Happy Draw a Bird Day! To celebrate, I present, my first tyrant flycatcher drawing!
The Cuban Pewee, or Crescent-eyed Pewee, Contopus caribaeus, resides in Cuba and The Bahamas, and is occasionally sighted on the southeast coast of Florida. Keith Salvesen recently posted some lovely photos on his blog Rolling Harbour Abaco and he was cool with me using them for a Cuban Pewee drawing adventure.
I’m pleased that the bird in my drawing looks sweet-as-can-be and has a beautiful eye, and I like the colours and patterns of the branches and background. However, I’m not jazzed about the streakiness of the feathers. Hoping for more gentle feathery textures and easier control of varying grey shades, I grabbed 2H and HB graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser. I chose a different photo because that open bill is just marvellous! Clearly, Keith and the Cuban Pewees are good friends.
The title of Keith’s blog post, Cuban Pewee: Nature’s Least Scary Tyrant, made me wonder why the New World Flycatchers’ family is called Tyrannidae. Why oh why is the sweet-looking Cuban Pewee a tyrant flycatcher?
The best Google Search clue was a broken link to a 2014 Birdwatching article by Kenn Kaufman in which he attributes the name “tyrant” to Mark Catesby. More reliably, An Inquiry into the History of the Current English Names of North American Land Birds (Spencer Trotter, The Auk, 1909), links the name “tyrant” with Catesby.
In 1731, Mark Catesby published the first edition of the first volume of his masterpiece, The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. He gave the present day Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) the English name The Tyrant and the Latin name Muscicapa corona rubra, which means red-crowned flycatcher. Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca (fly) and capere (catch). Be warned, a little s looks a lot like a little f…
The male Eastern Kingbird is a courageous and aggressive defender of his territory and his offspring!
From 1731, I slowly travelled forward in time, following the progress of the name tyrant from species name, to genus name and finally to family name. The official start of modern zoological binomial nomenclature was in 1758 with the 10th edition of Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae. Linnaeus’ gave the Eastern Kingbird the Latin name Lanius tyrannus.
The 10th edition of Systema Naturae did not have families. Bird species were divided into 6 orders which were subdivided into genera. Linnaeus includes various flycatchers named Muscicapa something-or-other by other naturalists, but he does not include the genus Muscicapa. He distributes flycatchers among other genera: Fringilla, Lanius, Motacilla and Turdus. After 1758, a few more ornithological developments needed to take place before the formation of today’s Muscicapidae and Tyrannidae families, the Old World and New World Flycatchers. Perhaps I’ll pick up the topic again in a later post…