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Young Ornithologist of The Year 1993


I never won the Young Ornithologist of The Year Award in 1993. I wasn’t even nominated. I even doubt that it is or even was a real thing. I do like the concept of someone being so good at appreciating birds that another person felt it necessary to honour them. This blog post is so called though because it is the one legitimately weird, fringe activity that I took part in when I was a child. It is the one thing that makes me an outsider and I feel I should cling to it. Because everything else about me is desperately normal and agonisingly bland.

By Dan Cornelius - @imdancornelius

I was a young ornithologist.

It didn’t last long and no-one noticed, so I think I got away with it. I feel an affinity to birds, more than most other animals and even recently shared a moment with an owl that has deeply affected me. For as long as I can remember, whenever I see a bird do something good, I think:

“Go on sunshine! Fucking show us how to do it.”

I’m not obsessed with them, I don’t lure them into my house or stuff them and display them. But they’re great, the names of them are great: Blue-Footed Boobie, Darwin’s Rhea, the Kookaburra. Because all of those names are nicknames that I have at some point given to my semi-automatic firearms.

Kookaburra, I like saying that: kookaburra. If you’re reading this you should try pronouncing it in as many ways as possible. I put the emphasis on the first ‘a’ and the second ‘r’. The kookaburra consumed cognac in the chalet. The kookaburra collected crepes continually. The kookaburra’s kooky cook cooked coq-au-burra. The burra being a small shrub native to Western Australia. So it’s chicken to the shrub. Just how the kookaburra’s kooky cook liked to cook it. The best thing about that is that ‘au’ is the two letter abbreviation commonly used for Australia, according to the ISO 3166 standard, and the kookaburra is native to Australia. So if you spoke in a mixture of French, ISO 3166 and English coq-au-burra means chicken-Australia-shrub. Au is also Aragonese (a language spoken by around 10,000 people in Spain) for bird. So if you spoke in a mixture of French, Aragonese and English coq au burra means chicken-bird-shrub. And that’s why we say: “to laugh like a kookaburra brings great joy to the Spanish.”

I also like how smart birds are but how easy it can be to perplex them. Even to perplex them with perspex. To take a minor bird, stick it in front of a sheet of perspex and just say:

“Go on then mate, do something with that.”

Which they inevitably struggle with until they realise they can see their reflection in it and they are suddenly doing something with the perspex. Specifically bobbing back and forth, wondering why another minor bird is strutting about like a prick in front of them. And toucans, toucans are awesome because they are so ridiculously beaked. Apparently if a toucan doesn’t mate it will die. But I’d argue that even if a toucan was to mate it is still very unlikely to achieve immortality. Even if a toucan was to pose for a portrait by some enigmatic artist and told to keep the portrait up in a loft I would still doubt its claims to being able to avoid death’s pallid grasp. Particularly because,  despite the fact that most people think those beaks are delightfully pretty things, I happen to know that they’re just very advanced beak tumours.

I still am continually delighted by birds though and wish I could be better to them, my one major contribution to the ornithological world this year was to accidentally run one over near the sea. I thought, that’s terrible, that bird’s baby didn’t deserve to become an orphan. After all: one good tern deserves a mother.

As I seek to wrap up this flight of fancy I draw your attention to two more examples of birds dicking all over humans. Firstly, The Secretary Bird has such a strong character that it has managed to resist the calls to rename it The Personal Assistant Bird. Finally, when crows are shown dropping nuts onto zebra crossings so that cars drive over them and crush the shells before having to stop for the traffic lights allowing the crows to fly back and eat the nuts I think it’s brilliant. I’ve sat at home with no nutcracker a bag of nuts and been stumped. I forlornly wandered around my flat looking for something to crush nuts. I Googled it. I sent a text to that Any Question Answered service. They suggested I run over it with my car. I sent a text back telling them I won’t reduce myself to the level of a crow thank you very much.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 11/18/2011 1:07 am

    As a child, I came home from school once (well, actually I came from school on more than one occasion but you get where I’m going with this) and a Robin was inside the house terrifying my mother.

    Eventually, the bird was shooed from our abode but not before tilting its head to one side and giving me a knowing sideways look.

    It knew what I was about to do, even as it made its desperate escape. It knew I was about to walk barefoot up the stairs and step in the only camouflaged shit it had managed to unleash upon our stairway carpet. That is why I don’t trust birds and never will.

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