Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bluebirds and Cardinals

On this day in 1749, Pehr Kalm sat down and wrote a journal entry about some of the local birds around Raccoon, NJ; he chose to write about Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Cardinals. "The Swedes and the English gave the name of 'blue bird' to a very pretty little bird, which was of a fine blue color," he wrote. Kalm cited Mark Catesby's account of the bluebird in Natural History of Carolina and then proceeded to correct Catesby regarding plumage details and habits of the bluebird. Moving on to the cardinal, "...another species of small bird," Kalm said that it was an enemy of bees. He also noted its sweet song and likened it to the song of the Common Nightingale of Europe. Kalm added, "...on account of their agreeable song, they are sent abundantly to London, in cages" (Kalm 1987).

Kalm was a Swedish botanist who was a student of the great Carl Linne (usually known as Linnaeus). He came to North America in 1748 to study "plant species that could be of economic benefit to Sweden and her domain in Finland" (Wacker 2004). Kalm stayed in North America until 1751, then later became a professor at the University of Turku in Finland (at the time, Finland was a Swedish possession). Linnaeus honored Kalm in his naming of the Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

Kalm possessed an inveterate curiosity about all manner of things, which makes his journal a treasure trove of information for students of fields far removed from botany. Not only was he a keen observer of birds and other aspects of natural history; he wrote about the local inhabitants, their customs, methods of building...anything. As a result, he left a priceless record of colonial America. As you read some of his entries, you can almost imagine yourself walking by his side as he points out matters of interest in the neighborhood. Although Kalm traveled widely in eastern North America (as far north as Canada), much of his time was spent in the Delaware River valley; the Raccoon of Kalm's day is Swedesboro, Gloucester County, in ours.

The photo that illustrates this post is of a recreation of a Swedish cabin that can be found at Hancock's Bridge in Salem County (best known to birders for Brewer's Blackbirds). This stuga ("room inside") shows the type of basic habitation that the first Swedish settlers used. It was the presence of the Swedish colony that led Kalm to visit what is now NJ.

Kalm, Peter. 1987. Peter Kalm's Travels in America. Dover, New York, NY.
Wacker, Peter O. 2004. "Kalm, Peter (Pehr)." In: Maxine N. Lurie & Marc Mappen, eds. Encyclopedia of New Jersey. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.


Anonymous said...

One of your best posts yet, Jennifer; thank you!

Jennifer Hanson said...

Hi Rick,

Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you liked the post. And thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I dont know if u can help me or not .I dont even know how to use this computer very well.IMy name is Jennylyn and I live in NJ.My husband and I always loved birds and we have 15 acers of wetlands in Marlboro NJ (Unfortunitly I will not be able to keep it) last week I was to pick my husband up from the hospital and instead he was rushed to intensive care.he now is in a comma with no chance of a recovery says all but 1 doctor, I did not ever think I would be in this situation at this time in my life. I went home to rest after sleeping on the couch in the hospital for nights.I was awoken to a tap on the glass, thinking it was just another morning dove I payed little attention but opened my eyes to see a brite color on the branch outside my window.I put on my glasses and there was a beauiful crimson cardinal female..not the brown and tan I was use to. But a almost glowing crimson color,she looked at me for a few minutes flew away and came back making her presants known.I looked at her no more then a foot away only seperated by the window glass.Eye to eye we met and then she left.when I got to the hospital for the 1st time in 5 days my husband now in a comma closed his eyes.I know cardinal mate for life and he truly did love me he belived as Enstine did that matter could not be created not distroyed only changes,I feel some peace. I have looked for hours in my exhaustion to find a crimson cardinal female. Is that what I saw, I don't know. Do you have any photos of this type of bird.please if you can let me know Jennylyn