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  • by Jean-Francois Podevin

Rare Birds of North America: The Hippopotingale

It is not aquatic, nor does it resemble a horse, but rather it looks like a distant cousin of what the Egyptians called the "River Horse "or Hippopotamus as we know it. This rendering based on travel sketches attributed to artist Frances Hopkins of the Hudson Bay Company are the only record left of the Hippopotingale 's existence. Frances wrote in her travelogue the only few characteristics known to the bird: " We had set camp in a meadow three days march from Fort Williams....When the sun came up, we heard the most exquisite of bird songs, with musical scales ranging from high soprano to baritone. Was this the voice of angels, was this the music of the Spheres?... I moved ever so slowly, nearer to the voices , to catch a glimpse of these divine creatures , afraid to disturb the beauty and other-worldliness of their exquisite song. I was fortunate to witness a whole family of birds sitting on a low branch singing in unison. They appeared to be the size of doves but lacked the physical grace as my sketch shows.. "Des Hippopotames, des Rossignopotames! ... C'est ca qu'y faut qu'on les appelle ces sacres bestioles.! "*, yelled Augustin our " trappeur", at the top of his voice. At this, the birds flew away, to our great dismay, they were never to be seen again. In time I forgave Augustin, but I couldn't come to terms with his naming of the bird, " Rossignopotame", how rustic, how Gallic! I believed that instead, the English "Hippopotingale" was far more becoming..." (* That's what we should call them critters.")

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