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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®- Christopher Columbus’ Birds

Air Date: Week of

Sandwich Terns (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

In September of 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew were beginning to feel desperate about reaching land. But he was reassured after seeing some birds that landfall was not far off. Frank Corrado has our BirdNote®.


GELLERMAN: From space exploration in search of distant planets to a seafarer seeking a distant place on earth. As every school kid knows, ‘In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.’ And as BirdNote®’s Frank Corrado recounts, he discovered birds.


CORRADO: As Christopher Columbus neared land in 1492, clues in the form of birds gave him hope that landfall was not far off. We read from his journal: “14 September. The crew of the Niña stated that they had seen a type of tern …which never goes farther than twenty-five leagues from the land.”


CORRADO: “17 September. This morning we saw a tropic bird, which does not sleep at sea.”


CORRADO: “19 September. This day a pelican came on board these birds are not accustomed to go twenty leagues from land.”


It could be an ancestor of this Sandwich Tern that Columbus saw before he made landfall in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

CORRADO: By late September, Columbus’s men were beginning to feel desperate about reaching land. Perhaps to soothe their fears, on September 30th, he wrote: “Four tropic birds came to the ship, a clear sign of land, for so many birds of one sort together show that they are not straying about, having lost themselves.”

“7 October. Observed large flocks of birds coming from the North and making for the southwest. We accordingly shifted course.”


CORRADO: If you should happen to travel to the Bahamas this winter, you may see descendants of the Sandwich Terns that were there when Columbus’s ships landed on October 12th, 1492.

Sandwich Terns (Photo: Tom Grey ©)

GELLERMAN: Our BirdNote ® was narrated by Frank Corrado. For photos and more info, chart a course for our website L-O-E dot org.



BirdNote® Columbus’ Birds was written by Ellen Blackstone

Bird calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Sandwich Tern recorded by O.H. Hewitt, White-tailed Tropicbird by B.R. Ward, and plunge of the Brown Pelican by W.W.H. Gunn.


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