This is all you usually see of a shitepoke. They’re shy.
My father had stories he’d tell, time and time again, and one of them was from his one-room schoolhouse when he was a farm boy in Iowa. The teacher asked the kids to make a list of all the birds they knew, and they were busy scratching away with their pencils when one boy raised his hand and asked, “Ma’am, how do you spell “shitepoke?”
Dad would always laugh, sometimes with a little snort, when he hit the punchline on that story. And I would laugh too, but I never quite got what was so funny about the story. I thought it was quaint that a child would ask the teacher to spell a colloquial name of a bird—“shitepoke” is an old country name for a heron. Kind of a funny name. I wondered about it then, and I’ve been wondering about it until just today.
I spent the day in my little canoe, drifting along on Seneca Lake and Wolf Run, messing about with herons. I got close to two green herons and three great blues, banging away with my 300 mm. lens, trying to get a decent photograph. The herons were less than thrilled with my attentions. One of my sharper photos was this one.
It is a dark but otherwise o.k. portrait of a Green Heron, only slightly compromised by the giant dollop of fish emulsion exiting its cloaca.
I looked at that photo, thinking at first the white thing was a branch, and when I realized what I’d photographed, I burst out laughing. And, perhaps the recipient of a cosmic tap on the shoulder by my Dear Old Dad, I started to think about the name, “shitepoke.” Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the derivation of “shite.” It’s a polite way to pronounce it, to make the i long, but it’s still feces. And poke? What IS a shitepoke? And suddenly, like a bolt, it hit me that “poke” is an archaic word for a sack or a bag. Pig in a poke. So “shitepoke” means “sh-tsack.” Aggggh!
Anyone who’s ever flushed a heron and watched it fly away, a streamer of white trailing out behind it, knows what a descriptive name that is. “Chalkline” is another colloquial name for a heron. Shitepoke. I….love….it.
I sat alone in my canoe in the quiet little cove, laughing until I made the boat rock, laughing until the ripples spread out around me, and I felt my daddy right there, laughing with me. I’ve been trying for most of my 50 years to figure out what was so funny about that story. DOD, I finally got it.
Poop Week is a week of themed posts on 10,000 Birds that cover the intersection of poop and birding, a fertile precinct if there ever was one. Rather than just discuss the horror of a pigeon dropping droppings on someone’s head we decided to really get down the nitty-gritty details of poop, to the point where it is squishing up between our toes. Not only is Poop Week a fascinating way to spend seven days in June it is also a serious attempt to elevate the level of discourse in the bird blogosphere, which, as we all have no choice but to admit, is far too low. Enjoy, and make sure to wipe up afterwards, would you?
We don’t have a photo of a bird “doing a poo” yet! Well done! 🙂
Thanks for giving us the straight poop on shitepokes.
One of the many great things about DOD was that he WOULDN’T explain something like that to you, but would have faith that you would figure it out eventually. Sometimes it took years.
🙂 Dan! ‘Struth!
I don’t do that much photography, but I seem to have dozens photos of similarly disposed birds. I think I must be scarier.
i go on the internet and same here murr brewster i dont do so much photography of birds but i can email u all the birds i have seen first email me at email@example.com
i have seen loads of super birds like
blackbirds starlings house sparrows tree sparrows robins wood pigeons and collared doves theses are examples
bye bye see u later on my email
Thanks, Julie, for the great story!
So that’s where the name comes from. I grew up calling Bitterns “Shitepoke” because that’s what my dad called them. But like your dad he left it without explanation.
Very nice post. Amazing how some things finally click.
Unfortunately, that’s what my dad called me! He would also proclaim, “Light somewhere, would you?” In my mom’d diary I found an entry from the day I started to school. She said, “I pity the teacher.”
My Dad called them Cream shitters as that was what they left when we were trout fishing
I’m 70 plus yrs. Old and remember my dad telling us kids about “shitepokes” and other birds and animals. We were very lucky to live by swamps and small lakes in northern Indiana. We looked for everything that was in the outdoors.we even had someone tricked into snipe hunting once in awhile.like yoursite.
Yet another Aha moment in life! Thank you for the education and a laugh. Great photos
My Dad from rural west Michigan spoke of shitepokes and their unpleasant habits. I didn’t know what sort of bird they were until now.