A woofen-poof rests on a rocky outcropping
A woofen-poof in flight. The photograph was taken with the "Wemyss-Cholmondeley seleniometric shutter" capable of capturing exposures of 1/8900 second
A small flock of woofen-poofs "flying in the characteristic Sumerian arrow form"
An angry woofen-poof charging the camera
A sketch of the skeleton of a woofen-poof
Cro-magnon depiction of a woofen-poof found on the ceiling of a cave in southern France
(aka Eoörnis Pterovelox Gobiensis)
A 1928 scientific monograph written by Augustus C. Fotheringham introduced the scientific community to the curious bird known as the woofen-poof (scientific classification: Eoörnis pterovelox gobiensis). Or rather, the monograph confirmed the reality of this creature whose existence had been the subject of "long-continued controversy."
The monograph explained that the data about the woofen-poof had been gathered during a four-year expedition to the Gobi Desert, the only known habitat of the creature. Brigadier-General Sir Cecil Wemyss-Cholmondeley had led the expedition, while Fotheringham served as its scientific director.
The scientific response to Fotheringham's monograph was strong and enthusiastic. The monograph was cited numerous times (see Science, Vol. 126, Issue 3262, July 5, 1957: 40-41). But a persistent rumor suggested that "Augustus C. Fotheringham" was actually a pseudonym for L.W. Sharp of the Botanical Society of America. In addition, skeptics noted that the woofen-poof bore an uncanny resemblance to the hood ornament of an automobile.
A few of the key details about the woofen-poof from Fotheringham's monograph are summarized below.
The average woofen-poof is approximately 17 centimeters in length. It has a long beak below which hangs a pendulous pouch, and its wings are extremely short and semi-circular. Its rapid wing-beat produces a distinctive musical sound as it flies, "three octaves above middle C." Its small feathers are sandy brown in color (to help disguise it in the Gobi Desert), but it has a smooth and glossy appearance, almost like polished metal, on account of "the presence of enormous numbers of active sebaceous glands on all parts of the body."
Human awareness of the woofen-poof dates back to the Cro-Magnon period, as evidenced by depictions of the bird that were found in the caves of the Dordogne in France (its habitat evidently extended far beyond the Gobi Desert back then). Ancient Egyptian knowledge of the bird is revealed by three amulets displaying its image found in the tomb of Tut-ankh-amen. The Roman writer Eutropius makes brief reference to a banquet at which were served "three strange Chinese birds with long pouched beaks and very small wings." Marco Polo described an encounter with the bird during his travels in China. But after this no European references to the woofen-poof can be found until Thankgod Pillsbury, the "non-conformist ship's doctor on Captain Cook's ill-fated expedition to the orient," recorded in his diary that the ship's crew had eaten some peculiar "hoofen-soof" eggs received from a group of wandering natives.
The unusual name, "woofen-poof," appears to derive from the sound made by the creature as it alights into the air to begin flying: "a 'woof' or 'whiz' in the air, followed by a 'poof' or 'shush' made by the bird's feet in striking the loose desert sand."
The woofen-poof is a gregarious, social bird. It lives in communities that range in size from 25 to 250 individuals. Flocks of woofen-poofs fly together in their characteristic "sumerian arrow" formation. It is theorized that the woofen-poof's flight formation provided the inspiration for the original Sumerian arrowheads. Its flight speed is extremely rapid, averaging 414 km per hour, with bursts of speed up to 600 km per hours.
When not flying, the woofen-poof can most often be observed in its preferred resting position, "legs straight out behind with the feet on a rock, tree branch, or other object, the body being supported by continuous vibration of the wings."
The woofen-poof feeds exclusively on two foods: the sand-flea of the Gobi Desert, and the fruit of the Gingko Biloba tree. The bird has played an important ecological role by helping both to control the sand-flea population and to distribute the seeds of the Gingko Biloba tree across large distances.
Woofen-poofs display a high degree of social organization. This is seen in their distinctive 'sumerian arrow' flight formation, as well as in their mating habits (they mate with one partner exclusively for life). In addition, they show a strong respect for property rights. This has been deduced by the strict attention they pay to the grouping and boundary-lines of their nests.
Although normally placid by nature, the woofen-poof can be roused quickly to anger when it senses a threat. When angry, it flies at its opponents at high speed, using its closed beak as a deadly weapon.
Curiously, the woofen-poof displays a complete lack of reflex action. This was discovered during an unusual experiment. After being starved of food for a few days, a woofen-poof was placed on the ground equidistant between two piles of food. The researchers assumed that the birds reflex for survival would allow it to make a choice between the two piles, but this proved not to be the case. The bird starved to death, paralyzed by indecision between the two piles.
Social and Moral Significance:
The woofen-poof was "unquestionably the first of higher organisms to develop monogamy." The example of the woofen-poof's monogamy appears to have inspired ancient man to adopt this form of social organization as well, as evidenced by "references in Chinese literature (Analects of Confucius), in our own Bible (Revelations 23, Omitted from the King James version) and in the Koran (VII, II)."
In addition, "Through countless ages and successive civilizations this remarkable bird has been the symbol of speed, stamina, grace of line, proportion of members, and beauty of motion." The result of this inspiration can be observed in a variety of forms, such as "willow pattern chinaware, in the stream-line design of our automobile bodies, and in everyday expressions such as 'graceful as a bird.'"