ayazh altqas'ai, various small birds, is a general name for the smaller varicolored
birds which have no special name. They are said to have been produced from the
feathers of the monstrous eagle, tsenahale'. Their feathers, and those of the
blue and yellow bird are added to the ket'an, prayersticks, to the masks, and
otherwise. Pg. 159
not endowed with the faculty of speech excepting in their mythical character.
The zahalani, mocking-bird, alone is said to speak (yaltqi). Neither do they
sing, properly speaking (hatqal, he sings, being used of humans). Their song,
cry or call is universally expressed tsidi ani (adani) the bird says or sounds.
The eggs of birds are not eaten. Some birds, as the turkey, the bluebird, the
yellow warbler, the mourning dove, and some snow-birds, are occasionally eaten.
Dictionary of the Navajo Langauge, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers
the birds and amimals had started out on their way, First Man called one little,
gray bird back. It was tse na'olch' oshi, the little rock wren, who had carried
the cliff rock up from the Yellow World. First Man told him that, since he had
been responsible for the cliffs he should make his home among the cliff rocks.
And should anyone ever harm him he would have the power of getting even with
him. That is why falling rocks sometimes harm people or animals. Pg. 34
Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan
Sacred bird of the Navajo and other Southwestern tribes, Hummingbird is believed
to be a medicine person, the first healer of birds. The sound of Hummingbird's
wings reminds The People of little bells ringing in the wind. Pg. 196
Magpie: One of the many Native American tricksters, Magpie is a n audacious,
clever, fun-loving, trick-playing bird. He has been known to hoodwink Coyote
by appealing to Coyote's vanity. Some tribes consider the Magpie's white and
blue-black feathers sacred and use them in ceremonials. Pg. 196
of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman
food in a bird's mouth. You will have a sore throat. Pg. 82
Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.
or Washing Songs contain such ideas as "Since he talks to it now, now it
listens to him . . . . . . Blessedness comes out of his mouth." The Racing
Songs mention other sounds: sounds of the running "fading into the distance"
and the returning; sounds of "small blue male" and "female birds
who call with beautiful voices as they are playing in the tip of the girls head
plume"; sounds of the "breeze coming from her as she runs"; and
the sounds of the Corn Beetle and all kinds of small birds, including dark-colored
ones." The sounds of some of these birds are also present in the Combing
Songs and the Painting Songs. In other Kinaalda songs, some of the syllables
previously thought to be meaningless have now been shown to be imitations of
the sounds and calls associated with particular deities. Pg. 376
A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.
agates are closely associated with flint. After Gila Monster conducts the ceremonial
for the hero, he makes representations of his own pouch in the form of two cranebill
pouches for the Earth Surface People. To the outside of these pouches are tied
arrowhead-shaped flints (preferably agate flint), and other flints are jingled
during the songs. Today, Cranebill pouches are carefully prepared in a specific
ceremony from the bodies of cranes, who themselves represent both the power
of restoration and the return of life. In using the cranebill pouches ceremonially,
the one-sung-over is told by the singer to tie an offering on to the appropriate
(male or female) pouch. Men use flint arrowheads or jewels and women use beads
or shell. These offerings are not removed; thus, in time, the pouches become
heavily decorated. These pouches are held by the one-sung-over with the cranebill
heads turned toward the self during the litany-type prayer. "Through their
structure and composition the cranebills . . . are homologous with the pouches
of Gila Monster.
Medicine Bundles or Jish: Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the
Past and Present; 1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie
(doli) (H), a symbol of peace and happiness, is generally beloved by the Navajo,
being herald of the dawn and a manifestation of Talking God, who told co, hero
of the Night Chant, he would appear among the Navajo as bluebird. His feathers
are a requisite of many ceremonial properties (Prayersticks, Con. C; Matthews
1902, p. 205).
Big-prairie-hawk (ginitsoh, gin' tsoh) (H) helped to scratch through the sky
from the fourth to this world (Matthews
Birds enter into various phases of ritual, especially in the manufacture of
bundle properties and prayersticks. Many birds were helpers of the Navaho, even
in their early prehuman existence. Some are sufficiently characterized to be
listed with deities and helpers; many others are more or less taken for granted
except as they enter incidentally into ritual. They are closely associated with
game and hunting, and with snakes (Matthews 1897, pp. 81, 88, 191, 193, 195;
A systematic study of birds should be made, but until it is, the superficial
identifications at my disposal will have to do. In 1942 I took YL, who knew
the Shooting Chant, to the Museum of Northern Arizona, where, through the kindness
of Edwin McKee, we were able to work for a short while on the bird collections.
YL identified some of the birds most common in the ceremonies. This was an exhilarating
experience, for he was from the western part of the reservation, yet he said
nothing that conflicted with information I had obtained in the eastern part.
However, we were able to test several chanters in this way, their identifications
would probably not be in complete agreement. Wyman found differences in his
identification of plants and there are local differences in all fields of Navaho
I showed a copy of Taverner's Birds of Western Canada (abbreviated Tav.) to
RP and tla'h, who were much interested and gave a few identifications from plates
which I include when they differ from those given by YL. I usually find that
Indians are unable to make trustworthy identifications from pictures. However,
these two chanters were so graphic-minded and attended to the least detail in
sandpaintings, even in copies on paper, so carefully that their identifications
may be trusted to a degree. An interesting phase of YL's classification is his
calling birds of different genera 'male' and 'female' of the same Navajo category.
In the Flint Chant the following associations are made (Haile 1943a, p. 173):
(dahi'tihi) (H) and Chickenhawks were great hunters who lived together in the
Hummingbird (bita' 'aya'hi', 'One-whose-wings-whir') brought beeweed sauce to
Rainboy of the Hail Chant, and gave him a bead that tinkled like a little bell
to wear around his neck (Matthews 1897, p.88; Reichard 1944d, p. 135).
Meadowlark (tsiya'yo'ji') (U) was a companion of Spider Woman, whom The Twins
encountered on their first visit to Sun. She was commissioned by Black God to
bring the plants for blackening in the War Ceremony (Reichard, Shooting Chant
ms.; Haile 1938b, p. 193).
Mourning Dove (xasbidi') (H), like roadrunner and turkey, is idealized. Mourning
Dove was said to report things reliably and to have no equal in speed.
Later, when he was sent to spy on Box Turtle and Long Frog, he brought back
an accurate report, since he could understand the special war language. He jerked
his head back and forth to imitate the enemy and has retained this, a war habit,
to this day.
A pair called Dove Man and Dove Woman aided Monster Slayer and his two wives
when he performed his first Eagle Chant (Ch. 16; Haile 1938b, p. 148; Newcomb
1940b, pp. 70ff.).
Roadrunner (na'tsedlozi') (H) is said to have been without fault of any kind
(Haile 1938b, p. 193).
Swallows (tactciji') (U) are often introduced into a tale and seem to have great
power, but are not thoroughly described. They helped the Spiders overcome Coyote.
As a reward they got pieces of his skin, which they laid as ornaments on their
wings (Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.).
Turkey Buzzard (dje'co") (U) is allied with Crow, Magpie, and other carrion-eating
birds. Monster Slayer succeeded in overcoming Turkey Buzzard, who offered his
feathers as the soot for the War Ceremony blackening (Chi 4; Haile 1938b, pp.95-7,
White Goose (tcj'clgaihi) (P) was an important and respected (feared) member
of Winter Thunder's party in the Hail Chant. When the party had been brought
under control and Rainboy was observing his period of restriction after the
ceremony, White Goose brought him a dish of food made of parched corn and pinion
nuts, and spread over him the blanket of Old Age (Reichard 1944d, p. 135).
Woodpecker (tsiyikali') (H) helped the people from the third to the fourth world
by pecking through the sky.
Later he hid in a ball of mud, 'loaded 'for the contest with Gambler, and was
rewarded with a whiteshell.
In the vast Navaho mythology, woodpecker is not much in evidence, though he
is ubiquitous in Apache myth as the 'carpenter' bird (Goddard, pp. 131, 143;
Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950