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Large Avian Physiology

There are lots of members of class Aves out there. Birds range in size from the tiniest of hummingbirds to those big, mean, dumb ostriches. They come in all of the colors of the rainbow, sometimes at the same time. They can be as dumb as an emu or as smart as an African Gray. Their songs run the gamut from simple tweets and chirps to complex, multi-part songs to the near-perfect mimicry of the lyrebird.

Side note: I've always wanted to sneak up on a male lyrebird during mating season and play some Metallica just to see what it would sound like coming back out of the bird. Anyway.

Birds are fascinating, but, when I think of them, I keep coming back, time and again, to one singular bird mystery, one unique feathered conundrum that nobody else ever seems to ask, much less answer.

Why does Big Bird have hands?

This post is brought to you by the letters W, T, and F.

There. Look at them. He appears to be a large, yellow bird; all the signs are there: beak, feathers, legs, wings, three-toed birdy feet.

But he has hands. Hands! Why does Big Bird have hands? Possessing hands, much less his apparently opposable thumbs, would seem to require a serious reexamination of not only bird taxonomy but how we understand modern animal cladistics at all, reaching at least all the way back to the earliest feathered dinosaurs. The evolutionary branch of birds is so far away from that of the other animals with hands and thumbs that to call this creature a bird we'd have to either completely redefine the word "bird" or create a radically new subbranch of that segment of the evolutionary bush.

And, digging further, why do his hands, problematic as they are already, only have three digits? All modern creatures with digits have five, excepting rare cases where one or two have minimized and become vestigial over evolutionary time (spider monkeys, for example), and even in those cases the ancestors of the animals had five digits. Bats, a comparable flying creature, have four elongated fingers supporting the flesh of their wings and a little thumb poking up over the top. So why three? What sick, dinosaurian logic gifted this great yellow beast with a spare three fingers?

Is he, perhaps, somehow cladistically linked to Terrapene Mutante triunguis, the storied Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?

Really, though, the most important question is this: why do we persist in allowing birders and scientists to refer to Big Bird as a bird, apparently without closely examining his unique body structure? 

Now, he is, of course, big. It's part of his name. Is it perhaps that birders and scientists have been scared into silence about Big Bird's clearly less-than-birdlike appendages by his obvious physical might? I mean, look at him. He could kick your butt, if he had a mind to. He's huge.

Perhaps, however, it goes deeper than that. Perhaps the dark underbelly of the Children's Television Workshop, the shady back alleys of Sesame Street, if you will, are using their power to intimidate the scientific establishment into ignoring the obvious physiological anomalies at the end of their perennially popular creature's "wings" so they can maintain the monosyllabic, alliterative, kid-friendly monkier "Big Bird." As potentially more accurate as "Oversized Oviraptor" might be, it's certainly not as conducive to happy learning about friendship and the alphabet.

Right about now I'm sure some of you are saying "Calm down, Don. He's not even real. He's just an elaborate muppet costume performed by Caroll Spinney."

Well, nonsense I say to you. Have you ever seen Caroll Spinney and Big Bird in the same place a the same time? More to the point, have you ever seen Caroll Spinney? Of course not. It's because he doesn't exist. He's a carefully-crafted fiction that keeps children from realizing the true evolutionary horror of this titanic beast that prances around and sings to them songs of simple arithmetic every morning.

Let that sink in. Every morning. Every morning, children around the world watch this evolutionary atrocity perform for their pleasure, and they are victimized by both a sinister production company and a culture that gleefully ignores such obvious and dangerous red flags.

No more, I say. This ends here and now. Big Bird must break his silence. The world deserves to know the truth.

Copyright 2017 by Aaron Berenbach and Don Riefler

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