Kingfisher
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Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Royal MS 13 B. viii, Folio 11r


 

Kingfisher

Latin name: Halcyon

Other names: Alcedo, Alcion, Alcyon

A bird that calms sea storms

 

 
General Attributes

At mid-winter, when the sea storms are strongest, the kingfisher lays its eggs in the sand on the shore. For seven days the kingfisher hatches the eggs, and for an additional seven days it nourishes them. During those fourteen days the sea remains calm, unnaturally for the season. Sailors know that during this time they will not be threatened by storms, and call this the "halcyon days" after the Latin name of the kingfisher, halcyon.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 47): Kingfishers are rarely seen except at the setting of the Pleiads and around midsummer and midwinter. The time at which they breed is called the 'halcyon days' (dies halcyonides); at this time the sea is calm and navigable, particularly so around the island of Sicily. The build their nests seven days before the shortest day, and lay their eggs seven days after it.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:25): The kingfisher (halcyon) is a sea bird that is named as it were alcyanea (sea foam). It makes its nest in the winter during the calm of the ocean; while it is on its nest the sea grows calm and the winds silent for seven days, so that the very nature of things assists with the production of its young.


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