In this edition of “Sounds Right to Me,” Emily and Megan compare notes on what the best birds are.
Megan: I am historically not very fond of many animals and have a very small and specific list of the animals that I can tolerate. Birds really aren’t on this list! Their darting movements make me nervous and I don’t love that they can fly and I can’t. Most of them have sharp little beaks and beady eyes, and I am fairly certain that they would kill me if only given the chance. However, there are a few birds that I find to be acceptable, if only because I believe that I could train them to do my bidding.
Emily: Once again, we arrive at the same conclusion from opposite sides—Despite enjoying nearly every animal on Earth more than the company of pretty much any human alive, I believe that birds are untrainable miniaturized dinosaurs with razor toes and murderous hearts. When I was eight years old a pack of roving Canada geese attacked me in Branson, Missouri, for a piece of bread I was holding, and I can still feel their nightmarish black beaks, blunt but aggressive, bruising the insides of my arms as I futilely flailed, desperate and unsuccessful against that thrashing wall of feathers. The few birds upon which I do not actively wish extinction seem kind, generous, and unlikely to ambush a child for less than a gram of carbohydrates.
Megan: The cassowary is an enormous, flightless bird that looks like it’s wearing a hat, and has probably done its fair share of nefarious deeds in its past. Normally, I would be scared of this bird, which looks like an ostrich and a turkey had a baby, but the foolish part of me believes we could be friends.
Emily: Counterpoint: This bird looks like a sexual predator from a Yeats poem.
Another murder bird, the harpy eagle, scares the living shit out of me because in some lights, it looks like a human being. However, that’s a feature and not a bug, because this thing is extremely intimidating, very beautiful, and would certainly kill me in the night if I asked—and it would probably peck an enemy in the butt if I requested that, too. Good bird! Sweet baby.
Emily: Counterpoint: This bird’s eyes look like tunnels to hell.
The shoebill stork is essentially a dinosaur, which would normally frighten me, but in the imagined scenario I’ve created, it soothes, instead. Sure, a shoebill stork would kill me if I wasn’t looking. To be clear, all of these birds would—let’s be real, you cannot trust a bird! But taming the shoebill and getting it to do my bidding, whether it be walking to the good deli to get me some Quadrattini and a bottle of seltzer, or swallowing whole the squirrel that terrorizes the cats from the roof, would be a dream. Per my research, these birds can reach up to 5 feet tall, which means I could saddle this fucker and ride it to the park for its daily constitutional.
Emily: Counterpoint: This bird’s eyes look like the last thing you see before you become just a forearm for Laura Dern to find in the generator room.
The other two birds are pedestrian but deserve mention: penguins are pure and good, and though they likely smell very strongly of fish, I would love to strap two to my feet and ride them like little skis across Antarctica. If this is not what they preferred, I’d be content with tossing them oily sardines from a bucket and telling them I love them. Flamingos are pink—pink!—and walk with both trepidation and purpose. What’s not to love?
Emily: Penguins and flamingos are our two overlap birds. I like to imagine penguins and flamingos at a little mixer, all dressed up in tuxedos and ball gowns. The flamingos would take dainty bites of pink shrimp off waiters’ trays, while penguins gulp down whole fish, staining their little white tummies and then looking rightfully sheepish. These are cartoon birds is my point and pose no threat.
Another cartoonish, albeit genetically confused, bird-type animal is the duck-billed platypus, which is part bird, part mammal, and part reptile. All the best parts if you ask me: no gross bloody childbirth, lovely silken fur, powerful beaver’s tail, and just a hint of deadly poison. Platypus is the animal we all would be if evolution were fair.
Unlike the genetically superior platypus, the kakapo is one of nature’s losers and disliking it just seems mean. The only parrot that can’t fly, the kakapo must climb trees, where it sleeps all day and wanders in search of snacks at night. Meanwhile, its oversized beak and rumpled feathers give the poor animal the disheveled appearance of wearing a more stately bird’s hand-me-downs. I am kakapo. Kakapo is me.
My final choice is the silkie chicken, perhaps an odd one since, several times a year since I was about 12, I have a dream in which a rooster attacks me, and I must beat it to death with a stick. I do not always win. But the silkie chicken is basically an oddly shaped Pekinese wearing its closest guess at a bird costume. Regal yet ridiculous, the silkie is the toy breed of the bird world and anyone who dislikes it is a bigger monster than pretty much all other birds.
Megan: Compelling arguments! But I’m not convinced. Readers, your time is now.