The rainbird identity

“The Rainbird Identity”


When I was a little boy growing up in the Chesapeake region, I remember the big summer thunderstorms. We’d be out on our porch to enjoy the breeze. I was too small to get on the big green rocking chairs so I’d sit on the floor. As the storm arrived with its black clouds, the air would become heavy and our front yard would be very quiet. A solitary bird always began to call or sing. One time I looked up at my mother sitting in her rocker and asked her, “What is that bird?” She smiled and said, “That’s the rainbird telling us that the rain is on its way.” Of course, I was too young to identify the bird. Since then, I’ve always wondered about the type of bird that was speaking.


There are many legends in various cultures. The Chinese have had a rainbird legend since antiquity. It was called “shang yang.” The story goes that this bird advised the rulers that rain was coming and they did not heed. Those ancient floods killed many people. Chinese, following this legend over the ages, decided that this bird was a god and deserved to be listened to.  In Native American lore the rainbird was a harbinger of the rain needed for crops. This bird was especially important for the Western tribes living in desert terrain.


With all this legend suggesting bird forecasting talent, it is likely that birds might have something in their bodies that allows them to forecast rain. Scientists found that they do. Birds feel the changes in barometric pressure. With storms, the barometer goes down as we all know. Birds sense this. It is because of the Vitali Organ, a middle ear receptor that senses small changes in atomospheric pressure. (


So legend supports the existence of a rainbird and science tell us that birds have the capability. Now all we need to do is identify the specific breed that I, as a little boy, heard from my porch, long ago in the Chesapeake.


Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion as to the identity of this bird and there are certainly other bird types that could be chosen. I picked out five possible birds that could have been in that summer yard. Before the storm arrived, they could have made the loud noise to warn of the coming rain. These are the blue jay (cyanocitta cristata), the northern cardinal (cardinalidae), the gray catbird (dumetella carolinensis, the northern mockingbird (mimus polyglottos), and the American robin (turdus migratorius).




   Blue Jay                Cardinal                  Catbird          Mockingbird        Robin

Photos from blue jay (mdf), cardinal©Dakota L., catbird©Peter Massa, mockingbird(©Ryan Haggerty), robin (mdf).



Then I compared the voices of these birds for loudness that could have been heard by a nearby small boy. These are available on recordings for listening in the data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (


Blue Jay:            loud jeer sound

Cardinal:          loud cheer sound

Catbird:            loud whistles, squeaks and a quiet mew sound

Mockingbird:    loud tchack sound

Robin:                loud cheer up sound


My choice for the rainbird identity is the Northern Cardinal. What is your choice? Listen to the sounds at the Cornell Lab site and make your own decision.



Thomas Hollyday author of books, cartoons, and articles. See his fiction and nature books at


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Part black. Part Irish. Part Lumbee Indian.

Wholly determined to protect her family.

Naomi Jackson made a mistake. Born in the tumltuous years following the American Revolution, she embraced change, excitement, and adventure. So when the Devil Bill Williams swaggered into town, she launched into his arms, determined that her love for him could overcome all obstacles.

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Across the River – an 1800s Black / Native American Novella is the first in a series of novellas about Naomi Jackson’s heartfelt, challenging life. These stories are based loosely on author Lisa Shea’s real-life ancestor, Naomi Jackson, who was born in 1784 in Guilford County, North Carolina. Her father had been taken from Northern Ireland as a child, while her mother was mixed-blood black, Lumbee, and Irish. Each novella has a cliff-hanger ending, much like Naomi’s life.

An important note for readers of my various series. Normally my content is quite “clean” with little to no swearing, violence, or physical intimacy. With this being based on the immense hardships my ancestor struggled through, I wanted to be authentic to the issues she rose above. This book therefore includes period-appropriate harsh language as well as several scenes of conflict. I gave a great deal of thought to including these and feel they are necessary to fully convey the trials she overcame.

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