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As Christopher Columbus neared land in 1492, clues in the form of birds gave him hope that landfall was not far off. From his journal, Sept. 14: The crew of the Nina stated that they had seen [a type of tern] which never goes farther than twenty-five leagues from the land. ... Sept. 30: Four tropic birds came to the ship, a clear sign of land, ... It could have been an ancestor of this Cayenne Tern that Columbus saw before he made landfall in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.
Written by Ellen Blackstone
This is BirdNote!
As Christopher Columbus neared land in 1492, clues in the form of birds gave him hope that landfall was not far off. [Creaking of a ship]
We read from his journal:
14 September. The crew of the Niña stated that they had seen a type of tern, which never goes farther than twenty-five leagues from the land.
[Call of the Sandwich Tern]
17 September. This morning we saw a tropic bird, which does not sleep at sea.
[Call of the White-tailed Tropicbird]
19 September. This day, a pelican came on board; these birds are not accustomed to go twenty leagues from land. [Splash of the Brown Pelican]
By late September, Columbus’s men were beginning to feel desperate about reaching landfall. Perhaps to soothe their fears, on September 30th, he wrote: “Four tropic birds came to the ship, a clear sign of land, for so many birds of one sort together show that they are not straying about, having lost themselves.”
7 October. Observed large flocks of birds coming from the North and making for the southwest. We accordingly shifted course. [Creaking of a ship]
Travel to the Bahamas, and you may see descendents of the very Sandwich Terns that were there when Columbus’s ships landed – on October 12th, 1492. [Sandwich Tern] For now, you can find a picture of a tern on our website, BirdNote.org. I’m Michael Stein.
Call of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Sandwich Tern recorded by O.H. Hewitt, White-tailed Tropicbird by B.R. Ward, and plunge of the Brown Pelican by W.W.H. Gunn.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org October 2012 Narrator: Michael Stein