Birds speak Maya? That was certainly my question when my Chichí (grandmother) told me about the Ts’apin (grey jumper), a bird that shows off its beautiful chirping song all summer long. When it does, it sounds like it’s saying, “Chuuke ch’íich’o, Juan,” which in English means “catch the bird, Juan.” It’s a bit ironic, but yes, you do have to hear this marvelous bird “speaking” Maya. I assure you that your perspective on birds’ songs will change completely—of course, for the better.
Just like my Chichí, the majority of the Yucatecans of a certain age know what I’m talking about. Don Pil, a retired Milpa (field) worker, has a wealth of knowledge about the Yucatecan forest, as he has worked there since he was a young boy. He tells us about the birds who say different phrases in Maya. For example, the Beech (quail), who sings “Yaaba P’aax (you have a lot of debt).” If you see one, make a note of this: it might be a sign to watch your money. If you hear Chachalacas (Ortalis vetula) saying “Jooykepech” (you are lazy), Ponte Xuux (be alert): take that as a reminder that you should be making the most of your day.
A friendlier bird song is that of the Pich (singing thrush) that says “Pichculin, Pichculin.” I know this might sound like nonsense, but here’s the thing: ‘Pichculin’ is a sort of pet name that many Yucatecan grandmothers call their children and grandchildren. It’s a special way of showing them love and affection.
The famous Xkokolché (mockingbird) is right up there with the other “talkers.” Among his beautiful songs, there’s one that goes “Éul,” loud and clear. It sounds like he’s calling for someone, as if he were speaking to someone named “Éul.” At least that’s what don Pil tells us, and what has been passed on from generation to generation.
There is no doubt that nature is amazing. Now combine that thought with the observations of our grandparents and other ancestors. The Maya really had a special connection with life and their surroundings. All they needed was to pay attention and add a bit of imagination to come up with their own interpretation of things.
Take note of these phrases and their winged authors so that when you go out birding in the Yucatecan forest (what we call “el Monte”), you can easily identify them. Who knows, maybe you can also decipher what their songs are saying. If you need or would like to have a guide to explore and learn more about the birds, here are some contacts:
Xocén Birding Trail
Bioparque Pakal Kaax
Cardenales Birding Tours
By Fernanda Pacheco
Yucatecan tourismologist, starting in the fascinating world of writers and content creation. Ready to show the world Yucatán’s purity.
Photography by Ángel Fernando Castillo for use in Yucatán Today.
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