Dear Bird Folks,
I know your favorite bird is the Black-capped Chickadee, but I’d like to know what your favorite cartoon bird is.
– Albert, Orleans, MA
Interesting question, Albert,
At first, I almost ignored your note. I mean, who cares about cartoon birds? But when you think about it, many children’s first exposure to birds is from cartoons. Very few three year olds go for walks in the woods or sit in a corner reading field guides. (Although I often sat in the corner, but it was for different reasons.) Whether we like it or not, good old TV provided our first introduction to birds. Choosing a favorite cartoon bird is tough. There are literally hundreds of cartoon birds to choose from. So, in an effort to save time, I’m going to limit my choices to the classic cartoon birds. And by “classic,” I mean the cartoon birds I can still remember. It’s been a while since I sat home on a Saturday morning and watched cartoons. Maybe I should do more of that. If my wife complains, I’ll tell her I’m doing scientific research. She won’t dare argue with science.
I think we should start with Donald Duck, who turned eighty years old this year. This means he has been around longer than most folks reading this. Donald is a real star and has been in more Disney movies than even his mousey pal, Mickey. But Donald has a few issues. To begin with, can anyone understand him? I know I can’t. Then there is the clothes thing. I’ve always been annoyed by animals wearing clothes. (Beatrix Potter, I’m talking to you.) To make things worse, Donald only dresses halfway. More than one observer has pointed out that Donald has the weird habit of wearing a shirt, but no pants. Oh, sure, I think we’ve all forgotten to put on our pants at one time or another, but Donald does it all the time. Then there is his temper. All Chip and Dale have to do is steal a bit of his food and he totally goes off the deep end. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bird with a little spunk (Blue Jays, for example), but this duck has serious anger management issues.
Speaking of spunk, and ducks, Daffy Duck is one of my favorites. Even though he too has a temper, he doesn’t have the hair-trigger that Donald has. He also doesn’t wear clothes (unless he’s doing a bit or dressing in drag). When Daffy talks he’s totally understandable, but his speech does have one major flaw. Daffy is a big spitter, and in most societies that’s a turn-off. Just by yelling his signature phrase, “You’re desssspicable!!!!” Daffy could easily put out a forest fire in Idaho.
Two birds that I really enjoy watching are Heckle and Jeckle. There is no spit flying when they speak. In fact, Jeckle is quite eloquent, sounding like a snobby Brit. And unlike Donald and Daffy, I don’t recall any psycho outbursts from Heckle or Jeckle. Most of their mischief and mayhem is handled in a dignified manner. But here’s the big problem with Heckle and Jeckle: they look like crows – crows with giant yellow beaks. But guess what. Heckle and Jeckle aren’t crows; they’re magpies. How many kids today have no idea what magpies look like because of Heckle and Jeckle? See my point?
A few summer ago a woman came into my shop, saw my book about woodpeckers (and headaches) and told me that she was the daughter of the late Walter Lantz. Who’s Walter Lantz? He was the creator of the world’s most famous woodpecker…Woody. (Talk about a brush with greatness.) Woody is one our most resourceful cartoon birds, constantly getting in and out trouble. When I was in the third grade everyone my age watched Woody Woodpecker. And of course, all the kids tried to do an impression of Woody’s famous laugh. Those impressions eventually got on my nerves. By the end of the year, I never wanted to hear Woody Woodpecker again. (Please don’t mention that last part to Walter’s daughter. I faked like I was still a big fan.)
There is one cartoon bird that doesn’t have any of the flaws of the birds listed above. It never wears clothes. It doesn’t spit while talking. It looks like it is supposed to look (sort of) and it is extremely even-tempered. In fact, this bird is always smiling. I’m talking about Wile E. Coyote’s old nemesis, the Road Runner. With little effort, the Road Runner could not only handle Mr. Coyote, but it could also defeat a company almost as desssspicable as Halliburton…the dreaded Acme Corporation. But most importantly, the Road Runner was very funny. One time I was in a crowded comedy club, standing in the back waiting for the show to start. To help warm up the crowd, the club played Road Runner cartoons on a big screen TV. The cartoon had me laughing so hard that I lost my balance and bumped into a biker-looking dude, spilling his beer (really). The guy wasn’t in a very good mood, considering he was in a comedy club. I apologized and tried to blame the funny Road Runner on my stumbling. The guy just glared back at me. (He must have been a Donald Duck fan.)
There you have it, Albert. My vote for the best cartoon bird goes to the Road Runner. I’m sure some folks will be upset that my list didn’t include other favorites, such as Tweety Bird, Snoopy’s Woodstock, Fruit Loops Toucan Sam, or the Lion King’s Zazu. Others might claim that I’m wrong about the Road Runner being the best and will try to change my mind. But they are wasting their time. If a biker dude couldn’t get me to back off, they don’t stand a chance.