The colorful Sparrow Hawk is part of the origin story of the legendary Kansas Jayhawk.
A Jayhawk is a mythical bird – a combination of a Jay and a Hawk. But there are a lot of different jay birds and hawks out there, and I began this collection wondering what specific types of birds were the basis for our beloved mascot? What seemed like a simple question led me into a fascinating web of stories over time, each pointing to different possibilities for the specific type of hawk. I wanted to tell those stories, and painted four different birds to represent the four prevailing stories. Each was carefully chosen with the help of an ornithologist based on the bird behavior and characteristics in the stories as well as location, name and time of year. Learn more about the full Origin Stories Collection here.
The fourth and final one being the Sparrow Hawk, also known as an American Kestrel, which became the generally agreed-upon “hawk” in Jayhawk.
1926: Dean Blackmar’s “Origin of the Jayhawk”
The Dean of the Grad School, Blackmar, made a radio address in 1926 to talk about the origins of the Jayhawk.
In his address he says “The myth had its rise in the characters of two birds that frequent the Missouri Valley, namely the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome, robber that takes delight in pouncing upon smaller birds and robbing their nests of eggs and young birds, and the sparrow hawk, a genteel killer of birds, rats, mice and rabbits and when necessary a courageous and cautious fighter…”
Ironically, an American Kestrel is actually a falcon. Bird names can be complicated. It is the smallest falcon in North America and notably about the same size as a Blue Jay (and equally colorful).
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