Earlier this week, I ripped and slashed my way through to the middle of a patch of raspberry canes. (It was me getting the rips and slashes, by the way, not the canes.) Once there, I waited to see if a Yellow Warbler would come back to its nest. To my surprise, the warbler that came visiting looked like this:
A more experienced birder advised me that this is a female Mourning Warbler. They’re a bit camera-shy and not wildly common, so I was rather pleased. (And my scratches are healing nicely.)
Later, though, I got to wondering about the name. “Mourning” has popped up fairly often this spring: a Mourning Cloak butterfly at the Riverwood Conservancy; Mourning Doves sitting on my roof blowing soulfully into empty Coke bottles; and now a Mourning Warbler perched precariously among the raspberry canes.
Who called these creatures Mourning? And why?
I suspect the Victorians may be behind this. They seemed obsessed with death and grieving. If you’ve watched Downton Abbey you may remember the girls worrying about having to go into full mourning and half mourning. That’s because the very rich literally did wear mourning clothes. If a close family member died, the bereaved would wear black for 6 months or more. Then they would switch to grey, lavender and pale shades of purple for another 6 months. Women often covered their hair with dark veils, shawls or hoods when in public.
The Mourning Warbler males have a grey hood, like this female, and also have a black splotch on their chest. I have to assume that’s what made someone say they were in Mourning, though frankly the yellow belly seems a bit cheerful to me!
Mourning Cloak butterflies are a rich dark brown velvet with spots of blue and yellow edges along the wings. I don’t quite see how that makes them like a cloak worn for mourning. The name in German, Swedish and Norwegian translates as mourning cloak. They were the first to so name it as these butterflies live in Europe as well as North America.
Even more mysterious is the Mourning Dove. Their pale tan colours and amazing blue eye rings don’t look mournful to me. I think it’s their doleful, lonely Coke-bottle cooing that must have given them their sad name.
- A Wonder of Warblers
Have you met some other Mourning creatures in your rambles? Please share your sombre experiences with a comment.