The Wailing Popliteal, 2006 installation view

The Wailing Popliteal

At maturity, this bird sits no taller than an oyster catcher (Haematopus palliatus), but of equal weight with the plover. The bill is brown near the base, and nearly white at the tip; the eyes are black and rimmed with yellow; the wings are short, brown-tipped and muddy-gray. Some have likened the taste of its flesh to that of the partridge, at least in general flavour; I find it tough and unrewarding.

Heidenberg and Tulove have identified a significant decline in its number; Schorger estimates that no fewer than a billion of the species once populated North America, with special prevalence in coastal orchards and estuaries.

I need not attempt a description of the popliteal's eponymous wail, otherwise than Dr. Talleyrand has done in his Med. R. Av. p. 219. To wit: "The calls, when delivered in ensemble, compose a singular cacaphony, like the calamitous cries of an infant, but imbued with a pine barren carnivalesque. The popliteals make their report when startled, or when hungry, or when the mood strikes (as is so often the case in early Spring). Like its cousins, a state of lesser arousal elicits a lesser sound from Clamator sedus; here best described as a cascade of breathless chirps which culminate in a final wheeze." From my own notes, Talleyrand's "lesser sound" can be recognized as cheap-cheap-cheap-itty-chew; it has elsewhere been described as tick-tock-titter-tock (cf. Royston, Busby). The reader will draw his own conclusion.

From Engber's "Birds of New England, and Several Other States"


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