Eurasian Wryneck and Edward Donovan

October 26, 2010

I was recently tipped off to the work of self-taught, British naturalist Edward Donovan. Donovan was active during the earlier part of the 19th century. I have a very small collection of natural history prints. I am sure there is nothing there that any serious collector would consider valuable. I buy what I like, and what fits my very modest antique print budget. Donovan's work fits my requirements perfectly, as it is generally very reasonably priced. And so I have become the proud owner of one of his small, hand-colored engravings.

Seeking out Donovan's work not only provided me with an opportunity to learn about another naturalist artist, but also to learn about a species of bird with which I was not familiar: the Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla. I was immediately drawn to Donovan's rendering of this strange little bird, and before purchasing the print, I did some research on the species.

Wrynecks belong to a suborder of Piciformes called Jynginae. Piciformes include woodpeckers, and although wrynecks are not true woodpeckers, they share some of their physical traits (long tongue and arrangement of foot tendons) and foraging behavior. One of their most distinctive traits, however, is also their namesake. Wrynecks have the ability to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. When disturbed they can use this snake-like neck movement and hissing as a threat display. As a result, these poor fellows were often used in witchcraft as a way to put a 'jinx' on someone (and who knows what that entailed. Christine O'Donell? What?).

When I went in to the Field Museum last week, Dave Willard indulged my curiousity and pulled a few wryneck specimens from the collections for me to photograph. The first image is of my Donovan print. The second is of a few Field specimens of Jynx torquilla. You can see how well Donovan captured their bark-like plumage in his rendering. The second photo is of a Jynx ruficollis, a species of wryneck that dwells in African forests. You can view a little clip of a wryneck displaying its snaking neck antics HERE.

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