April 6, 2024
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The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum’s Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

The tale of the Toh bird is an ancient Maya origin story, specifically from the Yucatán Peninsula. It is said that adventurers venturing into the jungles of these regions are guided by the Toh bird to discover cenotes, which are natural pools located in caves.

The Toh bird is a solitary creature that is always found near caves and dark places. Its most distinctive features are its mournful song and its unique tail. The tail displays a brilliant plumage that glistens in the sunlight. It moves like a pendulum and is unlike the tails of other birds in the region.

According to the legend of the Toh bird, many years ago, this bird was part of the natural royalty. During that time, it had an incredibly long tail adorned with spectacular colors. Its beauty was so mesmerizing that it was considered a superior bird. All the animals admired its beautiful plumage and treated it with special deference.

The legend of the Toh bird begins

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

According to the legend of the Toh bird, this bird became exceedingly arrogant and vain due to its beauty and admiration. It claimed it couldn’t work because it feared its beautiful tail would be damaged. Therefore, the other birds had to fetch food and water for it, build its nests, and prepare its sleeping spot.

The Toh bird hardly did anything. It would wake up late and then go to the royal garden, where the most beautiful birds in the entire jungle gathered. There, they would engage in frivolous conversations and laugh at foolish things. That’s how they spent every day of their lives.

Furthermore, the Toh bird was extremely temperamental. It wouldn’t settle for any kind of food; it always wanted the best. Although the other birds made efforts to please it, it never seemed satisfied with anything.

An unusual storm

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

One ordinary night, the owl, the wisest of them all, announced that a terrifying storm was approaching. He knew from a reliable source that such storms occurred only once every 50 years. It was unimaginable. Thunder, lightning, and flashes would strike the entire jungle. It was necessary to build a shelter to survive.

Immediately, all the birds started working. The woodpecker, macaws, parakeets, and toucan began gathering branches to construct a shelter. The larger birds, like the wild turkey and others, carried the heavier branches. The smaller birds, such as crows and quails, collected grass and small plants to contribute to the construction.

According to the legend of the Toh bird, the clouds grew increasingly dark. However, the Toh bird acted as if nothing was happening. It simply waited for the others to finish building the shelter so it could take refuge in it. But the others couldn’t keep up. This time, they reproached the Toh bird for its attitude. Annoyed, they asked it to lend a hand as well.

The story concludes and the legend continues

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

The Toh bird was upset by its companions’ demands. However, fearing it would be left without a place in the shelter, it reluctantly joined the builders. After just a few minutes, it grew tired. It had no interest in working like a laborer; it wasn’t meant for such tasks. So, taking advantage of the others’ distraction, it hid inside a cave.

Once inside the cave, it lay down and fell asleep. It didn’t even notice when the storm began. Lightning and flashes struck, but they failed to awaken it. The few minutes it had worked left it utterly exhausted. The only problem was that the cave was very small, and its beautiful tail hung outside, but it didn’t care. The storm lasted a whole day and night, but the next day, the sun reappeared. The other birds emerged from their shelter, and the Toh bird came out of its cave.

Legend tells the tale of the magnificent bird Toh, who believed that everything would remain unchanged. Upon realizing that the rain had ceased, Toh ventured back to the royal garden, ready to resume its daily routine. However, upon arrival, laughter erupted from all directions. Little remained of its once majestic tail, for the storm had ruthlessly ravaged it.

Consumed by shame, the bird Toh retreated to its cave, never to venture out again. Its punishment for pride and selfishness was a solitary existence in a secluded place, forever laboring to guide explorers.

Toh Bird: A Modern-Day Marvel

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

In Mexico, there exist 1,100 species of birds, with 50 percent of them being found in the Yucatan Peninsula. Among these species is the Toh bird, a native and representative species of the region. Apart from providing environmental services, this bird serves as an indicator of the overall health of the jungle area where it resides.

Ernesto Gomez Uc, the Director of the Bird Conservation Program at Pronatura Yucatan Peninsula, explained that while this species is distinctive to the area, it can also be found in Central America. In countries like Nicaragua, it is known as the “guardabarranco,” and in El Salvador, it is called the “torogoz.”

Scientifically known as Eumomota superciliosa, this bird possesses a distinctive feature: a bare tail that ends in a small feathered racket. “It is a species that has adapted to living in cliffs, soft sandy areas, or near cenotes. It is often hidden in the lowland Yucatan jungle,” explained the specialist.

As an interesting fact, he added that its name is onomatopoeic because the sound it makes resembles “mot mot.” Its song can be heard before 11 in the morning as it swings its tail like a pendulum, earning it the name of the “clock bird.”

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

The Toh bird’s song serves as a way to mark its territory, announcing its ownership and establishing its feeding grounds.

Its diet is diverse, consisting of insects, fruits from various trees, and even small reptiles. This enables it to remain in the same region for extended periods, unlike other migratory birds. Furthermore, it is considered a bird of the Mayan land, as it inhabits areas near the territories the Mayans deemed sacred, such as cenotes.

Gomez Uc described the important role the Toh bird plays in the ecosystem as a regulator. Finding one signifies a healthy jungle, and as an environmental service, it disperses seeds through the feces it distributes during flight.

“This species aids in the regeneration of areas affected by fire or devastation for various reasons. Its presence indicates the health of the region, as it typically inhabits jungle sites.”

Toh Bird Faces Threat from the Maya Train

The Enigmatic Toh Bird: Guardian of Tulum's Cenotes, Embracing Legends and the Threat of Extinction

Activist and environmentalist Roberto Rojo led an exploration in Section 5 of the Maya Train in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, with the goal of confirming the impact on local fauna.

During the expedition, he encountered not only thickets but also highlighted the presence of a collared aracari, the Toh bird, a lineated woodpecker, a rufous-browed peppershrike, pigeons, a tropical mockingbird, swallows, and two other bird species.

In addition to the Toh bird, Roberto Rojo emphasized that monkeys and jaguars would be the most affected species due to deforestation caused by the construction of the Maya Train.


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