Woody or wouldn’t he? Only Mel Blanc knows for sure

No disputin’, Rasputins, that Tweety Bird is a canary. Cock-sure Foghorn Leghorn’s a rooster. And the Road Runner? Sold, even if live-action Greater Roadrunners don’t make any sort of “beep-beep” sound (the male sounds alternately like an owl playing maracas, the female like a yapping monkey); they aren’t remotely blue — well, maybe a little on the crown and around the eyes; and any self-respecting wily coyote would snap one up as a dessert in a hot desert minute.

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So it’s time to settle once and for all the mystery of Woody Woodpecker. In March 2009, NPR’s All Things Considered bird commentator, Julie Zickefoose, first considered it was “obvious, with his shaggy crest, long beak and wild laugh, that Woody was supposed to be a pileated woodpecker” until, by the end of her column, she regurgitated evidence ascribed to creator-illustrator Walter Lantz — evenly corroborated and refuted on Wikipedia — that he was modeled after the acorn woodpecker. The story goes that Lantz was either entertained or annoyed by acorn woodpeckers on his honeymoon making that hilarious sound … when, in fact, he wasn’t even married on that famed trip, and the sound we associate with Woody was vocal artist Mel Blanc’s sloppy seconds, originally designed for Bugs Bunny.

What’s up with that?

The Birdchick blog followed up with her own investigation:

"As a kid, I always thought he was an ivory-billed woodpecker.  Okay, the ivory-bill isn’t blue and Woody’s white patches don’t match up, but you can’t argue with Woody’s size, his crest and his light colored bill.  When I worked at a wild bird store and we had to listen to bird identification CDs all day, I heard an acorn woodpecker call and it gave the “Ha ha ha HAAA ha” call.  I realized that sounded a little familiar.  Here’s an example that you can hear over at Xeno Canto."

Pretty remarkable that she was pondering toon taxonomy as a kid, when I had trouble keeping Daffy and Donald straight. Turns out that Sharon’s instincts were on target, as she goes on to credit Chilean birding expert Alvaro Jaramillo with solving the mystery by digging through Looney Tunes cartoon cells to find, in a 1964 episode called “Dumb Like a Fox,” Woody’s own discovery that he is of the species Campephilus principalis, or the ivory-billed woodpecker — almost as storied and elusive as Sasquatch, but with far more documentation.

I bring it up because, in today’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” face-off between the pileated woodpecker and the great blue heron, I wouldn’t want anyone voting for the woodpecker on the basis of preschool propaganda alone. Woody is that rare bird, an amalgamation of our imagination that also most closely resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ha-ha-ha-HAA-ha!

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Tweet THIS: March madness for bird brains

A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched ...

Superhero Cedar Waxwing. Image via Wikipedia

While the chirp of squeaky sneakers, sports commentators flapping their gums, the howl of the crowd and shrill buzzers and whistles invade our home this month, I’ll heed a different breed of calls: the call of the wild.The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reminds us it’s not only peak hoops season but peak beak season … something for the rest of us grousers. It will unveil its organically “seeded” brackets  March 12 (tomorrow!), for a March 13 tip-off of its second annual “March Migration Madness.”

Last year, the Black-Capped Chickadee ruled the roost, fending off a full-fledged threat from the wild card Cedar Waxwing. Who will horn in this year — an actual Gamecock? A mutant Jayhawk? An Oregon duck?

I’ve traditionally been pretty flighty filling out my NCAA brackets — picking my favorite colors and mascots first. But an entire bracket dedicated to colorful birds? Close to heaven. The beauty is, Cornell plucked the top 8 seeds from last year’s fittest and tossed in 4 wild cards, leaving the rest of the Tweet 16 up to us fair/foul-weather fans. We’re being asked to nominate our top bird, then move the flock through its paces with “likes” on Facebook, all the way to choosing the Final Feathered Four and ultimate Chirpion.

Don’t wanna ruffle any feathers here … so which bird is my pick?

Lately I’ve become enamored with the Carolina wren, but as an anti-Tar Heels fan, that’s bad karma. Looking at the actual NCAA brackets provides little inspiration: Louisville Cardinals, Long Island Blackbirds, Creighton Bluejays, Temple Owls, Lehigh Mountain Hawks, Marquette Golden Eagles … hmm.

What birder can forget the thrill of spying an unknown species through the glass? That happened when I first recognized a yellow-bellied sapsucker out my bay window. But as the official mascot of the Cornell site, that cries fowl.

Most recently, my eyes and heart were opened to a lowly (not really) sparrow — dismissing what at first I thought was a song sparrow, until the wondrous jolly beard and clownish crown of the White-Throated Sparrow materialized in my backyard, then again in my mother’s backyard this past weekend. Let’s lift up this sparrow to the Tweet 16. (Below, is the discovery as seen in my mother’s Norfolk, Va., yard yesterday. S/he eventually hops up onto the little pedestal s/he so deserves.)

Meanwhile, back to the NCAA mating dance. One thing’s clear: My birds and I are rooting against all cats — domestic and wild. (Sorry, Hubby, whose Kentucky Wildcats are top-seeded; I’ll overlook the whiskers on the mascot of my own alma mater — good ol’ Sparty of Michigan State — who is both top-seeded and seedy.)

Perhaps this year I’ll have more than March Migration Madness to crow about. Comparing the view outside the window to my husband’s 60-inch flat screen, though … no contest.

Click here (starting March 12) to view the full Cornell Tweet 16 bracket. And here’s an early halftime show: