Birds, Additional Sub-Themes
The preceding sections cover multiple aspects of Birds elicited from four works of art: Claude Monet’s The Magpie, a poem by John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale, a rock song’s metaphor for a wanderlust male, and a movie’s terrifying strafings by vicious birds. Here are additional thoughts about the theme of Birds that don’t associate closely with any of those works.
Trained: Birds can be taught, and have been put to a variety of uses. People have trained birds to fly from point-to-point. With that ability comes the possibility of timing them, thus racing one bird against another. Other birds have been trained to fight, a cruel pastime that has been banned in the United States. A cockfight splashes blood everywhere. Still other birds once learned to carry small messages fit into containers tied to their feet and deliver them. Pigeons were even trained to direct bombs as they fell. Some species of birds can learn hundreds of words and repeat them. Finally, scary movies assembled trained birds.
Food: The flesh of domesticated birds feeds billions of people each year. Whether the meal consists of fried chicken or chicken Cordon Bleu, the source is the same. Or perhaps it is a turkey sandwich or turkey tetrazzini. Chickens and turkeys by the billions are fattened for slaughter around the world. Bird delicacies include pheasant under glass. It would not surprise me to find that cooks have published hundreds of fowl recipe books. By the way, speaking of food, the word “guano” originates from the Andean indigenous language Quechua, which refers to any form of dung used as fertilizer. Guano-producing species off the coast of Peru bird include the Peruvian pelican and the Peruvian booby.
Extinct, Mythical or Cartoon: Many birds exist no long, extinguished by climate, predators, or the actions of human beings. The following losses are from a site that lists ten birds hunted to extinction.
The Eskimo Curlew. Migrating in a single, gigantic flock from Alaska and western Canada down to Argentina, via the western United States, and back again attracted too many hunters.
The Carolina Parakeet.
The Passenger Pigeon – once the most populous bird in the world.
The Stephens Island Wren – wiped out by pet cats.
The Great Auk.
The Giant Moa – a 12-foot, 600-pound bird.
The Elephant Bird.
The Dodo Bird. The Eastern Moa.
Scientists can list many moa extinct or severely threatened birds.
Birds appear in myths. For example, the roc is an enormous legendary bird of prey in the popular mythology of the Middle East. It appears in Arabic geographies and natural history, popularized in Arabian fairy tales and sailors' folklore. The alkonost, the sirin, the caladrius, and the phoenix are four other mythical birds from legend and folklore.
Cartoons feature such classics as Big Bird, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Road Runner, and Tweety Bird that have become icons in cartoons and annotated movies. The list goes on, including Woody Woodpecker and Owl (in Winnie the Pooh).
Sayings: Nested in the English language are a covey of idioms that refer to birds. Here are more than 40, many of which came from bird idioms.
Some of the sayings cast insults: “you turkey”, “he’s chicken”, or “you bird brain.”
Other bird-sayings draw on physical analogies: “Eat like a bird”(eat lightly or be a picky eater), “skinny as a rail” (very slender, like the rail bird), “have an eagle eye” (watchful, having keen eyesight), “as scarce as hen’s teeth”(limited or nonexistent), “bald as a coot” (small bald spot.
Sayings invoke the appearance of birds: “Graceful as a swan” (serene, beautiful, long-necked), “proud as a peacock” (arrogant, vain, or prideful), “ugly duckling” (someone who is unattractive or out of place, though who becomes more beautiful or desirable as they mature), “crow’s feet” (small wrinkle lines around the eyes).
Psychological truths draw on avian characteristics: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” (possession counts for more than hope), “birds of a feather flock together” (groups usually are made up of similar members), “feather your nest” (pad financial gain or collect favors from others), “pushed out of the nest” (to make children leave home and make it as an adult), “take someone under your wing” (offer protective guidance or mentoring), “like water off a duck’s back” (easily shrug off, shed, or disregard), “happy as a lark” (joyous, openly enjoying life), “crazy as a loon” (insane, totally out of it),“that’s nothing to crow about” (no basis for self-credit and praise), “an albatross around the neck”(heavy burden or difficult obstacle), “get your ducks in a row” (prepare for an event),“bird on a wire” (limited freedom of a bird whose leg is tied to something with a string or wire), “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” (crazy, panicked behavior), “cuckoo” (insane, very stupid, or crazy).
Commonsense advice finds expression with birds: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” (don’t claim success until you are sure of the outcome), “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” (diversify your opportunities and reduce your risks), “the early bird catches the worm”(the benefits of acting promptly, not procrastinating), “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” (equal rights and treatment for all in the same position).
And then a flock of expressions that roost everywhere. A person is a “magpie” (likes collecting bright, shiny things), “sings like a canary” (a mobster turns cooperating witness), golfers relish a “birdie” (golf term for one under par on a hole), “eagle” (two strokes under par on a golf hole), “stool pigeon” (a hunter’s lure of a passenger pigeon fastened to a small stool to attract brethren) who became “sitting ducks” (easily shot or netted), “put a feather in your cap” (deserve acclaim, a recognized accomplishment), “canary in a coal mine” (early warning of danger), “fly the coop” (escape), “as the crow flies” (a straight-line path, the most direct route), “dead as a dodo” (extinct, no longer existing), “a night owl” (a person who likes to stay up late), at the racetrack you see “railbirds” (leaning on the guardrails, watching the horses), “vulture capitalists” (seek to make money from companies in decline), “let’s just wing it” (plunge in to an activity without preparation), “goose someone” (pinch someone’s rear end).