Sources : Kingfisher

Aesop's Fables [6th century BCE +] (The Halcyon and the Sea; Perry 25) The halcyon is a bird who is fond of deserted places and who always lives on the sea. They say that she makes her nest on the rocky cliffs of the coast in order to protect herself from human hunters. So when a certain halcyon was about to lay her eggs, she went to a promontory and found a rock jutting out towards the sea and decided to make her nest there. But when she went to look for food, it happened that the sea swelled under the blustering wind and reached as high as the halcyon's home and flooded the nest, killing her chicks. When the halcyon returned and saw what had happened, she said, 'What a fool I was to have protected myself against a plot hatched on the land by taking refuge here on the sea, when it is the sea that has utterly betrayed me!' - [ Gibbs translation]

Aristotle [ca. 350 BCE] (De animalibus Book 5, 8.2-3; 9, 15): [Book 5, 8.2] [The halcyon] hatches its young about the time of the winter solstice. Whereupon fine days occurring at this season are called halcyon days, seven before the solstice and seven after it. As Simonides also writes in his poems, "as when in the winter months Jupiter prepares fourteen days, which mortals call the windless season, the sacred nurse of the variegated halcyon." [Book 5, 8.3] These fine days take place wherever it happens that the solstice turns to the south, when the Pleiades set in the north. The bird is said to occupy seven days in building its nest, and the other seven in bringing out and nursing its young. The halcyon days are not always met with in this country at the time of the solstice, but they always occur in the Sicilian Sea. The halcyon produces five eggs. [Book 9, chapter 15.1] The halcyon is not much larger than a sparrow; its color is blue and green, and somewhat purple; its whole body is composed of these colors as well as the wings and neck, nor is any part without every one of these colors. Its bill is somewhat yellow, long, and slight; this is its external form. Its nest resembles the marine balls which are called halosachnse, except in color, for they are red; in form it resembles those sicyaj [sea cucumbers] which have long necks; its size is that of a very large sponge, for some are greater, others less. They are covered up, and have a thick solid part as well as the cavity ; it is not easily cut with a sharp knife, but when struck or broken with the hand, it divides readily like the halosachnse. The mouth is narrow, as it were a small entrance, so that the sea-water cannot enter, even if the sea is rough; its cavity is like that of the sponge; the material of which the nest is composed is disputed, but it appears to be principally composed of the spines of the belone, for the bird itself lives on fish. It also ascends rivers; it does not produce more than five eggs; it continues to reproduce throughout the whole of its life, from the time of being four months old. - [Cresswell translation, 1887]

Ovid [1st century CE] (The Metamorphoses, Book 11, 710-748): A breakwater built by the waves, broke the initial force of the sea, and weakened the onrush of the tide. Though it was amazing that she [Alcyone] could do so, she leapt onto it: she flew, and, beating the soft air on new-found wings, a sorrowing bird, she skimmed the surface of the waves. As she flew, her plaintive voice came from a slender beak, like someone grieving and full of sorrows. When she reached the mute and bloodless corpse, she clasped the dear limbs with her new wings and kissed the cold lips in vain with her hard beak. People doubted whether Ceyx felt this, or merely seemed to raise his face by a movement of the waves, but he did feel it: and at last through the gods’ pity, both were changed to birds, the halcyons. Though they suffered the same fate, their love remained as well: and their bonds were not weakened, by their feathered form. They mate and rear their young, and Alcyone broods on her nest, for seven calm days in the wintertime, floating on the water’s surface. Then the waves are stilled: Aeolus imprisons the winds and forbids their roaming, and controls his grandsons’ waves. - [Kline translation]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 47): Kingfishers are especially remarkable for this: the seas and those who sail them know the days when they breed. The bird itself is a little larger than a sparrow, sea-blue in color and reddish only on the underside, blended with white feathers in the neck, with a long slender beak. There is another kind of kingfisher different in size and note; this smaller kind sings in beds of rushes. A kingfisher is very rarely seen, and only at the setting of the Pleiades and about midsummer and midwinter, when it occasionally flies round a ship and at once goes away to its retreat. They breed at midwinter, on what are called 'the halcyon days', during which the sea is calm and navigable, especially in the neighborhood of Sicily. They make their nests a week before the shortest day, and lay a week after it. Their nests are admired for their shape, that of a ball slightly projecting with a very narrow mouth, resembling very large sponges; they cannot be cut with a knife, but break at a strong blow, like dry sea-foam; and it cannot be discovered of what they are constructed: people think they are made out of the spines of fishes' prickles, for the birds live on fish. They also go up rivers. They lay five eggs at a time. - [Rackham translation]

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, 36): While the Halcyon is sitting, the sea is still and the winds are at peace and amity. It lays its eggs about mid-winter; nevertheless, the sky is calm and brings fine weather, and it is at this season of the year that we enjoy 'halcyon days'. - [Scholfield translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, chapter 13.40): [The halcyon] is a sea bird that is to be found bringing up her young on the shore, depositing her eggs in the sand about mid-winter. This is the time allotted for the hatching, when the sea is at its stormiest and the waves make their most destructive inroads on the shore. Wherefore the graciousness of this bird should appear all the more evident because of the periodic and unexpected recurrence of calm weather, because atmospheric conditions suddenly take on a milder tinge at the moment when the eggs are laid, when the sea is still stormy. The stormy blasts and violent winds subside while the halcyon broods over her eggs, when the sea was at peace and still. The eggs are hatched in seven days. At the end of that period the young brood leaves the protecting shell. At this point there is another period of seven days, during which the fledglings are nourished until they grow to maturity. Do not wonder at the fact that such a slight amount of time is needed for their growth, because very few days are necessary for the completion of the brooding stage. So much significance has been accorded by divine power to this tiny bird that sailors keep on the lookout for these fourteen days, which they call 'halcyon days,' during which they expect calm weather and dread no more the tumult of the raging tempest. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:25): The alcyon [halcyon, “kingfisher”], a sea bird, is named as if the word were ales oceana [ocean bird], because in winter it makes its nest and raises its young on still waters in the Ocean. It is said that when they are brooding on its expansive surface, the sea grows calm with the winds silent in continuous tranquility for seven days, and nature herself cooperates in the rearing of their young. - [Barney, Lewis, et. al. translation]

Thomas of Cantimpré [circa 1200-1272 CE] (Liber de natura rerum, Birds 5.15): Alcyones, as Pliny says, are small birds, larger than sparrows. They live in the sea and breed there. They are of a cyan color, they live on fish. On their sides they have purple feathers mixed with white, with a slender and long neck. They can rarely be seen except around the solstice. They breed in the winter, when the sea is still navigable. They make nests like piles, which cannot be cut with a knife, but are broken by a strong blow, like the dry foam of the sea; nor can it be found whence they are attached. This alone among all the wild birds breeds in the winter season: but birds which are accustomed to live in houses with men, such as hens and pigeons and the like, produce offspring at indiscernible seasons, for this reason, because they are safe from the cold weather, keep the houses safe. - [Badke translation/paraphrase]