The Diver Bird
An animal’s adaptation to an environment and the living conditions offered by a biotope ultimately determine the fate of a species. Normally we are used to seeing birds fly, fish swim and animals on the ground. There are nevertheless some behavioural crossovers and the cases which step out of the realm of the ordinary usually constitute a species’ point of attraction. There is, for example, a bird which feels at home underwater although it can fly well. It lives in our country as well, near rapid mountain waters, more precisely in areas were deciduous and coniferous forests mix. It is 25 centimetres long and its coat of feathers is modestly coloured: black-grey with a white crescent on its neck. Its beak is yellow-coloured. The plumage is thick and greasy and thus perfect for the water not to cling to it during the bird’s immersion. The people living in the mountain chain know it as the ‘little seagull’ or the ‘river blackbird’ (in English it is known as the white-throated dipper – trans.). What sets this bird apart from the others is the fact that it only forages on the bottom of clear mountain rivers. It dives and walks on the bottom of the water very easily, even against the current, looking for aquatic larvae, worms and snails. Unlike other birds which can swim, it does not have an interdigital membrane whatsoever. It is so lively and strong that it can effortlessly swim underwater, even in the middle of a torrent. For its daily diving trips, which are quite numerous if we take into consideration a bird’s considerable appetite, nature has endowed it with a special gift: it can close its nostrils as it wishes thanks to some pores that it has. A gland which secretes a fat substance whenever necessary makes the plumage stay dry even if the underwater hunting trip has lasted longer than we can imagine. Of the five species which exist in the world, one of them lives in Romania, the others live in Asia and North and South America. A lover of water, it builds its nest near river banks and sometimes even behind the web of drops of a small waterfall, of which there are plenty in the mountains. To stay underwater, the bird applies an instinctual technique: it opens its wings and thus it is pushed to the bottom by the water current. Known by experts under the name of Cinclus Cinclus, the white-throated dipper stays faithful to its nesting places. It is only in winter that it comes down into the fields, looking for rivers which do not freeze. Translated by Monica Mircescu

by Iuliu Raţiu (1930-2009)