Support
Subscribe
Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.

DONATE

You are here

Who's Laughing Now? - Gull-billed Terns

“The laughing sea-swallow”
© Nick Talbot, Dept of Environment, NSW - CC View Large

During the summer of 1818, German ornithologist Wilhelm Schilling was visiting an island in the Baltic Sea. Out of nowhere came a small flock of seabirds he didn’t recognize. He captured one, but the fortunate others escaped. Schilling later told his friend and colleague, Ludwig Brehm, that the rest of the flock had shot up high into the air, where their laughing calls seemed to mock him. Today, we know the mystery bird as the Gull-billed Tern. Brehm eventually gave it the scientific name Gelochelidon, which translates literally as “the laughing sea-swallow.” But it also commemorates, with just a touch of humor, the triumph of those lucky ones that got away.

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Who’s Laughing Now? - The Gull-billed Tern

Written by Rick Wright
This is BirdNote.
It was the early summer of 1818, and the German ornithologist and collector, Wilhelm Schilling, was walking the beach on an island in the Baltic Sea.
[Lesser black-backed gull, ML 103420, 00:46 ff.]
Out of nowhere came a small flock of seabirds he didn’t recognize.
[Gull-billed Tern, ML 26375, 00:04 ff.]
This being 1818 and Schilling being a good museum man, he decided to secure the birds for the university collection in Greifswald [GRYYfs-valt]. He captured one, but the fortunate others sped off on pointed white wings. Schilling later told his friend and colleague, Ludwig Brehm [BRAYM], that the rest of the flock had shot up high into the air, where their laughing calls seemed to … well … mock him.
The story seems to have amused Brehm, because today, we know the mystery bird as the Gull-billed Tern. Brehm eventually gave it the scientific name Gelochelidon [GEE-lo-KEE-li-don]*. [Gull-billed tern, ML 26375, 01:53 ff.]
Which translates literally as “the laughing sea-swallow.” And refers to the weird nasal muttering, quacks, and cackles that Gull-billed Terns issue, as they swoop low over the water in search of prey.
[Gull-billed tern, ML 26375, 03:36 ff.]
But it also commemorates, with just a touch of humor, the triumph of those lucky ones that got away, that summer day in 1818, on the Baltic Sea.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.
 
###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 
[103420] recorded by David W. Stemple and [26375] recorded by Arnoud B. van den Berg.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org    November 2016   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#  GBTE-01-2016-11-17  GBTE-01

Ref: * Also pronounced GEL-o-KEL-i-don or JEL-o-KEL-i-don
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiuo.ark:/13960/t0gt6dg98;view=1u...

Sights & Sounds

LEAVE A COMMENT

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Related topics:

Related field notes:

Home
Shows
Galleries
More