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identifying bird sculpture

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  • identifying bird sculpture

    Hi. I must confess I'm not especially a bird enthusiast - althugh I have two damaged pigeons roosting in my living room and ocasionally crashlanding on the table in the middle of breakfast - but I joined this forum for a very odd reason.

    I'm trying to identify not a real bird but a sculpture of a bird. It's carved out of bone or maybe walrus ivory, so there's no colour to go on - just the body shape, and I don't know how accurate the carver was. It was probably but not definitely carved by a Victorian Scottish sailor.

    I at first thought that it was intended as an ordinary male European pigeon in courtship mode, with his forehead and chest puffed out, or possibly a ptarmigan in summer plumage. However, there are two strange processes above the beak which don't belong on any ordinary pigeon that I know of.

    The bird is chunky, resembling a fat pigeon or a partridge in overall build. It has a medium-length tail which is shown slighty fanned. The wings, which are folded over the tail, are rather short, extending only halfway along the tail. The legs have heavily-feathered thighs but the lower-leg appears to be bare. One leg is missing and the other has lost its toes, so I cannot tell whether it originally had webbed or separate toes.

    The forehead has the prominent, domed appearance one sees in courting pigeons. The beak appears to be short and similar to a pigeon's beak but in fact the end of it is missiing, so it could originally have been longer, and/or hooked at the tip - it's impossible to tell.

    Just above the base of the beak are two little prongs, which could be the tubular nostrils seen in some seabirds, or could be feather-tufts or wattles.

    Has anybody got any idea what bird this could be?
    Attached Files

  • #2

    I'm wondering whether your bird is as you say, actually meant to represent a seabird, the protrusions above the bill meant to depict a tubenose. My guess would be a Fulmar, which your carving does show to a degree. Fulmar would be well known to Scottish/northern sailors both at sea and from the 'harvesting' period when the birds were taken, particularly for their oil which burns well and is also used for medicinal purposes. Some Scottish Islands, St Kilda for example even exported to the mainland. Also the Inuit are great carvers and Fulmar can be depicted in their work so you might trawl the net for images that might show some resemblance to yours...

    I could of course be way off the mark and it is in fact a Pigeon!



    • #3
      Hard to say but it does have a pigeon-like head shape and wonder if those are nostrils:
      My Surfbirds Photo Albums


      • #4
        I did wonder if it could be a fulmar, but if so it's badly done - the head shape is wrong, and fulmars seem to have skinny bare legs almost all the way to the body, not heavily-feathered legs with the feathers extending halfway down the leg, as this thing has.

        On the other hand, although the head looks just like a pigeon, it would be odd to show the nostrils as two distinct little prongs, sticking up, rather than as a smooth bulge.

        I suppose it's possible it's a pigeon carved by somebody who was at sea at the time, and was trying to do the beak and nostrils just from memory and got it a bit wrong.

        Alternatively, does anybody know of a fat, dome-headed pigeon which has unusually prominent ceres, or tufts of feathers over the beak?


        • #5
          If you look at historical and prehistorical artwork (paintings, tapestries, cave drawings, etc) you will find that there has usually been a large element of "artistic license" - I really doubt whether we can I.D.this one without knowing a lot more about the article's provenance.



          • #6
            And just as an afterthought, sailors in days gone by put great store in the sighting of land birds (especially doves and pigeons) when lost at sea or exploring unknown waters.



            • #7
              Unfortunately it's a circular problem, because the Greenwich Maritime Museum say they can't opine on its provenance unless they know what sort of bird it's meant to be....

              At any rate, nobody's come up with anything it might be *except* a pigeon or a fulmar, which is helpful in itself. Thanks.