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Elegant Crested Tinamou
A Latin American Quail, Pretty Much
By QB Curator
Spotted: An Elegant Crested Tinamou at the Smithsonian National Zoo Washington, D.C. (Strangely it was pecking about the Small Mammal House, not the bird exhibit.) So, no, you're wrong, that's not a quail. Honestly, as a Quail Bell(e), you should know better, but you're forgiven this time. Though you're a folklore and history geek, you may not be a bio geek on top of all that.
Anyway, 47 species of tinamous exist, with their plump selves populating Latin America. Related to the prehistoric ratites, tinamous are one of the world's most ancient birds still bobbing, laying eggs, and flying (but mostly bobbing).
But why is QB really bugging you about these birds? Because the tinamou's kind of a folklore superstar. One species, the Great Tinamou, plays reoccurring roles in South American folk tales. In Incan mythology, the tinamou's referred to as llutu, while in Quechua, the tinamou's known as Yutu. Googling "Tinamou" + "Folklore" doesn't yield as much info as you'd hope, but it's actually more fruitful than Googling the indigenous names. In this case, books are your best bet.
In Paul Richard Steele's and Catherine J. Allen's Handbook of Inca Mythology, for example, the tinamou gets more than one mention. Here's one sample:
"The partridge-like Tinamou, which in Quecha is Yutu, provides an interesting example of how myth combines the earthly characteristics of the animal and the appearance and movement of the celestial dark constellation in the night sky. The Yutu is slow and stupid and if startled starts to fly around aimlessly. In the community of Misminay close to Cuzco, Urton noted that this cumbersome bird is solitary and polygamous, which in human terms is unsociable. Its breeding habits would be unacceptable in the human world because it abandons its children's mother and continues to mate. The breeding season for the Yutu is from July to September, around the time when the first seeds are sown into the ground. The celestial Yutu also appears in the night sky at the beginning of September. Thus the terrestrial bird and the celestial Yutu appear as a threat to the newly planted seeds" (143).
There's also a folk group called Tinamou. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Tinamou describes themselves as a band "founded upon friendship, passion, and a love for music." They released their newest album, No Compromise, 6 months ago. Like many indie bands, you can learn more about Tinamou and their experimental sound on MySpace, Reverb Nation, and YouTube.
Phew. That's a lot of folk weight for one bumbling little bird to carry. Poor tinamou but lucky you! Now you have a few folk tales to read and folk songs to download. Spread those digital wings, fledglings!
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