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.