A Fearsome Critter To Behold: The Gazunk (AKA: The Flute Bill)
The woods of the North can be pretty frightening at night, especially to those who have never been out in them after the sun has set. Ones mind can go crazy as mysterious and unknown sounds begin to fill the air and dark shapes appear quickly within the corner of your eye and vanish just as fast. But after a few moments of adjusting to the darkness, one is usually able to figure out a majority of the noises that they are hearing. A rustling bush may simply be caused by a rabbit running through camp, while a loud crack and crash could just be a dead branch falling from a tree and hitting the ground. A bone chilling scream could easily be nothing more than an owl swooping down on its prey, and the unmistakable sound of an echoing flute is just the normal call of the nocturnal Gazunk. What, you’ve never heard of a Gazunk? Well let us change that.
By all accounts, the Gazunk appears to be a completely normal bird. About the size of a crow and covered in black and white feathers, the critter makes its home in nearly every forest of North America. Completely nocturnal, the Gazunk sleeps within hollowed out trees during the day and only emerges well after the sun has gone down. And it is while the critter is awake that one truly realizes why it’s anything but normal. You see, as soon as the Gazunk wakes up, it immediately starts singing, and its song sounds exactly like a flute being played in the middle of the woods. How does it make this sound you ask? Simple, the holes in its long bill.
While the five holes on the long bill of the bird are pretty fascinating by themselves, what makes the unique feature truly amazing is that the critter knows how to play them like an actual flute. It does this by lifting up one of its clawed feet, wrapping it around its bill, and covering the holes in a specific order which allows it to play a one of a kind song. Each Gazunk has its own special song known only by it and no two critters sound the same. So if one were to be lucky enough to hear two or more of the musical birds while in the woods at night, it would be as if they were listening to an impromptu midnight concert.
Now you may be wondering where these holes come from. Is the critter born with them or do they slowly grow over time? Well, the answer to that is far more interesting. You see, when the Gazunk lays its egg (it only lays one at a time and just once a year), it does so inside a hollowed out tree. When the egg hatches and the young Gazunk emerges, it positions itself right against the wall of its hollow home and waits for a woodpecker to arrive on the other side.
When a woodpecker eventually does show up, it proceeds to do what woodpeckers do best and starts punching holes in the tree. But since this tree is hollow, it’s beak goes right through the tree and directly into the Gazunk’s bill, typically five times. After the holes are punched, the critter will begin to grow larger within the tree. During this time, it will learn how to play its unique song and will not step outside until it has mastered it. From there the Gazunk will play its song to attract a mate and the process will start all over again.
So the next time you are out camping and find yourself sitting around a nice fire, focus and listen carefully to the sounds of the forest. You never know, you may be lucky enough to hear the pleasing melody of a Flute Bill in the darkness.
“In early lumberjack folklore, fearsome critters were mythical beasts that were said to inhabit the frontier wilderness of North America. The critters were a part of lumberjack downtime and were often used to welcome and haze newcomers to the camp. Lumberjacks who would go from camp to camp would bring their entertaining stories with them and they would slowly spread as tall tales across America.”
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Public Domain