Archive for January, 2007

As dead as a dodo

On my writing blog I have been writing about idioms. Some of these expression that we use in everyday life relate to birds and some have very interesting origins. Here is another idiom.

“As dead as a dodo.”


If something is “as dead as a dodo” it is dead, extinct, no longer working, obsolete or out of date.


The dodo was a large, rather strange looking bird. It lived on the islands of Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Its name is Portuguese and means “silly” or “stupid.” European explorers and traders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries found the flightless bird to be both easily caught and delicious to eat. This eventually brought about its extinction.


  • “It is no use trying to use that old car,’ said James. “Its motor is as dead as a dodo.”

Amusing bird antics

I subscribe to several birding forums. As a result I receive daily emails from birders all over the world. Some of these are quite amusing. Birds do like having fun, it seems. Here is one classic example.

I reckon I once observed a Red Wattlebird being a show-off (of precision acrobatic flying) and exhibiting a sense of humour.

One day, years ago, I had brought my chooks around to the front yard, then I still had a lawn before my native trees grew, for some fresh grass. My rooster, Mucky, (now a 10yo veteran) is a Silver Spangled Hamburg X (for those of you who know your chooks!). A very handsome, gentle, caring and genteel rooster.

On this occasion a Red Wattlebird flew across the front yard and BETWEEN Mucky’s legs. While the poor rooster was trying to come to terms with what unknown indignity had just befallen him, the wattlebird turned and repeated the process from the opposite direction, leaving a rather confused, shaken and disconcerted rooster in its wake.

And an amazed and amused human bystander I could almost imagine the Red Wattlebird having a chuckle in a nearby bush. Sometimes a bird just wants to have fun!

Thanks to Wendy for this observation.

I’d like to hear from my readers about amusing incidents they have had with birds. I invite you to leave your comments below the photo.

Red Wattlebird

Red Wattlebird

As the Crow Flies

Over recent weeks I have been posting articles about idioms that feature birds in some way. Here is another one:

“As the crow flies.”


The shortest distance between two points.


The idiom “as the crow flies” seems to have been in use since the early 1800s. One source I found said:

British coastal vessels customarily carried a cage of crows. Crows detest large expanses of water and head, as straight as a crow flies, towards the nearest land if released at sea – very useful if you were unsure of the nearest land when sailing in foggy waters before the days of radar. The lookout perch on sailing vessels thus became known as the crow’s nest.

Several other sources I found gave a very similar answer. In my experience crows and ravens do not fly in particularly straight lines and there are many other species that may fly more directly to a given spot. On reflection, I feel that the point this idiom is making is that a bird, any bird, is easily able to fly directly from one point to another without being hindered by obstacles like humans might be. This direct flight is therefore the shortest distance between those two points.


  • “I am three kilometres from my home, as the crow flies, but by car it is five kilometres.”
Little Raven

Little Raven


Darter, Cleland Wildlife Park

Darter, Cleland Wildlife Park

I took this photo several months ago at the Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills. The Darter is an interesting bird, widespread over much of Australia without being common anywhere. It is occasionally found in Tasmania and New Zealand. It is also present in Africa, southern Asia and Papua New Guinea.

Snake Bird

Another common name for the Darter is Snake Bird. If one approaches one sitting on a log or branch it will writhe its neck in a snake like manner. Like cormorants, the Darter needs to regularly leave the water and sit on a log, rock, branch or navigation piles in order to dry its wings. The one in the photograph above was sitting on a log on the side of the path, only two metres from me. Being a captive bird it was very used to having people quite close.

Habitat preferences:

The Darter can be found in or along rivers, creeks, lakes, swamps, lagoons, reservoirs and estuaries but rarely in open sea. It can be found in both salt and fresh water. In my home district it is found right along the River Murray and although widespread it is present in only small numbers, usually one or two.

For more information:

  • Birds in Backyards – facts about the Darter.
  • Australia Zoo – look for the down loadable PDF file on this species.

A Little Bird Told Me

On my writing blog I have written a series of articles about idioms. I look at the meaning of the phrases and their possible origins. Some of these idioms relate to birds. Here is another of those fscinating expressions.

“A little bird told me.”


This idiom is thought to have come from the Old Testament in the Bible, namely Ecclesiastes 10:20.

“Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird of the air may carry your words,
and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”


It is used by people to state a fact from a secret source.


“How did you know that I came first in the race, Grandma?” said Laura.
“A little bird told me,” replied Grandma.