Small Birds

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Ayazh, or 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

Birds are 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. Pg.163

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. Pg. 163

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Langauge, 1929; The Franciscan Fathers

When all 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

The Dine': Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan

Hummingbird: 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

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman

Don't put food in a bird's mouth. You will have a sore throat. Pg. 82

Navajo Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.

The Dawn 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

Kinaalda', A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.

The Human-shaped 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.

Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish: Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present; 1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie

Bluebirds (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
1897, p.75).

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; 1902,p. 151).
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 teaching.
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):




Red bird


Big hawk














Hummingbirds (dahi'tihi) (H) and Chickenhawks were great hunters who lived together in the same camp.
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, 193).

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; Opler 1940).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

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