Latvian President Andris Bērziņš announced the name of a new species of bird just introduced in his country. The species was developed by ornithologist Jānis Ozols (pronounced “Yonniss Wozzles”) at Bauska University, with the support of the Latvian government. Last Sunday, the president appeared on national television to, in his words, “Welcome our new national bird: the plēsīgā pundurvista!”1
The former national bird, the white wagtail (baltā cielava), has been losing popularity for various reasons. First, it was chosen at a 1960 meeting of the International Bird Protection Council in Tokyo, which some say amounts to meddling by non-Latvian parties. Second, many feel that the White Wagtail fails to properly represent Latvia since it leaves the country during winter for warmer climates‒what true Latvian would leave his beloved homeland just because of a little cold? To add to this, the name “wagtail” has come into use by Russians as an ethnic slur.
Having assembled a task force to determine the proper characteristics of a new national bird, the Saeima (Latvian legislature) decided that the bird should combine the majesty of the eagle with the nutritional value of poultry. Dr. Ozols was selected for the work due to his expertise in the principles of bird evolution, although he had never tried to create a new species before. “I saw it as a challenge in which I could demonstrate my national pride and contribute a great advancement to the disciplines of biology and ornithology.” He also cleverly incorporated the Latvian flag into the colours of its plumage, which is maroon on top and bottom, and white in the middle.
The only major group to question the decision, the Latvian Bird Society (Latviešu Putnu Apvienība), made a public statement that it simply does not need a new species. “I believe we have enough,” said society president Miķelis Stārķis. Bird-watcher Ruta Kalniņš agrees, complaining that she has already spent the better part of her 82 years of life “capturing every single species known in Latvia” on her list of sightings.
During the process of creating this new bird, Dr. Ozols had to learn to imitate 37 different bird calls. “You cannot just mate an eagle with a turkey, ” he explained. “It took several intermediate steps, with a great deal of trial and error. The grouse and the spoonbill required serious convincing.” But after several years of work, Dr. Ozols feels he has succeeded in capturing the desired traits in a species “that will soar in the highest Latvian mountains,2 and land in the most decorated holiday banquets” for feasts such as Christmas and Restoration of Independence Day.
It is yet to be determined whether the new national bird will eat the national insect, which is the two-spot ladybird.