Herons in the garden

Came by on Pinterest some considerable time ago, a photo billed as “Gartenkeramik Reiervogel – ein Designerstück von Brigitte Peglow”, showing a ceramic bird posing in a luxuriant garden, much like this:

(#1) Ceramic bird among variegated vinca, hostas, ferns, and more

Certainly looked like a heron, but I was puzzled by the German noun Reier.

Reier could be an agentive related to a verb with infinitive reien, but I could find evidence of neither Reier nor reien (nor of a noun Rei or Reie from which a verb reien might be derived).

But no. The standard German noun here is Reiher, not Reier (though they’d be homophonous), meaning ‘heron’.

Then I wondered about Reiher. Where does it come from? So again I looked for a verb it could be the agentive of: reihen, itself derived from a noun Reihe. For this I didn’t need a dictionary: Reihe is a familiar (fem.) noun, meaning ‘row, rank, line, etc.’, and reihen is the derived verb, meaning ‘to rank, put in a row, to string (pearls)’, and with oblique objects in the preposition an, ‘to join, link, connect’ — so an agentive (masc.) noun Reiher might refer to someone or something that ranks things, arranges things in a row, or joins or links (with) things. But herons?

Yes, herons. German dictionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries have the verb reihen from the domain of hunting and fowling, meaning ‘to pair, to match (said of wild ducks)’, a specialization of the ‘join, link, connect’ sense of reihen an, so a Reiher would be a wild bird notable for its pairing habits. And that would certainly be the herons, with their elaborate courtship rituals:

Great blue herons don’t mate for life, but they do have elaborate courtship rituals that help pairs form strong bonds. Their mating displays include bill snapping, neck stretching, moaning calls, preening, circular flights, twig shaking, twig exchanging, crest raising and even bill duels. Scuffles over females are common, but never end in death. Once their complex dance is finished, the male and the female heron will have the strong bond necessary to raise their hatchlings together. (Sciencing link)

Hence, Reiher ‘connector, copulator’.

Brigitte Peglow. Enough of avian copulation, back to the artist.

Peglow (born in 1946) lives and works in Ismaning (a town in Bavaria, near Munich); she has an elaborate website (in German) here. She creates fanciful ceramic creatures and plants for decorative purposes, especially in gardens. The cats and owls are on the cute (though abstract) side, but many of the others are gorgeous or fantastical or both. Some herons in a sedge (the term of venery for herons is apparently sedge or sege):


A black and white heron:


And a fantastical rose:


One Response to “Herons in the garden”

  1. Gary Says:

    Ha! Another of life’s little linguistics mysteries solved.

    Your post explains a word I know from my childhood — reien meaning to roughly hem something, as a skirt or pants, before sowing the real hem on a sewing machine. Never connected it with Reihe.


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