“The Birds is Coming!” That was the famous advertising line on the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds, back in 1963. People thought it was a grammatical mistake or just an edgy ad agency’s take on what should have been, “The Birds ARE Coming.” But they were wrong on both counts. It was deliberate and it was correct. The movie is called The Birds, so to announce that “The Birds IS Coming” is actually grammatically correct since it refers to the movie title. Smart marketing. Interesting? No, eh? Oh well, let’s move along then to some even drier stuff.
The world is lousy with birds. There are billions and billions of the little rascals in the world. The actual figure can only be guessed at. Most scientists agree with the bird expert James Fisher, who estimates that there are about 100 billion birds, give or take a bird or two. Of that number, about six billion are said to make their home in the United States. Six billion. That’s almost as many birds in this country as illegal immigrants.
And there loads of species. When scientists try to estimate how many different kinds of birds there are, not everybody agrees on what bird belongs to what species. The number most scientists seem to agree on is 10,000 different species. Of these, the United States has at least 900 different kinds. Scientists have a term for this. They call it “lots of birds.”
So…here’s the big question. Given the large amount of birds, how come we don’t see tons of dead birds all over the place? Honestly, billions and billions of birds flying around in cities, on farms, in the woods, on every continent in the world. You’d think that we’d be stepping over dead bird bodies all the time, right? Where do birds go to die?
And how long do birds live? Depends on what kind of bird, but they live a lot longer than you might think. Wild birds can live anywhere from three to thirty years or even more. Parrots, of course, can get to be 80 years or more. Mockingbirds generally can live up to eight years, which is bad news for me since I’ve got one right outside my bedroom window that chirps all night long. A feathered friend of mine he most definitely is not.
Like underpants, Starbucks coffee, and tax refunds, birds come in all sizes. The largest living bird is the ostrich from the plains of Africa and Arabia. A large male ostrich can reach a height of 9.2 ft and weigh over 345 lbs. One was even reported to have reached a body mass of 440 lb, but it couldn’t be substantiated. It was either a large ostrich or Michael Moore was in Africa shooting a film.
Speaking of overeating, if you’re hungry, try an ostrich omelet. Eggs laid by the ostrich can weigh 3 lbs and are the largest eggs in the world today. But if you want to grab an egg from an ostrich, you better be quick about it, since the ostrich is also the fastest bird on land. It can run at speeds of up to 45 mph if necessary. That’s faster than you can travel at any time on the San Diego Freeway.
At the other end of the spectrum, the smallest birds on the planet are male bee hummingbirds which live in Cuba, weigh 0.056 ounces and are 2.75 inches in length. The bill and tail account for half of this length. The bee hummingbird is capable of beating its wings around 80 times a second in a figure-of-eight pattern, giving it the ability to hover and move with astonishing agility. During its mating courtship display, the number of wing beats can increase to an almost unbelievable 200 times a second. Whew! Talk about raging hormones.
Bird references to people tend to be unflattering: Fowl play. Bird brain. Turkey neck. Stool pigeon. Sitting duck. Crazy as a loon. Old crow. Old coot. Silly goose. Dumb cluck. Dodo. Feather brain. Mad as a wet hen. She eats like a bird. He’s chicken. On the other hand, we say “he’s a good egg.” And then there are expressions like, “The early bird catches the worm” and “Birds of a feather flock together.”
A little bird told me that when you start with the bird puns, it’s time to quit, so I’ll stop here. I was just winging it for the last two paragraphs anyhow. Besides, I can’t think of a finish for this so I’ll simply leave you with this thought: The world is certainly for the birds. (I know you waited for that one and I couldn’t disappoint you.)