FĀḴTA, an obsolete Persian name (older *fāḵtak/g;cf. the pl. fāḵtagān; arabicized as fāḵeta, pl. fawāḵet; see also Schapka, no. 577, p. 180) for a columbine bird, most probably the so-called “collared turtle dove,” Streptopelia decaocto Frivaldszky (order Columbiformes), mentioned in classical Persian poetry mainly as a spring songbird.

Manūčehrī Dāmḡānī (q.v.; d. ca. 432/1041?), “the [Persian] bard of nature,” with which the poet had an “empathic” familiarity (Zarrīnkūb, pp. 349, 352-53), gives the most reliable (albeit insufficient) poetic description of the fāḵta. The fāḵta’s unmistakable morphological feature is a crescent-like band of black feathers on its gardan (neck; but also, probably by synecdoche, galū or ḥalq, “throat”), referred to as ḥalqa-ye moškīn rasan (a loop of musk-colored cord; Manūčehrī, p. 1); māh-e seh šaba . . . az ḡālīa (a third-night [crescent] mooŋof ḡālīa [a black perfume of ambergris and musk]; p. 175), māh-e now-e monḵasef (the new moon eclipsed; p. 180), etc. Otherwise, the fāḵta, with its melodious, plaintive call, is variously compared by Manūčehrī to a nāyzan (flute player; p. 1), a ḵonyāgar (minstrel, songster; p. 30), a nawḥagar (mourner; p. 127), a muezzin (p. 129), etc., cooing in trees along with the qomrī (turtle dove?; pp. 1, 59, 132), varašān (wood pigeon?; pp. 127, 183, 187), ṣolṣol (see below; pp. 60, 132, 183), etc. For other references to the fāḵta by Manūčehrī and by his contemporary Farroḵī Sīstānī (q.v.), see de Fouchécour, pp. 142-43.

Some other poets, apparently less familiar with birds, have attributed three additional characteristics to the fāḵta: (1) Its call is a two-note kūkū: cf. ʿOmar Ḵayyām’s “. . .fāḵta-ī . . . hamī-goft ke kūkū, kūkū” (“. . .a fāḵta . . . saying, kūkū, kūkū";in a quatrain also cited by Daštī, p. 278) and Sanāʾī Ḡaznavī’s "ṭawq dar gardaŋo kūkūgūy” (having a collar about the neck . . . and calling kūkū; quoted by Dehḵodā, s.v. “fāḵta”). (2) It has a grey or dark plumage: cf. the adj. fāḵta-gūn (fāḵta-colored) used for clouds by Sūzanī Samarqandī and the sky by Neẓāmī Ganjavī (both quoted by Dehḵodā, s.v “fāḵta”). (3) The (female?) fāḵta is bīmehr (unkind, aloof [from one’s wooer]) and bīwafāʾ (faithless): cf., e.g., Lāmeʿī Gorgānī (p. 151), “Fāḵta-mehr-ī, nabāyad dar to del bastan, ke to / har zamān joft-e degar jūʾī o yār-e now gerī” (Thou art fickle as a fāḵta; one must not attach one’s heart to thee, because every now and then thou seeketh another mate and taketh a new lover); Saʿdī Šīrāzī (p. 271), “...bī-mehrtar az fāḵta-ī" (. . .thou art more unfriendly than a fāḵta); and ʿAṭṭār Nīšābūrī (p. 37) addressing the fāḵta, “Čūn bovad ṭawq-e wafāʾ dar gardanat/ zešt bāšad bīwafāʾī kardanat" (Because there is a collar of fidelity about thy neck, it is unbecoming for thee to be unfaithful.).

If the fāḵta’s “faithlessness” can be interpreted as an allusion to the polyandry of the female fāḵta, modern ornithological studies about Persia and Afghanistan (the most accurate and comprehensive of which is Hüe and Étchécopar), do not seem to indicate any single columbine species combining these four features. The semi-circular black marking is found only on the nape of the collared turtle dove and of the red turtle dove, Streptopelia tranquebarica Hermann. The latter, however, is out of the question here because of its very limited geographical distribution in the Iranian area (i.e., part of eastern Afghanistan; see Hüe and Étchécopar, p. 390; omitted by Scott et al.). The stock dove (Columba oenas L.) and the eastern stock dove (C. eversmanni Bonap.), which Scott et al. have arbitrarily called fāḵta and fāḵta-ye ḵāvarī respectively,are two species of wild pigeons that do not have any black “collar” about their necks (pp. 188, 190, 191, and 193; cf. Hüe and Étchécopar, pp. 378-81, and pl. XI). As for the fāḵta’s call, that of our only black-collared columbine species, i.e., S. decaocto, is a “trisyllabic song [sounding like] kūk-rūk-kū, with a falling tone on the last note—a well-known call, because this species is often kept in captivity” (Hüe and Étchécopar, p. 388). Allowing for varying acoustic perceptions, Ḵayyām’s "kū-kū-kū-kū” (probably distorted by his intended pun on the interrogative adverb ? “where is it?,” reflecting on bygone worldly splendor) may well be equated with the ornithologists’ recording. However, the similarity of the fāḵta’s call to the cuckoo’s well-known kūkū has misled some contemporary Persian philologists (e. g., Mokrī, pp. 116-17, 146, and Moʿīn, s.v. fāḵta) to mistake the fāḵta for the cuckoo, heedless of the essential “black ṭawq on the neck” of the former, and of the fact that kūkū as the name of a bird is unattested in classical Persian and Arabic sources (for an accurate description of the cuckoo [order Cuculiformes], see Hüe and Étchécopar, pp. 394-98; Scott et al., pp. 192, 195-97, perhaps in imitation of the English word or the French coucou, have named this bird kūkū).

The literary allusions to the dark or grey coloration of the fāḵta do not fit the plumage of S. decaocto, which is “beige on the back and pale mauve in front” (Hüe and Étchécopar, p. 388). On the other hand, all wild pigeons (genus Columba; see KABŪTAR) have an overall ash-grey or slate-grey plumage (Hüe and Étchécopar, pp. 378-85). As to bīmehrī / bīwafāʾī (polyandry?),Hüe and Étchécopar mention it for the female cuckoo, which “seems polyandrous, and uninterested in its offspring” (p. 395). The conclusion which seems inevitable as to the identity of the fāḵta is that some Persian poets (as well as others) have confused the traits of at least two birds, i.e., S. decaocto and, most probably, Columba palumbus, the wood pigeon, a species combining a grey plumage and a melodious call that sounds like / āmūr . . . pūr tū-žūr (Fr. amour. . .pour toujours “love . . . for ever”; Hüe and Étchécopar, p. 384).

Classical prose adab works and pseudo-zoological writings are of little or no avail for identifying the fāḵta. The great philologist Jawharī Fārābī (4th/10th cent.) describes the fāḵta only as one of the ḏawāt al-aṭwāq (possessors of collars; I, p. 259) and considers it identical to the ṣolṣol (III, p. 1745). This identification was indiscriminately repeated by some later authors, e.g., Damīrī (d. 808/1405; p. 196); Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī (fl. 740/1339-40; p. 82), who adds that “the Mongols call it [the fāḵta] kākū” (perhaps related to the above kūkū); and, more recently, Moʿīn (s.v. “ṣolṣol”)and Schapka (s.vv. “fāḵta” and “ṣolṣol”). The ṣolṣol, whatever its true identity, is not the fāḵta, at least in Persian poetry; for example, Manūčehrī mentions both as two different songbirds several times in the same poems (e.g., pp. 59-60, 132). Zakarīyāʾ Qazvīnī (d. 682/1283), mainly interested in the “marvelous” features of creatures, speaks of the fāḵta only as “a well-known bird yatabarrako behe al-nās [by which people are blessed, or which people enjoy?], whose call supposedly scares the snakes away, and fumigation with whose blood (mixed with pigeon blood, pitch, and tar) causes sleeplessness to anyone who smells it” (p. 422). Damīrī’s description of the fāḵta is vague and partly incorrect: “It is indigenous to ʿErāq and not to the Ḥejāz, anthropophile by nature, dwells in houses, and lives a long life . . . The Arabs describe it as a liar.” The rest of Damīrī’s long article (pp. 135-37) concerns mainly the medicinal properties of the fāḵta and interpretations of its appearance in dreams.

The term fāḵeta seems to be still in use in the modern ornithological terminology of some Arab countries. For instance, the Iraqi author Amīn Maʿlūf says that the fāḵeta, pronounced foḵtīa in Iraq and called yā-karīm in Syria, is a species of ḥamāma moṭawwaqa (collared pigeon; for the probable nature of the famous al-ḥamāma al-moṭawwaqa in the Kalīla wa Demna story, see KABŪTAR), S. decaocto or Turtur risorius [sic.], whereas the ṣolṣol, called šefnīn in Iraq and qomrī in Egypt, is the turtle dove, Streptopelia turtur (p. 87). According to Steven Goodman et al., fāḵeta in Egypt is synonymous with ṣalṣala, the pink-head dove, Streptopelia roseogrisea (p. 311); ṣolṣol is equivalent to qomrī, S. turtur (p. 313); while S. decaocto is called yamām moṭawwaq (lit., collared wild pigeon), fāḵeta, qomrīy, or yā-karīm (p. 312).

Incidentally, the onomatopoeic name yā-karīm, which otherwise means “O Generous One!” (an invocation to Allāh) in Arabic, has been given by Scott et al. to S. decaocto in Persia (pp. 191, 193), whereas they have called the turtledove (S. turtur L.) qomrī-e maʿmūlī (lit., the common or ordinary turtledove; pp. 191, 194).


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

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ʿEmād-al-Dīn Moḥammad Zakarīyāʾ Qazvīnī, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt wa ḡārāʾeb al-mawjūdāt, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 1848-49.

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(Hūšang Aʿlam)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 20, 2012

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Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, pp. 166-168