Birds of the Bible – A Gull?

Common Gull (Larus canus) by Robert Scanlon

Common Gull (Larus canus) by Robert Scanlon

The following two verses have been used several times in the Birds of the Bible articles. It is interesting in how one of the birds is translated in the various versions.

the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, (Leviticus 11:16 ESV)
the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; (Deuteronomy 14:15 ESV)

I have been reading through the English Standard Version and found the “sea gull” listed in those verses. Those verses are in the list of the birds the Israelites were not to eat. Previously, I had used the KJV which translates  “שׁחף” as “the cuckoo: Shachpaph, probably the sea-gull or mew”(H7828).

See Birds of the Bible – Cuckoo and Cuckoo II where the Cuckoo is considered as the bird mentioned. But, what if it is one of the other options? Those options would be the sea-hawk, seamew, seagull or gull. Only one mentions the sea-hawk, so for now that will be ignored until another time.

Mew Gull (Larus canus) by Ian

Mew Gull (Larus canus) by Ian

A Seamew according to Wikipedia is the Common Gull (European and Asian subspecies; see below) or Mew Gull (North American subspecies) Larus canus which is a medium-sized gull which breeds in northern Asia, northern Europe and northwestern North America. It migrates further south in winter. Its name does not indicate that it is an abundant species, but that during the winter it feeds on common land, short pasture used for grazing.

Mew Gull (Larus canus) by Daves BirdingPix

Mew Gull (Larus canus) by Daves BirdingPix

Adults are 15.7-18.1 in (40-46 cm) long, obviously smaller than the Herring Gull, and slightly smaller than the Ring-billed Gull, also differing from this in its shorter, more tapered bill with a more greenish shade of yellow, as well as being unmarked during the breeding season. The body is grey above and white below. The legs are greenish-yellow. In winter, the head is streaked grey, and the bill often has a poorly-defined blackish band near the tip (sometimes sufficiently obvious to cause confusion with Ring-billed Gull). They have black wingtips with large white “mirrors”. Young birds have scaly black-brown upperparts and a neat wing pattern, and grey legs. They take two to three years to reach maturity. The call is a high-pitched “laughing” cry.

Mew Gull (Larus canus) chicks ©USFWS

Mew Gull (Larus canus) chicks ©USFWS

Both Common and Mew Gulls breed colonially near water or in marshes, making a lined nest on the ground or in a small tree; colony size varies from 2 to 320 or even more pairs. Usually three eggs are laid (sometimes just one or two); they hatch after 24–26 days, with the chicks fledging after a further 30–35 days. Like most gulls, they are omnivores and will scavenge as well as hunt small prey. The global population is estimated to be about one million pairs; they are most numerous in Europe, with over half (possibly as much as 80-90%) of the world population. By contrast, the Alaskan population is only about 10,000 pairs.

Some of the commentaries have this to say about the bird:
Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown – “the cuckoo — Evidently some other bird is meant by the original term, from its being ranged among rapacious birds. Dr. Shaw thinks it is the safsaf; but that, being a graminivorous and gregarious bird, is equally objectionable. Others think that the sea mew, or some of the small sea fowl, is intended.”
K & D – “slender gull
Barnes – “Lev_11:16 – And the owl … – Rather, “and the ostrich, and the owl, and the gull, and the hawk,” etc.
John Gill’s – “and the cuckoo; a bird well known by its voice at least: some have thought it to be the same with the hawk, changing its figure and voice; but this has been refuted by naturalists (a): but though it is here forbidden to be eaten, yet its young, when fat, are said to be of a grateful savour by Aristotle: and Pliny (b) says, no bird is to be compared to it for the sweetness of its flesh, though perhaps it may not be here intended: the word is by the Septuagint rendered asea gull”, and so it is by Ainsworth, and which is approved of by Bochart (c):”

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) by Lee

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) by Lee

Will the mystery be solved? Not by me. I still find it amazing that the different versions use the different meaning for words, but then again, that is just like today. Our language is constantly changing the definitions of words or making other things mean the same.

Just keeping up with the names of birds today is a challenge. Every 3-4 months the I.O.C. make changes. Names of birds come and go. One bird can have many names and the different countries name them different. That is the reason they use the scientific names so they can talk about the same bird. Problem to that is that they even change the scientific name occasionally. The birds mentioned in Scripture were named in those verses several thousand years ago.

One thing is certain, there is one thing that remains the same:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8 KJV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8 ESV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8 ASV)
Jesus Christ yesterday and to-day the same, and to the ages; (Hebrews 13:8 YLT)

See:

Birds of the Bible – Sea Gulls

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