This country possesses an immense number of birds, of so great variety that He who gave them as a blessing is greatly to be praised. They have domestic fowls which they raise at their homes, and cocks in great number, although they are troublesome to raise. They have taken to raising Spanish fowls, in great numbers, so that all the year they have chickens from them. They raise tame pigeons like ours, which multiply much. They breed a certain kind of large white ducks for their plumage, coming I think from Peru; thus they pluck their breasts often, and are fond of using their feathers for embroidering their garments.
There are many kinds of buds, and many very handsome ones, among these two kinds of fine turtle doves, one being quite small and tame about the houses. There is a little bird like the nightingale, and sweet singing, which they call ixyalchamil, which stays on the walls of houses that have gardens, or in their trees. There is another large and very beautiful bird, of very dark green plumage, and with only two long feathers in the tail, and no others, but with down on them at the ends; it lives in the buildings and does not go out except in the mornings.
There are other birds like the magpies both in their bodies and conduct, always crying at the passers-by, and not letting them pass quietly. There are many martins or swallows, though I think they are martins since they do not -breed in dwellings as do the swallows.
There is another large one, of many colors and much beauty, with a large strong beak; it always goes about the dry trees, holding to the bark by its claws and hammering so loud with the beak that it can be heard a good distance off, extracting from the decayed wood the worms they live on. These birds carry on this boring to such an extent that trees harboring the worms are riddled from top to bottom.
There are many field birds of excellent eating, among them three kinds of handsome little pigeons. There are birds like Spanish partridges in every
way except that their legs are long, although red; they are very poor eating, but very tame if raised by the house.
There are many fine quail, somewhat larger than ours, and fine for eating; they fly but little, and the Indians catch them climbing in the trees, with dogs, and by lassos they throw over the breasts, in quite delightful hunting.
There are many grayish brown pheasants, and also spotted, of a fair size, but not so good to eat as those of Italy. There is one very large bird as big as the turkey-hens, which they call the kambul, very beautiful and very courageous, and good to eat. Another they call cox, equally large, with a furious way of walking and stirring about; the males are all black as jet, with a handsome crest of little curled feathers, and yellow eyelids, fine to look at.
There are many turkeys, which while not of as fine plumage as those here in Spain, are still very gallant and handsome; they are as large as the Indian cocks, and as good eating. There are many other birds that I have seen, but do not remember. All the large ones are hunted in the trees with arrows by the Indians; they steal their eggs and take away the hens, which they raise quite domesticated. There are three or four kinds of large and small parrots, in such crowds that they do much harm to the plantations.
There are other nocturnal birds like the owls, the red owl or mochuelo, and blind fowl because of which it is diverting to travel at night with great stretches of the road filled with them flying in front. They irritate the Indians greatly, for they take them as birds of omen, the same as with certain others.
There are carnivorous birds that the Spaniards call auras, and the Indians kuch; these are black, with head and breast like the native hens, and a long hooked beak. They are very filthy, since they always go among the stables and privies eating and hunting dead meats. It is a known fact that so far it is unknown where they nest or how they breed; thus some say they live two hundred years or more, and others believe them to be in fact crows. The dead meat smells so that when the Indians have shot a deer and it gets away wounded, the one way to find it is by climbing a tree and looking where these birds are gathering; there they are sure to find the game. There is a great variety of birds of rapine; there are small eagles, very handsome goshawks, large hunting birds, and also very fine sparrowhawks, larger than the Spanish kind. There are tanners, and falcons, and others whose names I do not remember since I am not a hunter. On the sea the variety, diversity and multitude of birds is infinite, as is also the beauty of each one of the species. There are great birds as large as brown ostriches, and with larger beaks. They move on the water hunting the fish, and when one is seen they rise in the air and launch themselves with great force upon the
fish; they never make a mis-stroke, and on making the dive continue swimming and swallowing the fish without preparation of any kind.
There are certain large lean birds that fly a great deal, and fly high, with the tail divided in two ends, and whose fat is an excellent remedy for scars, and for numbness caused from cuts.
There are large ducks that stay under water a long time hunting fish to eat; they are very quick, and have a hook on the beak that they use for the fish. There are other small ducks, raised at the house and very tame, and staying at home; these they call maxix.
There are many kinds of large and small herons, some white and others brown, in the Laguna de Términos. Many are of a very bright red, like powdered cochineal; and so many sorts of small birds, as well as large, that their numbers and variety are causes for wonderment; and still more is the seeing them so busy hunting their food on the shore, some entering the incoming breakers only to break away from them, others hunting food on the beaches or hurrying away; but most of it all is seeing how God has provided for it all.
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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates,