Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Ouch!! Cindy at Woodsong has tagged me with the dreaded Ten Most Beautiful Birds meme. Here are the rules as I understand them: I am to post my personal list of the ten most beautiful birds, marking each species I've actually seen in the wild with an asterisk, then tag three other bloggers. Since I can choose my own geographical region, I choose to type locally, list globally.
1. I'd be lying if I didn't top my list with a hornbill. Some might call it stretching the definition of “beautiful,” but for me, beauty isn't really complete unless it involves at least a touch of the grotesque, and for downright beauty, the RED-KNOBBED HORNBILL (Aceros cassidix) of Sulawesi has to come in at the top of my favorite bird group. Picking a hornbill denies me the pleasure of listing members from many other favorite related groups: the bee-eaters, wood-hoopoes, kingfishers, rollers, motmots, todies, jacamars, etc. Too bad.2. I have a closer personal association with the falcons than with any other bird group. The athletic, aerodynamic build of the typical falcon is a major component of her beauty, so I was a bit hesitant to list the neotropical APLOMADO FALCON* (Falco femoralis), whose build is the most chicken-like of that august taxon, but her handsome markings more than make up for any other shortcomings.
3. Any discussion of birds' beauty must take song into account. The thrushes are possibly the most beautiful of all avian singers, and no member of that family looks sharper than the palearctic BLUETHROAT* (Luscinia svecica).
4. Choosing between the owls and nightjars was difficult, and once I sided with the latter group, I had to decide whether to score for subtle beauty of pattern, or outrageous ornamentation. Once again, I sided with the latter group, and picked the African PENNANT-WINGED NIGHTJAR* (Macrodipteryx vexillarius).
5. No bird group is more saturated with spectacle than the glittering hummingbirds, and even they don't get much more spectacular than the South American CRIMSON TOPAZ* (Topaza pella)

6. After the hummers, second place in the spectacular competition might well go to the New World tanagers. My pick for most beautiful member of that group is the Andean FLAME-FACED TANAGER* (Tangara parzudakii).

7. I've tried to keep this list as diverse as possible, but it's simply not fair to list but one passeriform bird, since that order contains more than half of all bird species. For outlandish ornamentation in a passerine bird, the award goes to the African PARADISE WHYDA* (Steganura paradisaea).

8. My choice for most spectacular passerine family is the Cotingidae, and, largely because of his incredible blue plumage, the Amazonian SPANGLED COTINGA* (Cotinga cayana) is the last perching bird to make it onto my list.
9. Speaking of colors, the touracos deserve a place on the list just for producing unique red (turacin) and green (turacoverdin) feather pigments. LADY ROSS' PLANTAIN-EATER* (Mussophaga rossae) has no turacoverdin, but I don't think there's a better-looking turaco.

10. Well, I'm already at the end of the list, and if there's a bias so far, it seems to be against water birds. There are lots of beautiful ducks, herons and shorebirds, but I think a Gruiform bird belongs in this final slot. The Stanley Crane came close, as did the Sungrebe and Takahe, but I finally settled on the neotropical SUNBITTERN* (Eurypyga helias).

I beg forgiveness for neglecting the shrikes, birds of paradise, sunbirds, parrots, pheasants, pigeons, toucans, trogons, etc., etc. I'll do my best to make it up to you all in the future. It's time now to move this meme into the next shell out from the hard core of birding bloggers. I hereby tag Coturnix (a list of ten most challenging boxing opponents is acceptable), Lyn and Neil.
upper: RED-KNOBBED HORNBILL (2002) acrylic 10" x 9"
second: SMOKE JUMPER--APLOMADO FALCON (1994) acrylic 19" x 30"
third: BLUETHROAT (2002) acrylic 8" x 10"
fourth: SOUTHERN CROSS-PENNANT-WINGED NIGHTJAR (1998) ink wash 23" x 17"
fifth: CRIMSON TOPAZES MOB AN ORNATE HAWK EAGLE (1994) acrylic 18" x 24"
lower: LADY ROSS' PLANTAIN-EATERS (1999) acrylic 15" x 36"


Blogger coturnix said...

Wow! I have seen so few in the free state in nature. I'll give it a deep thought...may take me a couple of days.

3:43 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

Hmmm ... I'm thinking any ten that you've drawn. But my personal favorite is the Cardinal - quite the conversatonalists as well.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Clare said...

Spectacular, as always. I was somewhat startled to learn that Hornbills are related to mot-mots. Who'd a thunk. Disappointed, of course, that Ravens (or for that matter any corvids) didn't make your list.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Hai~Ren said...

Very interesting. I could never do a meme like that - there are so many beautiful species of birds that I could never pick my 10 favourite.

11:14 AM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Coturnix: I look forward to seeing your take on this thing. Don't rush it.
CJ: What a nice thing to say! I'm afraid Cardinals have been ruined for me by having seen so many bad paintings of the poor things. I still remember how excited I was seeing my first one in Arizona as a kid, but the magic is gone, I'm afraid.
Clare: Thanks! In the pre-Sibley & Alquist days, hornbills and motmots were placed together in the same order. Today, most authorities consider them members of sister-orders. Motmots are closer relatives to rollers. Ravens would have definitely been contenders for "10 most favorite birds," and there are a lot of jays that I should have considered for "most beautiful," but it never occurred to me.
Hai-Ren: It was a fun but meaningless exercise. On another day the list would have been quite different, I'm sure.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a great list and beautiful photos to boot. I knew you'd have a good one. But I'm curious as to why you find it meaningless? (I couldn't pick just 10 myself, if that's what you mean)
And I'm glad too, that like me, you cannot separate the bird from the song.. or the behavior.
Thanks for picking up the tag :)


5:09 PM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Thanks, Cindy. It really is impossible to make a meaningful list limited to ten, and it winds up being pretty arbitrary. Like I told Hai-Ren, if I had done it on a different day it would probably have differed substantially. All the same, I enjoyed the exercise and thank you for tagging me.

9:04 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

OK, I have finally posted mine:

5:30 AM  
Blogger coturnix said...

Oh, and that can also be my entry for the I And The Bird.

6:21 AM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Thanks for the great list, Coturnix, and especially for the great LINKS. I knew that tagging you was a worthwhile notion.

1:16 PM  
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11:17 PM  

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