Ḵ’ask’ud (Harlequin duck)

Photo: Jags Brown

Alaskan Xaadas Kil: K’ask’ud
HlGaagilda Xaayda Kil: K‘ayda  k’uuxawuu
English: Harlequin Duck
Latin: Histrionicus histrionicus

K’ask’ud 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, k’ask’ud favour oceans, yet they breed in fresh-water mountain streams away from the seashore.

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. Prior to 1905, anthropologist John R Swanton recorded a Haida explanation of howk’ask’ud received these 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.

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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