Pick a pecking order: How birds and politics mix

The rufous hummingbird was recently named the American Birding Association’s 2014 Bird of the Year. How did it pull that off? Don’t recall any campaigning.

$T2eC16RHJGEFFm6!7qebBRzq,,WZdQ~~60_35We humans take care of that. Explains Jeff Gordon, president of the ABA: “We listen to member ideas, but, so far, the staff makes the call on Bird of the Year.” It’s also based on “geography, cool biology and outrageous beauty — not necessarily in that order,” pipes in Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding magazine.

When promoting birds in general, one can’t help but show favoritism now and then. Artists and artisans do it. Ever wonder why male cardinals grace so many Christmas cards? Are they easier to paint/photograph, or just easier to spot?  (I personally prefer the females.) And what’s the deal with owls lately? It’s not just snowy owl irruptions; there has been an eruption of owl ornamentation in a range of products from home decor to personal wear over the past several years.

Some birds seem perennially and unfairly freighted with symbolism. Consider:

Top 5 symbolic birds

1. Eagle (patriotism). And it coulda been the turkey. See American history, or the Broadway musical “1776,” for the animated explanation.

2. Dove (peace). Still, those male cardinals are giving them a run for their money. What people don’t realize is cardinals are more like Angry Birds than sirens of serenity.

owlaamilne3.  Owl (wisdom). Winnie-the-Pooh’s delightful friend “Wol” is even semi-literate.

4. Turkey (Thanksgiving, sure, but also refers to “a lemon” or a lunkhead). This is probably the first bird every kid learns to draw, outlining their hands then rendering in felt, glue and construction paper.

5.  The twin pillars of the stork (birth & hope) and the raven (death & fear)

Other birds get drawn into the political fray through no fault of their own.

Top 5 political birds

On that whole national bird / state bird thing: It shows a lack of imagination when you have some birds (again with the Northern cardinal) monopolizing seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia) as an emblem. Mention the American robin to sensitive Michiganders, and they may get a little ticked: It’s their state bird even though it’s a migrant in Michigan. Whose decision was this?

Illegal immigration has always been somewhat of an issue for birds — just ask the European starling or house sparrow, or the boat-tailed grackle, which has become a target for hunters eager to “help” control populations. Here are a few other feather rufflers.

big+bird

Big Bird makes a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment with Seth Meyers.

1. Big Bird – Embroiled in a 2012 controversy over federal funding of “liberal-leaning” PBS, the good Sesame Street neighbor helped to roast Mitt Romney’s presidential chances.

2. The northern spotted owl / the snowy owl – More owls! The first species was caught up in a Northwest conservation fight / the second, amid this crazy irruption into the Southern states, has been touted by some as evidence of climate change (a politically freighted term all its own).

3. The Canada geese that downed Sully’s aircraft – The risk of bird strikes has triggered miles of legislation and local skirmishes about policing bird nesting areas near airports. A sad tale close to home: the eviction of nesting eagles at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, situated next door to Norfolk International Airport. This is where politics and symbolism intersect. (I blogged about this last year, during March Migration Madness.)

4. The stork – Embodies the idea of sex education, or lack thereof, i.e. how we don’t give our children the straight story, or even the gay story.

5. Poultry — Meaning chicken, as in “tastes like …” Does modern farming of food run afoul of animal rights? Everyone from Whole Foods to PETA has a cock in this fight.

Dear reader, do you have a “pet” wild bird or cause?

Torn between two hovers

Snowy owl vs. Yellow warbler.

Snowy owl.

Image via Wikipedia

I have no real-world experience with either of these birds, so rather than argue for one over the other to snatch a perch in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” Airborne 8 bracket as I have for previous contenders — fairly persuasively, if I do say so myself, and I do, totally alone on that  — I think I’ll use a lifeline.

HELP!! I can’t choose.

(I really think the snowy owl should have gone up against the bald eagle; might have been a fairer fight, two raptors, white heads, golden eye orbs and all …)

OK, FOCUS. Don’t forget this isn’t just a popularity contest, be scientific, there are scientists behind it, ya know.

We’ll compare in list form.
Both the snowy owl and yellow warbler have their pluses and pluses.

The Snowy Owl

1. Served as a pivotal plot device last year in “The Big Year,” a movie just out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy … and sorely snubbed by the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAGs, Critics’ Choice, Rotten Tomatoes, MTV, Rondo Awards, etc., etc. In 1998, the snowy owl was the one bird eluding champion birder Sandy Komito, represented as Kenneth Bostick in the flick, played by Owen Wilson. The quest canned his marriage. If he’d just waited about 15 more big years, global warming would have made spotting a snowy owl much easier.

Wol.

2. Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, one of the best characters was indubitably Owl. What kind of owl was he? A brilliant one. Could spell his name: Wol. I loved his squiggles, and his throat-clearing.

3. The whole Harry Potter thing. Honestly, though, the U.S. Postal Service might take note.

4. They are possessed by the devil and their heads spin around.

5. Before my aunt Susie was into eagles (see previous post, “Stateliness vs. Subterfuge: A slam-dunk”), owls floated her boat. She collected anything and everything owl-inspired, and for each holiday gift, uninspired relatives fed her addiction. Note to self: Don’t ever tell people what your favorite species is. Susie had owl hand towels, owl corkscrews, owl running mats, even owl sunglasses. This was before those hoarding shows became popular.

The Yellow Warbler

1. It is yellow.

2. It warbles.

SEE? Feels like a sequel, Hedwig and the Angry Finch, Oh, I know it’s not a finch.

It’s clear I need help. Someone, please, buy my vote.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler (Photo credit: A. Davey)

English: Male Yellow Warbler (Dendroica aestiv...