I´ve been living in a house at the foot of a mountain in Chiapas, Mexico for a year now, but it´s only in the past week or so that I´ve noticed someone else has moved into the neighbourhood. Rather late in the evening, past nine o´clock, a bird starts calling. It´s a very distinctive call but I´d never heard it before. A little searching on the internet revealed it to be a whip poor will.
How did such an innocuous insectivore get such a bad reputation? It may have something to do with its name being an order to lash a poverty stricken man or boy named William, but I have another theory about this. I think it has something to do with the whip poor will´s onomatopoeic name. The origin of this theory comes from my experience in China where I was staying in the mountains of Yunnan among the Ahka tribespeople. I found that when I asked them their names, they would avoid responding, and when I asked why I was told that it was bad luck to say their own names. ¨The crow calls its own name,¨ they said, ¨and that´s all the reason we need not to do the same.¨ Crowing in English too is associated with vanity and unseemly self promotion. Maybe our disdain for these birds has something to do with our desire to avoid of the hall-of mirrors fantastical qualities of self-reference that I was talking about in The Saragossa Manuscript post. Or maybe that´s just cuckoo.