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Only after Philosopher's Stone had been accepted for publication did I realize that Snowy Owls are diurnal. I think it was during the writing of 'Chamber of Secrets' that I discovered that Snowy Owls are also virtually silent, the females being even quieter than the males. So all of Hedwig's night-time jaunts and her many reproving hoots may be taken as signs of her great magical ability or my pitiful lack of research, whichever you prefer.

The grandchild of Somewhere a Palaeontologist Is Crying. Most animators are mammals, and they tend not to be careful with the research when it comes to non-mammals. So, for whatever reason, cartoon birds tend to be quite unlike anything seen in Real Life.

Cartoon birds in starring roles tend to be one of only five or six semi-recognizable species. Ducks, chickens, owls, and penguins are particularly popular and will all look pretty generic. In some cases, you will have to take the writer's word for it what species they are meant to be. Parrots are also popular and they'll sport generic chicken-like bird feet and will either be pure green with huge yellow beaks, or have cockatoo crests and a bizarre mix of rainbow colors. Birds of prey other than owls tend to look like an odd combination of any carnivorous bird; in particular cartoonists seem to get hawks and vultures confused with each other (and sometimes Corvids are tossed into the mix too). This may be because of the "buzzard" confusion (in Europe a buzzard is a type of hawk like an American Red-Tail, while in parts of America, a buzzard is a small condor also known as a Turkey Vulture.)

Almost all generic small cartoon birds will behave like robins, hopping around on the lawn and eating worms. And they will appear as a Palette Swapped sparrow, often bright yellow or blue, with a yellow beak and legs.

A major subtrope is the idea that all birds are chickens. Even today, when your average person is unlikely to see live chickens on a regular basis, all birds seem to act like domestic fowl. They make neat nests out of straw. They spend most of the day there and all of their time sleeping there. They lay loads and loads of oval, white eggs, and these contain babies who will emerge fluffy, yellow, adorable, and constantly chirping to their mom. Mom will then immediately lead them out of the nest to hunt for worms, of course. If the show takes things far enough, the birds will hang out in a large, somewhat organized group made up mostly of females and chicks who are led by one dominant male.

Whatever the birds look or behave like, they will all spend most of their time on the ground. Unless, of course, they are up in the trees or sky, caroling their little hearts out for the sheer joy of it.

Barring the possibility that it really is the hardest thing in the world to crack open a Peterson Field Guide, there may be a reason for the chicken thing. This is largely a problem of Western Animation, and Disney's shadow is extremely long. Most of his characters were farmyard animals; hence the popularity of chickens as a model for all of our flight-capable theropod friends. Furthermore, many books on animal drawing will focus almost entirely on mammal anatomy -- and you might get a tiny section on the chicken to cover birds.

This may or may not have to do with the fact that birds are taxonomically a Class like mammals, but show way more similarities to each other a group than mammals. Thus the phrase "birds (them) and beasts (everyone else)".

Can certainly extend to other flying creatures; many are the Pterosaurs and other Giant Flyers who construct chicken-like nests. See also Feather Fingers, Noisy Nature, Toothy Bird, and Acrophobic Bird. See also No Cartoon Fish and All Animals Are Dogs.

The grandchild trope of Somewhere a Palaeontologist Is Crying and sister trope of Raptor Attack.

Examples of Somewhere an Ornithologist Is Crying include:


Advertising

  • Captain Morgan would like to remind us that "The Parrot is Calling". Said parrot has horribly deformed feet just to make the "T" shape in the slogan.
  • State Farm's ad in which an American husband crows about having bought a falcon with the money he saved on their policy Did Not Do the Research, as it's illegal to simply buy birds of prey in the United States: all species are protected under law, and even captive-bred birds can't be bought without falconry training and a license, so the idea that it was bought on a whim falls pretty flat. Considering the other ludicrous things other people in the commercial were shown having bought with their saved money, this can be chalked up to Rule of Funny.
  • There's a cosmetics commercial which shows a speckled, tan-colored bird's egg being coated with a tan liquid to conceal its spots: a feat viewers are expected to regard as a wonderful improvement. But speckled eggs use their markings for camouflage, and coating a fertile egg with anything can suffocate the embryo inside, which rather spoils the positive imagery the advertisers surely intended.


Film

  • Movies set in jungles often display this trope. The Congo will be populated by South American parrots, African birds show up in the Amazon, and Australian birds show up everywhere...
    • Kookaburras really get around, don't they? Damn things live in every jungle. They even have the gall to sound exactly like monkeys! Oh, wait...
  • That falcon from Mulan. Normally he acts like a falcon (albeit with a red-tailed hawk's call) until the very end after getting all his feathers burnt off. He promptly starts to cluck like a chicken. He can also run around on the ground as swiftly as a chicken, which, while funny, is very hard for a falcon to do due to their anatomy. [1]
  • In the So Bad It's Good film The Giant Claw, the eponymous bird... thing has a mouthful of some other animals' teeth, human hair, and can flare its nostrils. This would be excused because it's an alien, but it's already so fake-looking that the nostrils just compound the silliness.
  • Finding Nemo featured beautifully rendered and researched Great Barrier Reef fish, but used American species of gulls and pelicans when there are perfectly good Australian examples they could have used.
    • The pelicans really look more like a mixture between the Australian and brown pelicans, though their colouration mimics that of juvenile seabirds like albatrosses and gulls, which are brown until white feathers replace the brown ones. The storks in the short Partly Cloudy are also worth of noting for their somewhat flat beaks, which resemble more those of ducks than storks, but this is probably because they are easier to animate.
    • At the end of A Bugs Life (also by Pixar), a passerine bird (apparently a finch) that constantly attacked the main characters actually gives birth to several down-covered chicks with completely opened eyes that proceed to eat Hopper alive. In real life, baby passerine birds are born mostly naked (aside from a few hairy feathers in a few species) and blind, and would look nothing like they do in the film, which look more like baby chickens.
  • The movie Legend of the Guardians is one of the least obnoxious examples, and goes well out of it's way to avoid this trope. For the most part the birds looked, acted, and moved like owls, aside from their eyes. The fixed raptor glare wouldn't have cut it in a visual medium, but otherwise they are fairly realistic. Hell, the film even avoids the dreaded Acrophobic Bird trope ("We're on the ground! The worst place for an Owl!")
    • One odd bit: Nyra, a female Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is nearly solid white, with a few gray patches and spots. In real life, only male Barn Owls could have this coloration. Females are considerably darker. Then again, her plumage is more due to Color Coded for Your Convenience.
  • Averted hard in Rio; while the parrots are referred to only as "blue macaw", they are actually Spix's Macaws[2]:, which are nearly extinct in the wild, lived in Brazil, and are currently the subject of a captive breeding program. The other birds in the movie are also real Brazilian species. That said, the macaws' (and toucans') feet are generic bird feet with two toes pointing forward and one pointing back, when it should be two pointing forward and two pointing back. Blue and Jewel also sport Cockatoo-like crests and Rafael the Toco toucan has a mate who more closely resembles a Keel-billed toucan. Interspecies Romance, I presume?
  • Zazu in The Lion King is supposed to be a hornbill but looks an awful lot more like a toucan; almost all hornbills are black, white or brown.
  • The Three Caballeros - While the birds are either Funny Animals or slightly cartoony, the Disney animators did show their work, showcasing many obscure species. The one major misstep is the Aracuan Bird. Aracuans are real, but look and act nothing like their Disney equivalent, making the Clown of the Jungle a "take our word for it" case on par with Chuck Jone's Roadrunner.
  • Small potatoes compared to some of the other weirdness in the movie, but on Howard the Duck's homeworld, duck hens have breasts. Later on, a parody of the (in)famous "rise of man" evolution sequence is shown and Howard's earliest ancestor is... an egg.
  • In the remake of Clash of the Titans, Zeus' totem is a bald eagle. Bald eagles live in North America - not Greece. Contact between the two continents was not formally established until many centuries after the movie is supposed to take place. The nearest plausible analog would have been the similar-looking, but lesser celebrated, White-Tailed Eagle.
  • Mary Poppins features the title character singing with a robin during "Spoonful of Sugar"; however, it's an American robin, while the story takes place in London.
  • Shen, the villain of Kung Fu Panda 2, is supposed to be an albino peacock, but in real life he would be leucistic instead (Leucism, unlike albinism, involves a lack of any pigmentation of the body, not just with skin or hair, like in Shen's case).


Literature

  • The cover art for one edition of Preston Blair's seminal animation instruction book has a veritable flock of Palette Swapped Sparrows, some of which are downright psychedelic.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy is normally correct on this and parodies this trope when Bartimaeus transforms into a raven for the first time and it was in the dark. He winds up almost normal but with a bright blue beak.
  • Italian 18th century poet Ugo Foscolo invented from nowhere a false association between the colourful bird Hoopoe and graveyards in his famous work "Dei Sepolcri" (roughly translated as "About the Tombs") because he felt that it was poetically fit.
  • Both averted and lampshaded in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels (the author is a falconer). While certain tribes have raptors with near-human intelligence, this is explicitly the result of a generations-long breeding program and a psychic link between handler and bird -- wild raptors are nothing like the Hawkbrothers' Bondbirds.
  • In addition to what appears on the page quote, the cover of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets clearly depicts a Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) in the owl cage during the Ford Anglia drive. It is well known the owl, Hedwig's species is the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus formally Nyctea Scandiaca).
    • Draco Malfoy's eagle owl is far bigger than one would expect, as demonstrated here.
  • In Babylon Rising by Tim La Haye and Greg Dinallo, villain Talon trains hawks to serve as instant messenger pigeons. Furthermore, his trained hawks can unroll scrolls, kill a man by dive-bombing his back, and fly around carrying big snake statue bits.


Live Action TV

  • Mention must be made of a Disney adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson (a series spun off from their film adaptation) where the family meets a falconer and his... bird. A bird that is played by at least three different species over the course of the episode. By the time she is shown flying (via stock footage of a falcon), landing on the ground (suddenly, she's a Red-Tailed Hawk), and then landing on the man's wrist (now she's a Golden Eagle), you wonder how the producers thought we wouldn't notice.
  • Hysteria, the woeful TV movie about the rock band Def Leppard, features shots of American bird species in its very first scene, despite being set in Sheffield, Yorkshire.
  • Wheel of Fortune has trouble with bird-related puzzles, most often by putting two completely unrelated birds in the same puzzle. Twice they've had SPARROWS & PARAKEETS as a puzzle, and another time, they had CARDINALS & CANARIES — which is doubly wrong, as cardinals are a family of birds, and canaries a distinct species.
  • In-universe Epic Fail example: On "The Bloodhound Gang", a series of kids' detective shorts, a slimy lawyer re-wrote his bird-loving client's will to leave his fortune to a charitable organization the lawyer would run. Said organization's declared purpose was to finance the care and protection of the American passenger pigeon, a species that's been extinct since 1914.


Real Life

  • Most people think hollow bones like those of birds are fragile. In reality, thanks to a complex honeycomb structure, bird bones are no more fragile than those of mammals. In the case of the now extinct dinosaurs and pterosaurs, both having pneumatic skeletons, fragility would mean death, and they obviously had quite strong yet light bones.
  • Apparently, It is commonly believed in India that Peacocks are asexual and the female "gets pregnant" by drinking the males tear. This belief is not only incorrect, but ironic, because the birds are actually quite promiscuous. The entire reason the male bird fans his feathers is because he's trying to attract mates. Also, technicality, birds do not "get pregnant."
  • It is a very, very common belief that mother birds will reject fallen babies that have been returned to the nest by humans, due to the human scent. A few problems with this:
    • Very few birds have a sense of smell even worth mentioning (kiwis, albatrosses, and some vultures have a good sense of smell).
    • Most mother animals don't care if the baby has had contact with humans, unless that contact has been prolonged. Mama Bear wouldn't be much of a trope if mother animals abandoned any and all young touched by strangers.
    • If humans or other animals are hanging around watching the nest, the parents will be reluctant to return until the "threat" has left.
    • Worth noting, though, is that disturbed eggs will likely cause parent birds to leave a site for good. The reason being that eggs don't move on their own, and if they've been moved around it's a sign that a predator has been nosing around.


Sound FX

  • And there's always that wonderful moment, known to all birdwatchers, when you're watching a movie and it shows a shot of a bald eagle... while a Red-Tailed Hawk screams in the background. Presumably they thought sparrow-like chirping wasn't manly enough for the mascot of Eagle Land.
  • The number of jungles across the world in which the Kookaburra -- an Australian species of kingfisher -- can be found is astounding. Many outdoor scenes use the call of a Belted Kingfisher -- a North American species almost exclusively found near water.
  • The Limpkin, a mostly unremarkable bird found in Central and South America, plus Florida, has a very distinctive and indeed downright bizarre cry that's impossible to mistake for anything else. According to the movies, vocal limpkins are apparently a staple of African jungles (especially the Tarzan movies). Oh, and the hippogriff in the movie version of Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban is voice-acted for by one of these little brown birds.
  • The distinctive call of the Common Loon, a bird found almost exclusively on large northern lakes, can be heard in deserts, tropical jungles, caves, and anywhere else filmmakers want an eerie wildlife sound.
  • Period British TV series often use generic birdsong sound effects that include the Collared Dove, a species that didn't colonise Britain until the 1950s.
  • Comedian Brian Regan told a story about a golf tournament that was caught inserting non-indigenous bird sounds by a savvy bird enthusiast. "I guess I'm supposed to believe the blue-breasted whipper willow has decided to alter its annual migratory route to enjoy a little golf!"
  • Sadly the David Attenborough documentary Life Of Birds got some things wrong. While showing species endemic to the south-west of Australia, a Pied Currawong can be clearly heard in the background - this is a species confined to the eastern seaboard of the country.
  • If you believe sound effects technicians, every beach on the planet is home to herring gulls, no matter the location or season.


Toys

  • FurReal Friends has a new line of baby animal animatrons that you feed fake milk. Unfortunately, that line contains a duck and a parrot. When did baby birds start drinking milk?
    • Do note that pigeons and flamingos do feed their chicks with something similar to, but very different from, milk, called crop milk. The milk is made from a secretion from the birds' crop. Ducks and parrots, on the other hand...
    • Even if they were pigeons or flamingos, they'd have no business drinking milk from a baby bottle.


Video Games

  • Chocobos are functionally ostrich-like horse analogues. In some games like Final Fantasy Tactics, they have a vaguely plausible, though friendly appearance, but traditionally are cute'd up and somewhat resemble chicken-like moas. Some can also fly, despite being as big as a donkey. Baby chocobos are pure "baby chick" though.
    • Justified in the cartoonier games, especially the Chocobo's Dungeon spinoff, since the humans are equally strangely proportioned.
    • The most egregious case is probably Final Fantasy XIII, where adult chocobos are ridiculously large and the chicks are not only the same size as baby chickens, but can fly despite the adults not being able to. Possibly justified in that the chocobo chick was the closest thing to a comic relief in that game.
  • The Spiteful Crow enemy in Earthbound has the same problem as cartoon crows (mentioned in the Western Animation section below), in that it has a yellow beak instead of a black one. Of course, it's doubtful this was intended to be realistic as said enemies wear sunglasses and a bow tie.
  • In a weird version, the Moas of Guild Wars look nothing like the real moa, but are fairly accurate phorusrhacids...
    • So would that be a Somewhere An Onithologist And A Paleontologist Are Crying On Each Others' Shoulders trope?
  • In The Sims 2 Pets, there's a birdcage with fairly accurate-looking models of several different species, including an African Gray Parrot, a Crested Cockatoo, and...an American Kestrel. They're all roughly the same size and can be interacted with the same way, including Play With and Teach to Talk. An American Kestrel is a small falcon. Not only is it smaller than an African Gray Parrot or a Scarlet Macaw, it is absolutely impossible to teach any falcon to talk, and if you play with one you should definitely be protecting your hand. (Somewhere, an ornithologist and a falconer are crying on each others' shoulders.)
  • In a case of All Long-Legged Birds Are Herons, the flash game Treasure Madness recently offered a map that depicts black-crowned cranes standing around in a lake, as if wading for fish. Cranes of this species are savannah birds that feed on land.
  • Angry Birds. That is all.


Web Comics

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, it is implied that Molly the Monster's pink coloring comes from her having some genetic material from a flamingo. In real life, flamingos' pink color comes from protiens in the plankton they eat, and their feathers turn drab without it.


Western Animation

  • Cartoon crows will usually have a yellow beak. In Real Life, most of them are all black; if it has a yellow beak, it's probably a chough instead. Unless it appears in British media where the creators have used a typical Blackbird instead.
    • This is actually a plot point in Alfred J Kwak where the recurring villain Dolf is only half crow and does not in fact have a black beak, but he paints it black in order to pass for a full blood crow.
  • Real Life roadrunners are omnivorous, gray, about one foot long, and look like little velociraptors when walking. But the object of Wile E. Coyote's obsession seems to love birdseed and more closely resembles an ostrich. About the only accurate thing is its real life hesitancy to fly.
    • Light was made of this in Freefall when the crew's pet emu was outfitted with speakers to allow it to vocalize, and wakes up the genetically-enhanced wolf AI with a meep meep! ..."Can our roadrunner outrun our coyote?"
    • War and Pieces features a roadrunner on the wrong side of the Pacific.
  • Daffy Duck has been heard to quack and have a white neck ring like a mallard, but has all black plumage more like a black scoter.
    • Mallard Fillmore arbitrarily changes color from green to black between panels - maybe he suffers from the same species identity crisis?
      • It should be noted that in his very first cartoon (back when he actually looked like a duck) Daffy had a light blue ring around his neck. Make of that what you will.
    • Hatta Mari from Plane Daffy is a pigeon with cleavage.
    • Actually parodied at the beginning of a Daffy cartoon where he's seen floating in a pond with a group of mallard ducks that act and look realistic. He comments that he always seems to stand out in a crowd.
  • One episode of Johnny Test has penguins referred to as "flightless furballs".
  • Iago from Aladdin (a macaw) has two toes in front of the foot and...one toe in back? Oops.
  • Another All Birds Are Chickens toe error: On The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog, a woodpecker was depicted with three toes in front and one in back, rather than the proper two-and-two. Rather disappointing for a show intended to advance science/nature education.
  • Woody Woodpecker. A garishly-colored feather duster with goggly green eyes and a beak that occasionally exhibits teeth, he's no doubt been the cause of many an ornothologist's tears.
  • Margaret from Regular Show. The official site calls her a robin. She's bright red like a male cardinal, but really looks more like a Palette Swap of Mordecai (a bluejay). And she has lady pecs.
  • One episode of Family Guy features a gag where two stoned seagulls are talking about how KFC is delicious, and one of them freaks out when the other one points out that he's eating bird. Nevermind that there's plenty of other animal species which will eat their own kind: the closest taxonomic relation the two share is class--that is, a gull eating chicken is no more cannibalism than a person eating a cow. That, and some species of gulls will prey on other birds.
  • Donald Duck never flies like an actual duck at all, but whenever we actually do see him flying, he for some reason flies like a hummingbird.
  • Pelicans in Warner Bros. cartoons seemed to have oversized pouches under their bill tops, leading Daffy in 1938's Porky and Daffy to quickly quip "Funny thing about the pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can." (The pelican in question here is the referee in a fight in which Daffy is competing.)
    • Also, cartoon pelicans in general.

Notes

  1. Flightless falcons in rehab actually can and do run as their primary way of getting around, and they are surprisingly good at it. That said, chocobos, they ain't.
  2. which in the language of their home country are known as "blue macaws"
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