Monthly Archives: January 2020

A Query about “Alula”

A recent inquiry comes to us from an ESTAR(SER) researcher in Japan:

In the course of a larger project investigating Ptilosis among associates/affiliates of the Order of the Third Bird in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I stumbled upon the valuable work of Waldron DeWitt Miller (1879-1929), whose tragic death in a motorcycle accident in the New Jersey Pine Barrens was a blow both to lovers of birds (in the avian sense), and to whose who knew Miller better under the Birdish sobriquet Wood Pewee. By this moniker he called countless “Actions” of the Avis Tertia in and around the American Museum of Natural History in the ‘teens and twenties (including a notorious 1922 occasion in which  a cohort of devotees attended durationally and metempsychotically upon a large Charles R. Knight painting depicting neanderthals in the act of realizing cave paintings; the resulting “graffiti” in the great hall were later determined to have been done by vandals unrelated to the Action).

Miller’s celebrated “Notes on Ptilosis, with Special Reference to the Feathering of the Wing” (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 34 [1915]: 129-140) contains a lengthy discussion of the alula (or “bastard wing”) of the cuckoo bird (genus Tapera), which is notable for its size. The broader evolutionary/systematic significance of this characteristic may be put aside (for now), since it was my effort to follow up on Miller’s alula observations that led me to a most peculiar and roundabout “discovery” — the immediate object of the present correspondence.

Briefly, then: In the course of a set of Google searches of the term “alula,” I stumbled on what would appear to be a kind of magazine or samizdat publication distributed under that title. In itself, this elicited no surprise.  I assumed it must be a minor ornithological bulletin, or perhaps a gazetteer issued in connection with one or another of the eponymous towns of the Arab world.  But upon closer perusal, it seemed impossible to deny that this “Alula” publication has some connection to the attentional activities of the Order of the Third Bird itself! Imagine my surprise at the circuit my researches had run in this instance!  Most bizarre.  I include here two images from the website of the publication, placing in evidence proofs that it must hail from persons conversant with the usages of the Avis Tertia.  Consider:

I should add that I have written to these Alula editor/authors in the (provided) “contact” section of their website — seeking more information.  But have nothing from them yet (and am not overly optimistic).

For those wishing to consult the publication, I provide a link here.  Anyone with further information, correspondence would be welcome.

The editors of Communiqués did indeed follow up on the link, and we are in sympathy with our colleague in Tokyo: uncanny.  We would be happy to receive (and will transmit) any further intelligence.