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Meet the Harlequin Duck

September 09, 2019

Learn the Story of K‘ayda k’uuxawuu

Prior to 1905, anthropologist John R Swanton* recorded a Haida explanation of how k‘ayda k’uuxawuu harlequin ducks received their colourful feather designs:

When Nang Kilslaas Raven first started he decked out the birds. They were made of different varieties, as they now appear to us, in one house. Then, as soon as he had dressed up the birds, they went out together. At that time he refused to adorn two of them […]

The two birds Nang Kilslaas Raven had refused to adorn went crying to the supernatural beings and came to Rose Spit, where they heard a drum sound toward the woods. They went thither. When they came and stood before ’Wadgaadagan Master Carpenter with tear marks on their faces, he asked: “What causes your tear marks?” They then answered: “Raven decked out the other birds. He said we were not worth adorning.” ’Wadgaadagan said “And yet you are going to be handsomer than all others,” and, having let them in, he painted them up. He put designs on their skins. Those were the k‘ayda k’uuxawuu harlequin duck.



K‘ayda k’uuxawuu harlequin ducks are distinguished by their mouse-like calls, but this is just a small part of a large repertoire of interesting calls that also includes a low grunting sound. K’ayda k’uuxawuu are equally unique in the range of their habitat. As diving birds who enjoy eating mollusks and crustaceans, harlequin ducks favour oceans, yet they breed in fresh-water mountain streams away from the seashore.

Harlequins are classified as sea ducks, yet they migrate inland to breed.

K‘ayda k’uuxawuu garner great attention because of their beautiful plumage, which accounts for their English name “Harlequin”. A harlequin is a colourfully clothed traditional French performer, not unlike the clown in a circus.

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Article Credit: CHN - HaidaNation.ca
*This story is cited on page 128 of Haida Texts and Myths, a collection of Haida stories gathered by JR Swanton.

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