remains uncertain. Several scholars have attempted to link the practice to pre-Christian cultures, such as to the Celts. For instance, Ernest Ingersoll thought that Christian missionaries likely “condemned the little songster as a symbol of heathen rites, and encouraged their converts to kill it at the time of the annual Christmas feast as a sign of abnegation of Druidical connections” (17). Edward Armstrong’s The Wren and Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s Hunting the Wren: Transformation of Bird to Symbol explore in-depth the possibility of this custom springing from ancient connections (18, 19). For the skeptical, though, the exact origins and rationale for the practice cannot be confirmed; and the dearth of available evidence beyond the past few centuries simply fosters speculation.

Tracing the practice’s origins—whether they be only a few centuries old or several millennia—does not pose a problem for the small number of people who today celebrate the Wren Hunt holiday. For them, the occasion is an opportunity to partake in an ancestral tradition with some added modern-day twists. Today in Sligo, Ireland, for example, writer Joe McGowan reports that few boys and young men stop by homes anymore; most instead go to pubs, retirement facilities, and the like to collect money (20). In other places, such as Ireland’s Dingle, the celebration has given way to Wren Day festivals and parades (21). For better or worse, the scenario described earlier of costumed boys and young men at front doorsteps has mostly become a thing of the past.

Sources:

  1. Howe, L. “The Burial of the Wren”, The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 6, No. 22, Jul. – Sep., 1893. p. 231.
  2. Howe, L.
  3. “Folk-lore Scrap-book”. “Hunting the Wren. — In the ‘Evening Herald,’ St. John’s, N. F.”, Rev. A. C. Waghorne. The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 6, No. 21, Apr. – Jun., 1893. p. 143.
  4. Howe, L.
  5. Rev. A. C. Waghorne.
  6. Bergen, F.D., “Burial and Holiday Customs and Beliefs of the Irish Peasantry”, The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 8, No. 28, Jan. – Mar., 1895. p. 24.
  7. McGowan, J. “Wrenboys in Ireland”, Sligo Heritage: http://www.sligoheritage.com/archwrenboys.htm.
  8. McGowan, J. [Note: English translation of some Irish dialect rendered here]
  9. Bergen, F.D..
  10. McGowan, J.
  11. McGowan, J.
  12. “Winter/Religious Festivals: Saint Stephen’s Day”, IrishFestivals.net: http://www.irishfestivals.net/saintstephensday.htm.
  13. McGowan, J.
  14. “Winter/Religious Festivals: Saint Stephen’s Day”, IrishFestivals.net.
  15. McGowan, J.
  16. Train, J. An Historical and Statistical Account of the Isle of Man, from the Earliest Times to the Present Date; with a View of its Ancient Laws, Peculiar Customs, and Popular Superstitions, Volume 2. Mary A. Quiggin, North Quay: London, Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., Stationers’ Hall Court. 1845. p. 125.
  17. Ingersoll, E. Birds in Legend, Fable and Folklore. New York: Longman, Green and Co. 1923. pp. 120-121.
  18. Armstrong, E.A. The Wren. 1st edition, New Naturalist monograph. London: Collins, 1955.
  19. Lawrence, E.A. Hunting the Wren: Transformation of Bird to Symbol, 1st Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
  20. McGowan, J.
  21. Bray, A., and O’Sullivan, M., Irish Independent. “Music / revelry with the Wren Boys in Dingle”, 12/27/2012. Experience the Dingle Peninsula: http://www.dinglepost.com/post/38941787608/music-revelry-with-the-wren-boys-in-dingle.
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One Song, Twelve Days, and at Least 184 Birds

12Days

‘Tis the season for that peculiar Christmas carol, the one about a repeated litany of mostly live gifts, including dozens upon dozens of fowl, great and small—“The Twelve Days of Christmas”, a song that features more than enough birds for a large aviary!

Unfortunately, the winged creatures named in this tune—at least six different types—were likely included for another reason, as all of them have made their way onto dinner plates in Europe at one time or another. Mike Bergin, birder and founder of the website 10,000 Birds, offers a particularly enlightening post on this song and its “astonishing insight into the extravagant gifting conventions and ravenous appetite for bird flesh in England during the Baroque era” (1). Of course, much of the poultry named throughout this Christmas carol are still consumed today, but some much more regularly than others.

A Little History behind the Occasion and the Carol

For a better grasp of the context involving the song’s many birds, let’s consider a few things. First, the Twelve Days of Christmas occur from Christmas through January 5th. Secondly, as part of this long tradition, a feast day is held afterwards on January 6th marking the Christian celebration of Epiphany (2). So the inclusion of game birds throughout this song makes quite a bit of sense. Some people have even speculated that the golden rings introduced on the fifth day may actually refer to ring-necked pheasants (3). Anyway, the dozen types of gifts, with the exception of the golden rings (if taken literally as finger trinkets), could be considered either of entertainment or gastronomic value—all important for a large celebratory banquet commemorating the Magi’s visit to the Christ child.

As for the Christmas carol, evidence indicates that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has its origins as a “Twelfth Night ‘memory-and-forfeits’ game”, a function noted in the first printed version of the song around 1780; and the game may have developed earlier in France (4). We do know that neither the song nor the game is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. However, his play likely preceded the Christmas carol, for the former was composed possibly as early as 1599 (5).

Bird Gifts Galore

When talking about such seemingly disparate things as geese-a-laying, maids-a-milking, and ladies dancing, context is critical. As mentioned earlier, the birds cited throughout “The Twelve Days of Christmas” have historically been used for food. The most obvious ones are the French hens and geese-a-laying, feast items today with a long culinary history. Like chickens, the greylag goose has been domesticated in Europe for centuries, its meat and eggs both used as food (6). The mentioning of both these birds in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” easily suggests some relevance to a large celebratory meal.

Due to changes in cultural and culinary preferences, the other birds may seem less obvious today as menu options. The partridge, the only fowl that appears every day on the song’s daily gift list, was “frequently served at medieval tables, where it was prized for its tender flesh” (7). It’s still consumed at dinner tables but ranks in popularity far behind larger poultry such as the chicken and turkey.

The turtle-dove, albeit symbolic of romantic love, has been desired for centuries by the stomach as well as the heart. After all, dovecots, structures built for housing pigeons and other small birds until ready for the table, were common in the Middle Ages and sometimes contained turtle-doves (8). Clearly the appreciation of a bird’s pleasing appearance and positive associations was not enough to safeguard it from the most basic of human instincts—hunger.

Today we value mute swans primarily for their beauty. But in the past, these large, graceful birds also made their way into English feasts (9). For instance, they were eaten on important occasions, such as Christmas (10). While the meat is reportedly not considered succulent, it clearly had its share of enthusiasts (11). One reason may have been its size, for an adult male mute swan can weigh more than 50 pounds (12). Scholar Venetia Newell also reminds us, “Chaucer says of his worldly monk in The Canterbury Tales (1387): ‘A fat swan loved he best of any roast’…” (13). Of course, the bird’s popularity as poultry for England’s aristocracy and grand feasts has significantly waned since that time.

Blackbird Pie?                                  

Finally, we have colly birds, the fowl that was consumed primarily by the lower classes. Although in some versions the gifts are “calling birds” (as in caged songbirds such as canaries, starlings, and the like), the first printed version of the song uses “colly”, a word describing something that has been blackened, as if by soot or coal (14). So, in that case, we are actually talking about European blackbirds, which belong to the thrush family (15, 16).

People supposedly ate colly birds, while others apparently enjoyed watching live ones endure a cruel (but fortunately infrequent) dining practice. The birds, inserted inside a baked pastry that had been taken out of the oven to cool, were forced to entertain upper-class dinner guests by erupting from the served pie, as described in the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” (17, 18). That poem, of course, refers to a pastry made with 24 of these creatures. By the conclusion of our Christmas song, the “true love” has handed out 36 blackbirds—an ample amount for one and a half of these large dishes. “Calling birds”, to me, seem much more preferable.

All in all, we have 184 birds given over the Twelve Days of Christmas. And if you consider the “five golden rings” as intending pheasants, the tally grows to 224. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of birds. You either have a major holiday feast in the works—one perhaps to end all feasts—or a heckuva re-gifting nightmare!

Sources:

  1. Bergin, M. “Birds of the Twelve Days of Christmas”, 12/25/13, 10,000 Birds: http://10000birds.com/birds-of-the-twelve-days-of-christmas.htm.
  2. “Epiphany”, 10/7/11, BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/epiphany.shtml.
  3. Bergin, M.
  4. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, 12/24/13, Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp
  5. Shakespeare, W. Bevington, D. (editor). The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Fourth Edition. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1997. p. 326.
  6. Cocker, M., Tipling, D. Birds & People. London: Jonathan Cape, Random House, 2013. pp. 80, 88.
  7. Heck, C., and Cordonnier, R. The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2012. p. 488.
  8. Scully, T. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge, United Kingdom: Boydell Press, 2005. p. 77.
  9. Cocker, M., Tipling, D. p. 90.
  10. Cocker, M., Tipling, D. p. 44.
  11. Cocker, M., Tipling, D. p. 90.
  12. Weidensaul, S. The Birder’s Miscellany: A Fascinating Collection of Facts, Figures, and Folklore from the World of Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1991. p. 3.
  13. Newell, V. Discovering the Folklore of Birds and Beasts. Tring, Herts., United Kingdom: Shire Publications, 1971. p. 60.
  14. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, 12/24/13, Snopes.com.
  15. Bergin, M.
  16. O’Connor, M. “The Twelve Days of Christmas Explained: Is it Calling, Collie or Colly Birds?”, 12/24/10, Bird Watcher’s General Store: http://www.birdwatchersgeneralstore.com/TwelveDays.htm.
  17. Cocker, M., Tipling, D. pp. 467-468.
  18. Scully, T. p. 109.

Halcyon Days—Here Again?

halcyon

Today marks the first day of the so-called “halcyon days”—or does it?—a period of 15 days in December first recognized by ancient Mediterranean civilizations for its tranquil weather. During this brief time winds calm and storms typically abate, so that the so-called halcyon birds could supposedly build their nests upon the waters.

Some classical texts indicate that for the first seven days prior to the winter solstice, these birds constructed nests from fish bones, while during the seven days after, they tended to their eggs and hatchlings. Aristotle writes of this process in Book 5, Chapter 8 of his The History of Animals. Several ancient writers reiterate the claim, including Pliny and Plutarch (1). Other sources, as we shall see, appear to dispute the time period, indicating an earlier arrival of the halcyons’ brief mating season.

But are halcyon days something that actually occurs? Aren’t these birds just a mythological concept? Or do they actually have real-life counterparts? Where does the myth end and the truth begin?

When the Winds First became Still

The origin of the halcyon bird goes way back thousands of years. It’s rooted in a mythological love story involving Alcyone and her royal husband Ceyx. The Catalogue of Women (usually attributed to the Greek poet Hesiod, possibly a contemporary of Homer) and Metamorphoses by Roman writer Ovid are two popular sources, among others. Despite several variations in the tale, the crux remains the same. Ceyx perishes in a shipwreck and a distraught Alcyone dashes into the sea. The gods react with compassion, reviving her husband by transforming him into a bird. They, too, of course, turn her into a bird so they are both alive and alike again.

Halcyon days apparently resulted so the two feathered lovers could mate without disturbance on the sea. Such calm periods are noted in Halcyon, a short dialogue sometimes dubiously attributed to Lucian of Samosata. According to Ovid’s account (Book 11 of Metamorphoses) Alcyone’s father Aeolus, the demigod and wind keeper of Homer’s Odyssey (Book 10), halts the winds for several days each year for his daughter. Ancient writers such as Aristotle, Simonides, Pliny and others link the period of tranquility for mating halcyons to Sicily (2). Incidentally, while to the south of Sicily lies Malta, to the north are the Aeolian Islands—the namesake of Alcyone’s father.

The Real Halcyon, New Lore

Although we know today that the halcyon is a mythical creature, the bird interestingly has a real-life counterpart. Since the halcyon is described in several texts, such as in Book 9, Chapter 15 of The History of Animals (Aristotle again), as a blue and green bird comparable in size to a sparrow, the creature later became associated with the kingfisher. In fact, some of the scientific taxonomical names for kingfishers are derived from the word “Halcyon”. However, unlike the mythical halcyon, the common kingfisher nests in burrowed holes along lakes, river banks, and seashores (3).

A host of new lore also ended up developing around the kingfisher, due to the bird’s link to the ancient stories. In fact, the conflation of the Alcyone myth (romantic love associations) and halcyon days (wind associations) with the kingfisher has resulted in some peculiar practices during parts of history. For instance, according to ornithologist Peter Tate, “… the Tartars of Eastern Europe and central Asia believed kingfisher feathers could be turned into powerful love talismans. The method was to throw plucked kingfisher feathers into water, collect all those that floated, and then stroke the hapless object of affection with one of them” (4). In the late 19th-century, John Ashton notes an even stranger application: “If a dead Kingfisher were hung up by a cord, it would point its beak to the quarter whence the wind blew” (5). Belief in the dead bird’s wind-detecting ability, as Ashton adds, even found its way in the plays of William Shakespeare (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2) and Christopher Marlowe (Jew of Malta, Act 1, Scene 1). Several decades later in 17th-century England, Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, criticized such practices as scientifically erroneous (6).

Separating Myth from Reality

Much of the lore surrounding the kingfisher, of course, is clearly without merit. Although the birds are monogamous, they can mate several times throughout the year, usually starting in the spring or summer (7).  Also, the idea of halcyon days as a set period of time in December is far from universally accepted in Europe, even in areas near Sicily, where the mating ritual is noted by several ancient sources. In some parts of Europe halcyon days is akin more to what we call Indian summer here in North America, occurring as early as November. For example, when Shakespeare refers to halcyon days in his play The First Part of King Henry VI (Act 1, Scene 2), his Joan of Arc equates it with “St. Martin’s summer”. British folklore scholar Venetia Newell points out, “In France, especially, the kingfisher is associated with St. Martin, whose day (November 11th) often falls within a period of fine weather before the onset of winter” (8). Furthermore, in Malta where kingfishers can reside from August to April, the birds are also associated with St. Martin of Tours rather than the winter solstice (9).

So what are we to make of all this? Have halcyon days passed us by? Perhaps such brief periods are not something actually restricted to a calendar. Perhaps they are simply feelings of serene bliss and beauty, at times contingent upon an experience or setting. They may become available when, as Walt Whitman writes, “all the turbulent passions calm…”, or while, like Ogden Nash states, “… We vegetate, calm, and aesthetic, / On the beach, on the sand, in the sun” (10, 11).

Perhaps in these days of ratcheting pressures involving holiday season preparations, we can still find some respite, no matter who we are or where we live, whether celebrating with others or relaxing in contemplation. With a few deep breaths, our mind—like Alcyone’s mythical nest—occasionally can settle into near stillness upon the oft-turbulent sea of existence. Maybe, in such moments, halcyon days can be found… here and now, again and again.

Sources:

  1. Ingersoll, E. Birds in Legend, Fable and Folklore. New York: Longman, Green and Co., 1923. p. 21.
  2. Ingersoll, E.
  3. “Kingfisher”. Avibirds Bird Guide Online. http://www.avibirds.com/html/Kingfisher.html.
  4. Tate, P. Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition. New York: Bantam Dell, Delacorte Press Hardcover Edition, 2008. p. 70.
  5. Ashton, J. Curious Creatures in Zoology with 130 Illustrations throughout the Text. London: John C. Nimmo, 1890. p. 200.
  6. Browne, T. Pseudodoxia Epidemica. 1646; 6th, 1672 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/pseudodoxia/pseudo310.html).
  7. “Kingfisher”. Avibirds Bird Guide Online.
  8. Newell, V. The Folklore of Birds and Beasts. Tring, Herts., U.K.: Shire Publications, 1971. p. 39.
  9. “Kingfisher”. Malta Independent Online. http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2014-02-07/news/the-kingfisher-3899883521/.
  10. Whitman, W. “Halcyon Days”. Walt Whitman Archive: http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/periodical/poems/per.00093.
  11. Nash, F.O. “Pretty Halcyon Days”. Best Poems: http://www.best-poems.net/ogden_nash/poem-13465.html.

Fowl Ball: Birds as Mascots and Monikers

eagle_goteam

Out of hundreds of university and college team nicknames in the United States, one easily soars above the rest. In fact, according to Roy E. Yarbrough, a professor of sports management studies and author of a book on mascots, more than 70 schools use the same bird moniker (1, 2).

Symbols of Power, Emblems of Distinction

Fans of Boston College, Emory University, Marquette University, North Carolina Central University, and Tennessee Tech may already know the answer. Yes, the Eagles are #1. That moniker easily outranks other notables, such as Tigers, Bulldogs, Panthers, and Knights. It also is more than twice as common as the second-most popular bird nickname, the Hawks (3).

The popularity of raptors—eagles, hawks, and the like—is easy to understand. Like other popular team nicknames, such as Cougars, Bears, and Warriors, these birds are symbols of strength and finesse. Of course, birds generally known for their courage and aggressive behavior, such as Cocks and Cardinals, also make for common monikers in college athletics.

Perhaps as a way of setting themselves apart, some schools have opted for more unusual nicknames. As examples, there are the Ducks (University of Oregon), the Roadrunners (University of Texas at San Antonio), the Penguins (Youngstown State University in Ohio), and the Herons (William Smith College, a women’s college in New York state).

Birds Make it Big in the Pros

Professional sports organizations within the United States and Canada have displayed a bit of variety in their chosen monikers. Below is a compilation of 13 clubs named after birds, from the Canadian Football League (CFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL):

Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

Atlanta Falcons (NFL)

Atlanta Hawks (NBA)

Baltimore Orioles (MLB)

Baltimore Ravens (NFL)

Montreal Alouettes (CFL)

New Orleans Pelicans (NBA)

Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)

Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

St. Louis Cardinals (MLB)

Toronto Blue Jays (MLB)

At this time Major League Soccer lacks any teams with bird monikers. However, one franchise, D.C. United, includes a stylized bald eagle as part of its logo.

Two hockey clubs absent from the above list, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, require a bit of explanation. Despite their costumed bird mascot Tommy Hawk, the Chicago team’s name is actually inspired by a Sauk Indian chief (4, 5). And while the logo for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, a franchise known briefly as the Falcons during the early 1930s, features feathered wings on a wheel, the team does not explicitly convey the name of any particular type of bird (6). So, these two clubs actually do not have bird-inspired nicknames, so that’s why they’re not included.

Like the Chicago Blackhawk’s Tommy, several popular bird mascots promote teams that do not bear their likeness. For instance, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a Major League Baseball team, have the Pirate Parrot (7). Even the biggest star among costumed squawkers and arguably the most influential mascot in all of sports history, The San Diego Chicken (a.k.a. The Famous Chicken), is not officially connected to any particular team (8).

When College Nicknames and Mascots Don’t Match

In the world of collegiate sports, several popular bird mascots, too, are not directly related to their school’s team nickname. For starters, there’s Sebastian the Ibis, who cheers for the University of Miami Hurricanes. You’re probably wondering, what does an ibis have to do with hurricanes? Well, the Mascot Hall of Fame website explains, “According to folk legend, the ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane, and the first to return after the storm passes” (9).

On the opposite side of the gridiron, another avian mascot represents Miami’s conference rival, the Virginia Tech Hokies.   Derived from the school’s older Fighting Gobbler mascots, the HokieBird is a bit of a cross between a turkey and cardinal. However, the Hokies nickname, originating from an 1896 “spirit yell”, came before the introduction of the bird mascot (10). Perhaps one can say that a HokieBird is a Hokie, but a Hokie is not necessarily a HokieBird.

The moniker adopted long ago by the University of Kansas involves a similar situation. That institution’s nickname, the Jayhawks, has ties to a label adopted by the state’s mid-19th-century political and paramilitary abolitionist groups. However, by the early 20th century, notions of a large-beaked, shoe-wearing bird began taking root. Today, those precursors have evolved into the University of Kansas’s two costumed mascots, Big Jay and Baby Jay (11, 12). From a historical perspective, though, Jayhawks are arguably different than the school’s colorful representatives.

Of course, interesting histories can be found behind the nicknames and mascots at many other colleges. These teams are just a sample of several in the U.S. that are cheered on or fronted by popular fowl.

Sources:

  1. Rosenberg, B. “It’s all in the name: From Bulldogs to Horned Frogs, mascots help build institutional identity”, 8/13/2004. NCAA News: http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/NCAANewsArchive/2004/Association-wide/it_s%2Ball%2Bin%2Bthe%2Bname%2B-%2B9-13-04%2Bncaa%2Bnews.html.
  2. “The top mascots in college and professional sports”, 2/13/2005. USA Today: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/2005-02-13-tenworstjobs-mascots-yarbrough_x.htm.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “History: The McLaughlin years”. Chicago Blackhawks (official website): http://blackhawks.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=46778.
  5. “Tommy Hawk”. Chicago Blackhawks (official website): http://blackhawks.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=46626.
  6. “Written History: 1930s”. Detroit Red Wings (official website): http://redwings.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=43758.
  7. “The Pirate Parrot”. Pittsburgh Pirates (official website): http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/fan_forum/mascot_index.jsp.
  8. “Biography”. The Famous Chicken (official website): http://www.famouschicken.com/biography.html.
  9. “Sebastian the Ibis, University of Miami”. Mascot Hall of Fame: http://www.mascothalloffame.com/virtual/past/index.html?staff_id=37.
  10. Cox, C.B. “What is a Hokie?”. Virginia Tech (official website): http://www.vt.edu/about/traditions/hokie.html.
  11. “The Jayhawk”. University of Kansas (official website): http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/jayhawk/.
  12. “The Mascots”. University of Kansas (official website): http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/mascots/.