Birds in Pop Culture

What famous superheroes and villains have bird-like abilities or appearances? How many professional sports teams in the U.S. incorporate birds into their logo? What bird call is often used by shows and movies to represent both vultures and eagles?  Why do storks carry babies? How large are the eagles in Lord of the Rings? Can roadrunners really outrun coyotes? This blog will dive into the influence of birds in pop culture and reveal some interesting facts. I’ll try my best not to make up stories along the way. 

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Who wouldn’t want to fly like an eagle?

We seem to be in the golden age of superheroes. The upcoming slate of movies is extensive, not to mention the dozens of movies that came out in the last few years.  Superhero TV shows are also rising, and there seems to be no end in sight. You probably know that many superbeings can fly like an eagle, but what about a vulture? The upcoming Spiderman flick is set to have a villain named The Vulture, who uses an electromagnetic harness and wings to increase his strength and take flight. Vultures are often excellent fliers, using updrafts from cliff faces or rising currents of warm air called thermals to soar and glide across the sky with minimal flapping. Unlike the Spiderman villain, vultures are not deadly killers and prefer to scavenge on carrion. Birds of prey are often viewed as strong and fierce, so it’s not surprising that two of the more famous “bird” superheroes are Falcon and Hawkman. Falcon is shown in the recent Marvel movies to have sharp vision and the ability to fly and dive at high speeds using special technology. The real-life Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on earth and can dive at speeds of over 220 mph!

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Left – Marvel hero Falcon. Right – speed hero Peregrine Falcon.

Image result for vulture spiderman  Turkey vulture stretching its wings

Vultures

At least 15 pro sports teams in the U.S. include a bird in some version of their logo, ranging from songbirds to raptors to . . . the Mighty Ducks! There is even a soccer team in Minnesota that uses a loon in its logo! If they turn off the lights in the arena and play a loon call, that could be eerie and intimidate their opponents. There are also some really interesting bird choices for some college teams. Among my favorites are the Endicott Power Gulls, the Oglethorpe Stormy Petrels, and the Oregon Tech Hustlin’ Owls. There are also over 70 collegiate teams that use some kind of eagle in their name, which brings me to my next point. Most of the time when an eagle is pictured in a show or movie, the call used is that of a Red-tailed Hawk. One possible reason for this is that the Bald Eagle has a wimpy sounding call, while the screaming call of the Red-tail sounds more fierce. I’ve even noticed that Red-tailed Hawk calls are used for vultures in scenes from Westerns!

Image result for oregon tech hustlin owls Image result for minnesota soccer

The exact origin of the myth that storks carry babies is unclear, but the stories most likely originated from German folklore. This concept became more widespread after a story about storks was written by Hans Christian Anderson. I just read the tale and . . . well let’s just say that the story is unusual and a little disturbing. Anyway, storks have been unfairly villainized due to their evil deeds in Lord of the Rings. There is a sword named “Sing” that glows and plays bird songs every time a stork is near. I guess you want me to put a stork in this joke? I will as soon as I finish eating some stork chops. Speaking of Lord of the Rings, giant eagles play small, but important roles in The Hobbit and in The Return of the King. The movies portray them as very large and impressive birds, but what about Tolkien’s books? There is one reference from the Silmarillion that states that Thorondor, the mightiest of the eagles, had a wingspan of 30 fathoms. As one fathom = six feet, Thorondor’s wings stretched about 180 feet!! Just the wind force from him flapping his wings could have probably taken out quite a few enemies! In comparison, a Golden Eagle has a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet.

White stork landing with nesting material Proof: Gandalf Planned on Flying to Mount Doom

Left – White Stork preparing for babies by practicing with a stick. Right – art showing Gandalf riding on an eagle in LOTR.

Now for the answer to the question that you’ve been dying to know: could Roadrunner truly beat Wile E Coyote in a footrace? Coyotes can reach speeds over 40 mph, while the Greater Roadrunner can run about 15-20 mph. However, Roadrunner was much larger than the average roadrunner and had really long legs, so I believe it’s possible that he could run close to 50 mph. On a side note, roadrunners are most commonly found in deserts in the southwestern U.S., which is why many of the classic cartoons were set in the desert. Also, roadrunners are related to cuckoos and are active predators, even feasting on venomous lizards, scorpions, and snakes! Roadrunners will sometimes work in pairs to kill a snake, with one bird distracting the snake while the other bird goes for the head. Roadrunners will also eat eggs, chicks, fruit, seeds, and amphibians.

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Left – Roadrunner’s giant feet help him make large strides. Right – Greater Roadrunner photo by Christopher Schwarz/Audubon Photography Awards.

Hopefully you’ve learned something from this brief foray into the world of birds in pop culture. Maybe you’ve also gained a deeper appreciation for the avian world and realized that you should never mess with a roadrunner. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to create an intimidating logo for a new sports team – the San Diego Sandpipers.

 

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Classic Bird Movies

My last blog described a few of my favorite classic books involving birds, such as The Scarlet Feather and The Finch that Stole Christmas. This inspired me to put off grad school work to write about some of the most interesting bird-themed movies. By the way, did you know that Alfred Hitchcock was afraid of eggs? His strange phobia may have been the inspiration for his famous thriller “The Birds”. I’ve heard that Hitchcock hatched the plot after watching a murder of crows (yes, that’s a real term!) scramble to grab food after he dropped his groceries and a few boxes cracked open. Now that I’ve made a few dumb puns, I’ll stop egging you on and get to the list of movies. But first, some cool raptors.

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Left – Xena the Eurasian Eagle Owl from the World Bird Sanctuary, Right – Gandalf the Gray Owl from my sanctuary.

  1. Ani – A musical about a young orphaned tropical bird that tries to escape her nest.
  2. Geese – Experience the sounds and courtships of teenage geese.
  3. Black Swans – Dancing swans lose their sanity.
  4. The Godwitfather – Follows the drama of a shorebird mob family, including the ominous delivery of a seahorse head on a sand bed.
  5. Starling Wars: The Emperor Penguin Strikes Back – The Millennium Falcon struggles to survive as the Emperor Penguin sends the full brunt of his forces against the rebels.
  6. The Adventures of Robin-Hooded Warbler – A songbird experienced in archery takes food from the rich Golden-Crowned Kinglets.
  7. Good Whippoorwill Bunting – A highly intelligent bird receives guidance from a nightjar psychiatrist.
  8. Ben-Murre – A Jewish seabird is betrayed by a friend and sent into slavery in the Roman Empire. He finds redemption after engaging in water races and meeting a Basilisk Lizard.
  9. High Loon – A romantic western involving a drug-addicted loon and dueling tremolos.
  10. The Macawshank Redemption – Imprisoned parrots find redemption while serving time. Unfortunately, one of them is betrayed by a prisoner with a homemade knife.

Pair of Pacific loon swimming on a pond

A romance for the ages

Classic Bird Books

I enjoy watching birds and reading books. Sometimes, I even like to read books about birds. In case you’re starving for interesting new reading material, I’ve come up a list of some of my favorite books about birds and included a short synopsis of each one. Before we get started, here are a couple of pictures of cool birds to whet your appetite.

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Left -Shadow the Bateleur Eagle, Right – Tigger the Tawny Owl. I worked with both of these birds while interning at the World Bird Sanctuary. Tigger was a very loving bird and the first bird of prey I ever handled.

A Tale of Two Chickadees – Tells the story of two different species of chickadees who share some remarkable similarities.
Game of Turnstones – Follows the violent wars and drama between numerous families of powerful shorebirds.
Goodnight Loon – A children’s bedtime story set on a lake in Minnesota.
If You Give a Grouse a Cookie – Children’s story about the fallout from giving a game bird a cookie.
Lord of the Wings: Return of the Kinglet – A bird of royal lineage finds the ruby crown and takes his rightful place as king of the skies as a battle for the ages begins. Also features Dwarf Jays, Elf Owls, Storks, and Eagles.
Macaws – A deadly parrot wreaks havoc in New England forests.
Moby-Dickcissel – A birder develops an unhealthy obsession over finding a grassland bird.
Tequila Mockingbird – A Mimic learns to deal with prejudice and injustice while fighting his addiction to alcohol.
The Chat in the Hat – A chatty bird encourages kids to enjoy reading and have fun.
The Finch that Stole Christmas – A greedy bird steals all the Christmas Cookies from a small town.
The Scarlet Feather – A tanager struggles to find redemption after having an affair with a macaw.

 

Male scarlet tanager in breeding plumage, perched amid beech leaves in springScarlet macaw in flight, side view

Who wouldn’t want to read about these lovebirds?

Bad Bird Puns

For your entertainment, here is a short list of bird puns that either I or one of my friends have made up.  Some of the puns you may not completely get if you’re not a “bird nerd”.  Anyway, many of these names were created while I was in Indiana studying birds and trying to come up with good team names.  Many of them involve pop culture references and are quite cheesy.  I’m sure you’ll appreciate these puns more than the cover of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ that I thought about doing while dressed in different bird costumes. 

  1. Tequila Mockingbird
  2. Cardinal Sins
  3. Robin the Bank Swallow
  4. Towhee or not Towhee
  5. The No-holds Barred Owls
  6. Counting Crows (Cheating because it’s the name of a band)
  7. Black Hawk Down (Cheating again!)
  8. Larry Bird hits the Jay
  9. Thrushpuppies
  10. Geese’s Pieces
  11. Little Grouse on the Prairie
  12. Captain Jackdaw Sparrow
  13. Victorious Egrets
  14. Snakes on a Crane 
  15. Good Whippoorwill Bunting

If this inspires you, try checking out http://celebirding.tumblr.com/ to see what happens when someone gets creative and photoshops celebrity faces on top of bird bodies while forming puns.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same after seeing Kiwi Herman and Thrush Limbaugh.  Adios for now!   Have fun watching the Superb Owl tonight!