Huhugam Heritage Center Story

Huhugam Heritage Center



The name for this month translates to “The Cold Moon.”  This is the time of year that certain birds pass through our community heading south for the winter.  Some northern birds stay with us during the winter months. 


Two Raptors are Vakav ‘Northern Harrier’ and Hauk Shalivkam ‘Cooper’s Hawk.’ Vakav’s other O’otham name is S-he:pith Wa’otham ‘Bringer of the Cold.’  Vakav can be observed flying low over open fields and desert.  When hunting, they will emit a whistle-like shriek, to scare game from hiding. 


They are easily identified by the white patch on their backside.  Another wintering Raptor is Hauk Shalivkam ‘Cooper’s Hawk.’  Hauk Shalivkam feeds mostly on other small birds and can be observed catching birds in flight.  Hauk Shalivkam are easily identified by their ‘leather chaps.’  


There are four Song Birds that spend their winters on our community and their presence are not hard to miss.  Thamthal ‘White-crowned Sparrow’ are easily recognized by their black and white stripes on their heads. 


The adults sing an easily identifiable call early in the mornings and late evenings.  They flock in groups and can be observed hopping along the ground foraging for seeds.  If there is open water nearby, they can be observed taking their morning baths, even in cold weather. 


Another Song Bird is Sua:m Omkam ‘Yellow-rumped Warbler’ and the name refers to the bright yellow patch on its backside.  Sua:m Omkam gathers in small flocks and feeds on small insects and seeds.  They can be observed fliting about on trees and brush. 


Their song consists of a quick series short of chirps that are easily recognized. They too, like to take their early morning baths, sometimes with other species of birds.  Sua:m Omkam are constantly in motion throughout the day. 


One Song Bird that is easily identified by its call is Gikuchk’tham ‘Black Phoebe’ and the name means ‘the whistler.’ Gikuchk’tham are solitary feeders taking insects in flight or darting out from perches. 


Their loud two-part series of whistles are easily identified in the early mornings and late evenings.  The final Song Bird we will feature in this article is S-veg Vonomman ‘Ruby-crowned Kinglet.’  


The O’otham name means ‘wears a red hat’ and refers to its red crown that is raised when the bird gets excited.  Their song consists of a quick chatter followed by two-part chirps.  These small olive and grayish birds can be observed foraging in small flocks.   


We encourage you to get out and enjoy the outdoors as cooler weather arrives.  You can attract different species of birds into your yards by several actions. One way is to set up an outdoor Hummingbird feeder next to a widow in a quiet area.


Another way is to hang a bird feeder somewhere in your yard and fill it with bird seed.  Finally, a bird bath is the best way to attract wintering birds for their daily baths.  We encourage you to speak O’otham in your everyday lives.


Speak with an Elder or Speaker and see how they would say the bird names in O’otham.  Some bird names might be slightly different between villages.  This month’s word match will test your identification knowledge of the wintering birds on our community.


A special Thank You to Vah-ki Elders for sharing their knowledge of O’otham Ñeok in naming a few of the wintering birds.  Other information about bird identification, behavior and coloration are related from Wings in the Desert: A Folk Ornithology of the Northern Pimans, University of Arizona Press, 2007; Winter Birds of the Gila River Indian Community- Department of Environmental Quality-GRIC, NAU, Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, 2018.