Bird stories, Brandts Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)

Native dancers throughout California commonly blow bird bone whistles to accompany their movements. The shrill sound of the whistles was not appreciated by the 18th century Spanish explorer Pedro Fages, who encountered them among the Chumash. These people have been playing bird bone whistles for 3000 years, up to the present day. Archaeological examples include whistles made from wing or leg bones of Cormorant and other species.

Although they wore little clothing, the Chumash people did use blankets for sleeping and capes to wear in colder weather. Feathered garments were made in several ways: (1) sewing large pieces of bird skins together; (2) weaving strips of bird skin which had been twisted around plant-fiber cordage; or (3) twisting feathers or feather down into the plant fibers while making the cordage, then weaving that. One Indian woman who lived alone on San Nicolas Island from 1835 to 1853, when rescued was wearing a long, sleeveless dress made from squares of Cormorant skins sewn together.


People of the Sky: Birds in Chumash Culture by Jan Timbrook and John R. Johnson Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 1999.

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