I must say, the people at the Audubon Naturalist Society are taking the erroneous name given to the red-tailed hawk living atop Washington National Cathedral much better than I am. In fact, they’re shrugging off the misnomer like water from a . . . well, you know.
In case you hadn’t heard, the cathedral recently had an online “name the raptor” poll. Among the decidedly ecclesiastical choices — Grace, Gloria, Vesper, Deacon, etc. — was Millennium.
That’s as in Millennium Falcon, the spaceship that Han Solo pilots in the Star Wars movies. The cathedral already has a grotesque carved to look like Darth Vader, so the name was in keeping with George Lucas’s oeuvre.
That’s the name a majority of the voters picked: Millennium Falcon, even though the bird is not a falcon but a hawk. Hawks have feathered “fingers” at the ends of their wings, instead of the tapered points that falcon wings come to. Falcons such as the peregrine are rarer in our area.
This is what happens when you let the public vote. Sometimes, we can’t be trusted. Look at that research vessel in Britain, which, if the public had had its way, would have been christened Boaty McBoatface. (It became RRS Sir David Attenborough, with an underwater vehicle it carries bearing the BMcB moniker.)
I figured that ornithologists and other bird-lovers would surely share my sense of outrage. I mean, a hawk isn’t a falcon. With our skyscrapers, chemicals and habitat destruction, humans are killing millions of birds a year. Shouldn’t we at least be able to properly differentiate among the victims?
But Alison Pierce at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., was more forgiving. “Hawk Solo would have been a more taxonomically-correct choice,” she wrote in an email. “But since hawks and falcons are both part of the order Falconiformes, we’re willing to give them a pass on Millennium Falcon. As the D.C. region’s consummate birdwatchers and lovers, we think it’s cool that so many area residents appreciate the beauty of the red-tailed hawk, which is one of our most common raptors.”
Alison said that at least the cathedral’s bird hasn’t been named after one of the bad guys from Star Wars. They could have gone with Jabba the Hawk, she pointed out.
In fact, Alison said, Star Wars villains lend themselves to all sorts of avian appellations: Kylo Wren instead of Kylo Ren; Emperor Passerine instead of Emperor Palpatine (passerines are perching birds); Dodo Fett instead of Boba Fett; General Grebe-ous instead of General Grievous, and Count Cuckoo instead of Count Dooku.
I just thought of two: Princess Rhea and Luke Flycatcher.
Alison said that whatever the bird at the cathedral is named, we should delight in the fact that red-tailed hawks possess almost Jedi-like powers. They have vision eight times sharper than a human’s and the ability to dive at 150 mph.
May the feathers be with you.
Birds come in flocks, unless they’re crows, in which case they come in murders: a murder of crows. Bernie Markstein of Silver Spring, Md., thinks a group of dockless bike-share bicycles all together on a sidewalk should have a similar name.
He suggested: a biathlon of bikes (“sounds good, but is clearly wrong,” Bernie wrote); a clutch of bikes; a cabal of bikes; a pedal of bikes; an attire of bikes (“nice pun with little meaning”); a brake of bikes; a stumble of bikes (“a nod to your column”); a whir of bikes; a flight of bikes.
I kind of like a name inspired by the aftermath of last week’s windstorm: a tangle of bikes.
From two wheels to four: John Huber of Montgomery Village, Md., wonders where he can get the type of car polish he sees on all the automakers’ TV commercials.
“This must be some truly wonderful stuff, since none of the vehicles shown driving through miles of backcountry, snow-covered roads have any evidence of dirt, salt spray or slush splashes on them,” John wrote. “They remain immaculately clean.”
Tongue in cheek, John wonders how mere mortals can get their hands on this magical stuff.
Wrote John: “I realize that the carwash association and paint manufacturers, among others, may be hiding this trade secret, but I’m sure you can get to the bottom of it.”
Are you kidding? I’m not going up against Big Polish. I don’t want to get waxed.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.