The importance of names

A high pitched whistle carries across the waves of the Bristol Channel. It's a call I've heard before. I've heard it on the top of the ferry to Rosslare, 13 decks above the sea. I've heard it on my home cliffs of Lundy, where the call pierces the sounds of wave and wind, Where it pierces the concerted clamour of gulls and auks, of Kittiwakes and Fulmars. It's the call of a Guillemot chick calling to its dad across the wide sea. It's the call that keeps them together while they learn and they teach, while, now flightless, they float and swim.

Identifying the individual

I'd sat on the west coast of Lundy a month ago when "Ebenezer" and "Obsession" had their first taste of Sandeel or Sprat. Neighbouring eggs were starting to hatch. The chicks-in-the-egg were calling to their parents, learning and responding to their parents' calls. Beat Tschanz described (in German) how chicks learn their parents calls while still in the egg. In order to translate the language of Guillemots I had to learn enough German to translate his words. Slowly, I made progress using online translation, tempered by my observations of these birds. During hatching, according to Tschanz, chicks call to their parents who call back and rotate the egg. Their parents' calls encourage the chick to chip at its eggshell, which hastens the hatching process.

Feeding the correct chick (Tschanz)

The names of Tschanz's chicks:

  • Adelheid,
  • Beatrice, Berthi,
  • Cäcilia,
  • Daniel,
  • Franziska,
  • Gisela, Gunvor,
  • Heribert, Hubertus,
  • Irene, Isidor,
  • Kasimir, Kaspar, Kilian, Köbi,
  • Leonie,
  • Monika,
  • Nadia,
  • Ottokar,
  • Pauline,
  • Qusitus,
  • Romulus,
  • Samuel,
  • Tobias,
  • Ulrike,
  • Valentine,
  • Xerxes,
  • Zyprian,

One voice in the crowd

Umberto Eco might describe the sounds of the colony, the loomery, the bazaar from the perspective of an ant crawling through the bent grass and Yorkshire Fog, the Thrift and lichens that coat the coarse, crystalline granite cliffs. While crawling past tussock, burrow, crevice and ledge, it might hear: the murmuring of Guillemots, the guttural growls of Razorbills, the ummmms and aahs of Puffins, the ululations of Gulls, the catterwauls of Kittiwakes, the chuckles of Fulmars, the pizzicato peeping of Oystercatchers. Through this soundscape the chicks start their leaving calls, and each father must learn to recognise only one call among the many.

Finding each other on the sea (Greenwood)

  • Lengagne, T., Harris, M.P., Wanless, S., & Slater, P.J.B. (2004) "Finding your mate in a seabird colony: contrasting strategies of the Guillemot Uria aalge and King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus" Bird Study 51(1):25-33
  • Tschanz, B. (1968) "Trottellummen: Die Entstehung der persönlichen Beziehungen zwischen Jungvogel und Eltern " Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 4 Beiheft 1-103
  • Greenwood, J.J.D. (1964) "The fledging of the Guillemot Uria aalge with notes on the Razorbill Alca torda" Ibis 106:469-481
  • Greenwood, J.J.D. (1963) "First-flighting in Auks" Annual Report of the Lundy Field Society 1962 15:18

  • Individual Guillemots on Lundy

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