Photo by Nigel Winnu
[Old English brid, (late Northumbrian bird, of unknown origin and without cognates.]
1. A nestling, a fledgling; a chick. Long obsolete except northern. OE
2. A feathered, warm-blooded, amniote animal of the vertebrate class Aves, characterized by modification
of the the forelimbs as wings for flight, oviparous reproduction, and care for the young. ME
2b. SPORT. A game-bird, specifically a partridge; figuratively prey. LME
3. A maiden, a girl; a young woman. (Originally a variation of BURD, later taken as figurative use for sense 1 & 2). Now slang, frequently derogatory. ME
4. A person (frequently with specifying adjective). Colloquial. M19
5. A first-rate person, animal, or thing. US slang. M19
6. [Abbreviation of BIRDLIME noun] A prison sentence; prison. Slang. E20
7. An aeroplane; a missile, rocket, satellite, spacecraft, etc. Slang. M20
8. In badminton: a shuttlecock. L20
Firstly, I'd like to explain why I think bird is an interesting word. The English language is such a a mixed bag, rife with French and German and Latin and Greek and a myriad other languages, it's quite unusual to find a word that's English, just English, and nothing else, having no cognates in any other language. Being such a pretty little word representative of such pretty little creatures, I can't help but feel a flush of irrational pride when I think of bird: it's our word, all our own, and no one else can touch it.
Secondly, birds are jolly interesting creatures. There are approximately 10,000 species of bird spread across every continent on the planet, ranging in size from the Bee Hummingbird (2 - 2.5in in length) to the Ostrich (up to 9ft tall). They are generally sociable, engaging in cooperative breeding and hunting, as well as other cooperative behaviours such as flocking and the mobbing of predators.
|An Amercian Crow|
Photo by Joe McKenna
It's also of note that birds are remarkably intelligent, with the parrot and crow families being rated as among the most intelligent of all animals. Certain birds have demonstrated self-awareness, for example, as well as the ability to fashion and use tools, to count and to employ observation and social learning. Birds have also demonstrated an understanding of object permanence, and it's possible some are able to understand another animal's perspective (such as predators). Such cognitive abilities were previously thought to solely be in the domain of humans, great apes and perhaps dolphins and elephants. However, the contemporary study of avian cognition challenges this, and certainly dispels the notion that birds are stupid, a myth enshrined in such language as bird-brained, meaning stupid, flighty.
Lastly, birds have a special place in human culture. We've worshiped them, eaten them, kept them and trained them; we've sung about them, written about them, and allowed our language to be shaped by them. I shall leave you with a song by Eels that pretty much sums up everything I want to say about birds:
Can't view this? Fly away here to see it in YouTube.
Do you have any thoughts on birds?
Do please comment below.