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Mitos y Leyendas: Scarlet tanager

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Scarlet tanager, Shutterstock
  • Genny de Bernardo shares with you the legend of the Scarlet tanager.
  • It’s about a bird that considered itself unattractive.
  • A sorcerer gave it a wonderful hue after an act worthy of a warrior.

Ulian, a member of the Tehuelche tribe, had exceptional skills. In his community, everyone revered him and showed deep respect towards him.

Not only the Indians of his tribe appreciated him, but also the plants and animals, with which he could communicate, as he understood their languages and got along perfectly with them.

When Ulian was a child, it was the forest animals who saved him from a terrible fate…

One day, Ulian sat in the forest to have a serious conversation with a little grey bird he called «scarlet tanager».

The scarlet tanager feels ugly

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As on so many previous occasions, Ulian tried to persuade the little bird that it was as valuable and beautiful as the other birds, but the scarlet tanager was not convinced:

Can’t you see that I don’t have brightly colored plumage? Don’t you realize that I’m so small I almost go unnoticed? Look at me closely: I am ugly!… very ugly!

The scarlet tanager was so sure of its words that it believed everyone shared its opinion, so it always flew alone to avoid comparisons with the beautiful multicolored birds that inhabited the forest.

While Ulian was busy with his conversation with the scarlet tanager, he didn’t notice the approach of a malevolent giant who lived nearby and envied Ulian’s magical powers.

Scarlet tanager to the rescue

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In the blink of an eye, the giant captured the boy and locked him in a cave, sealing it completely in the hope that he would die there.

However, the giant made a mistake by leaving a small opening unsealed, and it was through this gap that the scarlet tanager slipped in.

With its weak beak, it tried to free Ulian from the ropes that bound him, but its strength was insufficient.

When the giant realized its presence, he let out a roar so thunderous that it stripped the little bird of all its feathers on the head.

Plan for help

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Go and ask for help from my brothers, the animals; Ulian said telepathically, as his mouth was covered.

The scarlet tanager, full of fear and desperation, put aside its shame and flew directly to the forest clearing, where it met with the other animals and told them about the terrible situation.

They quickly planned a strategy: the tuco-tuco would dig a tunnel from its burrow to the cave to free Ulian.

They waited until night and began the task. Although the tuco-tuco was the leader, all the animals collaborated in the excavation, removing the earth and opening the tunnel until reaching the cave walls.

In search of Ulian

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There, they heard the knocks that Ulian was making with his heels to indicate his position.

In absolute silence, the tuco-tuco dug a hole big enough.

Meanwhile, the scarlet tanager re-entered the cave to keep Ulian company and watch the rescue.

The animals worked together to drag the prisoner, who was still tied and gagged, through the newly excavated tunnel towards the tuco-tuco’s lair, where they planned to hide him.


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Just when they were about to start their retreat, the giant woke up and let out a furious roar.

The scarlet tanager was scared, but its first thought was to alert its friends about the giant’s wrath. The first thing that occurred to it was to shout as loud as the giant (or at least, it thought so):

churruit… churruit… churruit… churruit… churruit… churruit… churruit… churruit.

The giant, enraged by the noise, threw a thick spine that embedded deeply in the bird’s chest. Then, he chased after the scarlet tanager.

The new hue

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Meanwhile, the other animals continued with the rescue, and the tuco-tuco closed the entrance of the tunnel they had built.

Once Ulian was safe, the scarlet tanager, bloodied and exhausted, stopped shouting and flew to a chañar, where it fainted at the foot of the tree. There, it was rescued by a lark, which took it back to Ulian.

With some magical spells, Ulian healed it, but decided that it would forever carry the colors of blood in its plumage as a symbol of its bravery and courage.

And so, because of this brave action, the scarlet tanager was no longer grey, but now sported the beautiful colors it had envied in other birds. Mitos y Leyendas bids you farewell for now and thanks you for your attention. See you next time!

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