Faint Echo of Jackdaws

When a jackdaw (ċawla) was shot in Gozo in April 1956, it marked the passing of a species that up till a hundred years earlier had been such a common presence on the Maltese islands that they bred in the fortifications of Valletta much like pigeons do today.  As hunting became a more popular pass time, however, their numbers were whittled down to the extent that only a few colonies in the cliffs on the Southern side of Malta survived.

Eventually these too were killed off.  No one had bothered to heed the words of Maltese naturalist Giuseppe Despott who predicted that this bird would be exterminated unless something was done to protect them.

A sad story rendered even worse because it seems that its warnings have been forgotten.  And those who do not learn from the lessons of history truly are bound to repeat them.

Still the presence of jackdaws can still be felt in the Maltese countryside although you do need something of an intimate knowledge to catch it.

Walking through a valley or across fields during spring, one might come across this distinctive, beautiful white flower that in English is known as the Large Star of Bethlehem or Arabian Starflower.

The Maltese name is far more attention grabbing.  Often it is referred to as Ħalib it-Tajr (Birds’ Milk) but its traditional name was Ħara taċ-Ċawl (literally, Jackdaw’s Shit).  When naturalists were first cataloging local flowers this was considered too vulgar so someone must have decided to turn to its scientific name; ornithogalum.

This is the combination of two Greek words: ornis which means bird and gala which is milk.  From this combination, and its translation, emerged the name Ħalib it-Tajr.

Most probably because it is down to the historical link to a past that has been forgotten but, while it might be a strange name with which to label a flower as beautiful as this, I very much prefer Ħara taċ-Ċawl.

Botanical Name: Ornithogalum Arabicus

Common name: Large Star of Bethlehem / Arabian Starflower (English) Ħalib it-Tajr / Ħara taċ-Ċawl (Maltese)

Family:  Asparagus Family