Have you ever noticed how some birds sound like they’re saying a word? Like Bob White? Or Whip Poor Pill? The one that stands out most to me is one I used to hear as a kid. It said “pretty,” but with a Southern redneck lilt. It went “purdy purdy purdy.” We used to call it the Purdy Bird. Other birds occasionally uttered various words, like the one that went “t-shirt, t-shirt, t-shirt, t-shirt.”
That one wasn’t as laid back as the Purdy Bird. It was urgent, like a t-shirt emergency. “T-shirt! T-shirt!
T-shirt! T-shirt!” (Or, according to a boy down the street, “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” But he was wrong.) But of all spoken-word birds, it was the Purdy Bird that offered the most distinct and unmis-takable enunciation.
Years later I was walking in the park with my girlfriend at the time (later wife, now not) (but we’re still good friends) and I heard a Purdy Bird in a tree. I said, “Oh, listen, it’s the Purdy Bird. He’s saying “Purdy, purdy, purdy....”
“It’s ‘birdy,’” she corrected. “Listen.”
It went “purdy, purdy, purdy.”
“See?” she said. “‘Birdy, birdy, birdy!’”
She said the kids in her neighborhood heard it as “birdy.” In fact, that’s what they called it: the
A needless conversation ensued, not an argument per se, just a bunch of ya-ya that convinced neither
side of the other’s opinion, so I will refrain from recapping it here. Anyway, that’s not what this bird
tale is about. I want to tell you about a bird much more sinister—some would say even dangerous—
than either the Purdy Bird or the T-shirt bird. This bird went “
.” Plain as day.
, as it came to be known, made its first appearance in the late nineties in southern
Indiana. Nobody is sure how this bird so suddenly metamorphosed into such a
. It seems
unlikely that a bird’s natural call, which evolves over millennia, would change so quickly on its own.
There’s a theory that it was the work of a savvy breeder of wild birds with a twisted sense of humor and
a vendetta against the general populace of Indiana. According to Wikipedia, a bird’s natural call could
be altered through the use of audio loops and behavioral modification techniques in as little as three
The Fuhkew Bird went relatively unnoticed for a couple of years, but eventually it started spreading
throughout the Midwest and up into the Northeast, and—this was its downfall—down South, into the
Bible belt. And this was during the Bush administration, an era marked by a return to family values,
and national angst over such threats to the country as Howard Stern and Janet Jackson’s left breast. A
movement was started to censor this vulgar menace. (
The bird, not Howard Stern
). It was a special task
force of undercover operatives recruited from the heartland of America. Their mission was to protect
innocent citizens by bringing this barrage of insults to a halt. Their weapons were the slingshot and
the bb gun. Hundreds of righteous crusaders, disguised as nine to eleven year old boys, quietly roamed
neighborhoods across the nation, slingshots in hand, committing what amounted to birdacide.
Today the song of the Fuhkew Bird has been silenced. It died to conform to our own sense of standards
and practices. No longer can you hear it singing its sweet song in neighborhoods across this great land
But it turned out to be like putting out a forest fire with water pistols. Other insult birds started crop
ping up all around the country, presumably the handiwork of copycat breeders, spouting off all manner
of profanity. Like the Bite Me Bird of northern California. And the Suck It Bird, indigenous to western
Maine. And a bird that’s just recently appeared in central Iowa. It goes “Cruz-Palin, Cruz-Palin, 2016!”
Now if you ever hear one of these birds, please don’t take it personally. These phonemes don’t mean to
us what they mean to it. It’s just an innocent bird doing what comes natural: warbling its own distinc
tive noise in an effort to attract a mate and perpetuate its species.
So if you think about it, the Fuhkew Bird was never really saying “fuh-KEW”—it was saying “fuk-