Meet Aristophanes


Many years ago, photographer Judy Lovell graciously allowed me to use her photo of Plato the Pelican in one of my blog posts.

I’m as fond of Plato as Judy, and still enjoy seeing him from time to time.  I never imagined I would find a bird equally striking, but in January of this year I discovered this crested caracara sitting on a fence post at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

Initially, I thought to name him Cicero, just for the sake of alliteration: Cicero the Caracara does have a bit of a ring to it. But every time I look at him I laugh, so Aristophanes it is. Not only was Aristophanes (c. 450 bce – c. 388 bce) a great comic playwright, one of his finest plays still is enjoyable and amusing. It’s title? The Birds.


Comments always are welcome.


63 thoughts on “Meet Aristophanes

  1. I wondered where that fancy name came from! I see in your link, that The Birds is reckoned to be his “most delightful” play, I’d be curious to see it sometime.
    I also looked up a caracara, never saw one around here, of course, pretty neat bird! Wonderful crystal-clear photo, it’s almost like Aristophanes glued on a fluffy white beard for one of his plays.
    I knew I’d heard an expression “blue nose” but couldn’t remember what it meant and looked it up – – we could choose between a Puritan, or a Nova Scotian. Neither seems to fit this fine fellow, my first thought was actually that he’s been hitting the sauce pretty hard, but it was Aeschylus who was the drunken playwright

    1. I’ve never seen The Birds produced, but it received this great review when the Greek Theater of New York presented their version in 1983.

      I first heard the phrase “blue nose” as a reference to Puritans. Later, I learned about the famous Canadian ship, “Blue Nose,” which was named in honor of the Nova Scotians. It hadn’t occurred to me that the expression “blue laws” is related, but so it is (to the Puritans, not the Nova Scotians).

    1. There are more of them around than I’ve realized. I found one just walking down the road the day I discovered this fellow on the fencepost. He made me laugh, too. He looked for all the world like someone just out for a stroll, and he was pretty darned handsome himself.

  2. That’s a strikingly direct portrait. You’re fortunate the bird held still long enough for you to take at least this one picture.

    The American Heritage Dictionary says that caracara comes from the Tupí language of South America.

    1. I’ve found that using the car as a mobile bird blind can work well. There are limitations — in this case, I couldn’t find a way from inside the car to get an unobstructed view of the whole bird — but a partial view is better than none.

      I did a little research on caracara recently, because my favorite orange has appeared in the markets, and it’s named Cara Cara. I found the variety is a mutation that occurred on a Washington navel orange tree, and that it was was discovered in 1976 at Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela. I haven’t been able to find any information about the naming of the hacienda, though.

    1. Notice his eyes; he seems not to be looking at me and the camera, but at something else higher in the sky. Perhaps that’s why I was able to get so close. His brain might have been occupied with other thoughts and he wasn’t paying me any mind, as the saying goes.

    1. But look at his eyes. He seems not to be looking at you. He’s staring into space, like he’s just waiting for this babysitting stint to be finished. He’s probably thinking, “I don’t care if that bedspread isn’t straight. I just want out of here, so I can go hunt a mouse.”

  3. “Aristophanes” suits him. Despite his burnsides, he does have a certain gravitas, It seems very appropriate that the owner of such a beak be named after a playwright noted for his biting wit.

    1. Good one — and Aristophanes could bite, there’s no question about that. That blue beak is so vivid, I wondered if it might be part of the changes that come with mating season, like the feathers on egrets and herons. Yet another question to be answered.

    1. Once the flowers begin appearing, I’ll have many more choices for “camera days,” but right now, the birds are the thing, and this is the closest place to find a nice variety. Even so, it can be unpredictable. I went down yesterday, but the day was so flat and gloomy, even the birds seemed to have decided to keep a low profile; there were very few out and about. Still, there’s always something to admire. Yesterday, it was the first Texas dandelion I’ve seen this year.

  4. What a majestic BIG bird! He rather looks like he’s wearing a cap … or maybe a toupee! Nice seeing something other than snow for a change, ha!

    1. He is a big one, for sure: about the size of a vulture. His head feathers are so smooth and slicked-up, he does look like he’s just been to the bird grooming salon, doesn’t he? I’m sure you’re ready for something besides snow. I saw my first dandelions this weekend: two native, and one European. It’s not much, but it’s a start!

      1. You know, Linda, I think I might even welcome dandelions at this time of year! Winter is impossibly cruel — though I suppose we’re due for a harsh one, after the light ones we’ve had previously.

        1. We’re in the same situation. After some relatively mild winters, it’s been what people here are calling “a real winter.” But even if there aren’t many guarantees in life, it is guaranteed that spring will arrive: eventually.

  5. Oh, yeah. He’s Aristophanes for sure. You do know that Aristophanes wrote “The Birds,” don’t you? Of course you do! And “The Frogs” and “The Clouds” and my favorite, “Lysistrata.” I think that’s a perfect name!

    1. I do know that Aristophanes wrote The Birds. That’s why I included that little tidbit in the last paragraph of the post, with a link to the play.

      I think the name’s perfect, too. Of course, every time I hear the playwright’s name from now on, I’ll think of this Caracara, but that’s not the worst thing in the world!

      By the way — the women of Liberia went Lysistrata on their men during the recent civil war. Have you seen the film Pray The Devil Back to Hell? It’s a powerful and occasionally humorous account of their efforts to bring peace.

    1. He’s lovely! I know I tend to sympathize with refuge birds.

      “Caracara” comes from the Tupí language of South America. Surprisingly, other familiar words are still in Tupí or from Tupí origins:

      anhinga (Tupi) ‘water turkey’: ANHINGA. (the bird)

      tipioca (Tupi) ‘residue’: TAPIOCA. (cassava root starch)

      tucana (Tupi) ‘toucan’: TOUCAN, TUCANA. (the bird)

      petyn, petyma (Tupi) ‘tobacco’: PETUNIA. (the plant)

      yacarandá (Tupi) ‘jacaranda’: JACARANDA. (a popular tree in the tropics/sub-tropics)

      tangara (Tupi), kind of bird, ‘tanager’: TANAGER. (birds from the Thraupidae family)

      tapiira (Tupi, Guarani) ‘tapir’: TAPIR. (animal)

      It was used as a lingua franca throughout Brazil by Europeans and Amerindians In the early colonial period, according to Wikipedia.

          1. And ‘maraca’ too!
            Both Tupí and ‘Guarani’ (another one from Paraguay and Bolivia) are of course pre-colombian, so the ‘caracara’ allusion to ‘face’ (or other meanings) is mere coincidence, but it may have been the bird’s call too. It’s interesting how in this case the Jesuit missionaries too were involved in learning and teaching the languages and inevitably may have added Latin. It reminded me of the post you wrote on the missionaries with native Americans not too long ago.

            1. I’ve never heard a caracara make a sound, and from what I’ve read, they tend toward silence. But when they pipe up, the sound is unique, and it seems that their popular name somehow is related to that call. It sounds a bit like a rusty gate, to me.

            2. I know I read it somewhere but it may not be from a trustworthy source, but could be at least a possibility to exclude it from its resemblance to Spanish.

      1. This is fascinating. I know the anhinga; we have them here, and some locals call them the “water turkey.” Of course tapioca is familiar; I grew up eating tapioca pudding. And toucan, petunia, and jacaranda all are familiar. I think the tanagers only migrate through here, and of course we don’t have tapirs — but I’ve seen them on programs like National Geographic.

        You may have seen the other interesting note above. The Cara Cara orange, which is a new cultivar of the fruit (and my favorite) was named after Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela.

        1. Yes, I read it, amazing, it makes me wonder just how much of the Tupí language is in these names as opposed to mixed Spanish and Portuguese, which might have been introduced with the years.

    2. Isn’t he something? I love the orange face and blue beak. I need to ask a more experienced birder if that beak might be brighter because it’s mating season. I don’t remember seeing such vivid colors before. Here’s an amusing detail about them: they love to walk, as well as fly. I have a photo of one walking down a road. I thought it was strange, but then I learned it’s common for them to do so.

    1. Only this one of him on the post, although a couple of his friends were roaming around on the road. I didn’t know until quite recently that they’re as willing to walk as to fly — and they can run. Apparently they can put on enough speed to run down small prey. The photos I have of one walking show its stride — long, confident, and purposeful.

    1. He looks so dignified in this photo, but they can appear quite humorous, too. They apparently enjoy walking — or running, which they do rather well — and when they set off on foot, it’s really something to see. The ones I’ve seen on foot have a long, determined stride, as if they know exactly where they’re going, and what they’re going to do.

    1. Isn’t he a handsome one? They’re often in the fields, especially after harvest or plowing, dining on whatever the farmers turn over. They show up after prairie burns in great numbers, too, since there’s no cover to keep them from finding an easy meal. They’re large enough that they’re easy to spot, that’s for sure.

  6. Thank you for sending me here to enjoy your fabulous photograph of one of my favorite birds!

    And, as I have discovered is the case with many of your posts, I have been pushed in another direction and have now set aside some time later to savor “The Birds”.

    1. I was just driving down a gravel road when I saw him on a fencepost. I was so close that I had to crop out the post,but I thought the portrait was really something. That look on his face! You’ll like The Birds. It’s so funny — and who doesn’t need a little amusement these days?

    1. I’m glad you like it! I adore these birds. This photo was taken from the car. He was sitting on a post, and stayed while I rolled down the passenger side window and went click-click!

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