a symbol of love and a thousand-year curse

The gourds, the closest relatives of pigeons, are represented in our fauna by two distinct species, the European and the Turkish cormorants. They are birds that make hoarse, guttural sounds resembling sighs generated in a wooden throat.

Like pigeons, cormorants drink by sucking water continuously, with their heads down and their beaks submerged, unlike other birds that have to raise their heads and tilt them back to be able to swallow water.

Inhabitant of the African Sahel

In 2015, the European lapwing (Streptopelia turtur) was named Bird of the Year by SEO/BirdLife to highlight the danger it is in. Its name comes from Strepto, which means necklace, pelia, which translates as dove, and the specific epithet turtur comes from Latin and means the turtledove.

It is estimated that up to two million European cormorants fly over our peninsula each year on their long migration route to African shanties where they find refuge from the harsh winter. They do this mainly in the western part of the continent, in particular in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Thanks to monitoring systems, it is known that these birds do not stay permanently in one area, but rather move hundreds of kilometers, but always within the sub-Saharan strip. Its case is truly exceptional, as it is the only trans-Saharan migrant that is exclusively grain-fed throughout the year.

The turtledove is a monogamous bird that has served as an inspiration to poets of all times and that symbolizes eternal love, not for nothing the RAE dictionary, in its third meaning of the term turtledove, collects: “couple in love”.

Its size is smaller than that of pigeons and it is characterized by a light gray head, a reddish halo around the eyes and dark spots on a reddish-brown back. It also has a collar of black and white lists, it is not complete.

In recent decades, this species has experienced a progressive population decline motivated by several factors, including drought and overgrazing in the wintering area, alteration of breeding habitat, and hunting pressure during autumn migration.

The European cormorant likes meadows and wooded fields, unlike its cousin the cormorant, which lives mostly in anthropophilic areas such as parks, gardens or animal feeding grounds.

the cursed bird

The Eurasian cormorant is a newcomer to our fauna, it comes from Asia Minor, as its name suggests, and the first specimens were spotted on the Iberian Peninsula only in the 1960s, when it continued to spread.

The scientific name of the Turkish gourd is Streptopelia decaoctoa name that is related to the sound of his lullaby: “dekaochtó”, which resembles the Greek pronunciation of the number eighteen (déka, ten, októ, eight).

Its name is linked to a Greek legend which states that when Jesus Christ was on his way to Golgotha ​​carrying the cross, a Roman soldier took pity on him and wanted to buy him a bowl of milk worth 18 (dekaochtó) coins, but he was only at seventeen. No matter how much the old saleswoman begged and pleaded, she couldn’t lower the price. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, the saleswoman was turned into a Turkish gargoyle, forced to repeat “dekaochtó” throughout her life. A lullaby, very different from the soft two-syllable and repetitive that characterizes the European gargoyle: “tur, tuur, tuuuur…”.

The legend concludes that if at any time the cooing of the Turkish gargoyle turns seventeen (decaepta) the curse will end, but if, on the contrary, eighteen becomes nineteen (dekaennea) will mean that the end of the world is near. Anyway… let’s hope we never hear “dekeaennéa”.


Peter Choker

He is an internist at El Escorial Hospital (Madrid) and the author of several popular books.

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