What kind of bird is Big Bird? A scientist explains

Mike sez, "When I was in the early stages of my PhD on the evolution of flightless birds, I was poking round in the storage cabinets of the Berlin Museum of Natural History one summer's day, and I had a revelation -- an original scientific insight. I realised what kind of bird Big Bird almost certainly is. Last month I presented my findings at the Christchurch, New Zealand, PechaKucha #8, and the audio and slides are now live. (A pecha-kucha is a talk in which 20 slides play for exactly 20 seconds each, and the speaker tries to keep up.) All the science is real, and no Big Birds were harmed in the course of this research."

What, if Anything, Is Big Bird? (Thanks, Mike!)



  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goofy

    Goofy is a dog, and a startlingly forward-thinking warning about the dangers of over-breeding.

    Also, the video won’t load. I think Boing Boing killed the poor little science site’s bandwidth. Now I’ll never know what Big Bird is!

  2. THIS is what I come to BoingBoing for! The answers to really important questions! I love scientific humor, especially biological/ taxonomical gags. I’ve gotta send this to my uncle, the paleontology professor.

  3. Amazingly, a blue variety of the species exists in europe: do a google image search for Pino.

    If they happen to be of different genders, perhaps it’s possible to set up a breeding program for this wonderful and unique bird.

  4. Birds are tricky: “Linnaeus included a group of species—the Paradoxa—that confounded his classification or whose actual existence he questioned. Pelicans, for example, were placed in Paradoxa because Linnaeus thought they might reflect the over-fervent imaginations of New World explorers.”

    from http://www.pnas.org/content/105/suppl.1/11482.full

    1. Huh? Why would Linnaeus have thought that? Pelicans live all over the world, they are even mentioned in the bible.

  5. But what about his less famous puppet companion Little Bird? Is it a juvenile? A case of extreme dwarfism? An unrelated species with some superficial morphological convergence?

    1. Good question(s). My question is whether they ever figured out that Snuffleupagus was a pygmy mammoth.

    1. Oops. He called Big Bird an adult.

      According to his bio Big Bird is six years old (as has been since the 1970s). That’s about twice the age when ostriches (the second largest living bird species) reach sexual maturity, so who is to say he’s not an adult?

      1. Yes, six years old is well into adulthood for birds, even giant flightless birds, and Grandicrocavis has obviously reached adult size. I think observers are confused by the retention of juvenile characters into adulthood, a phenomenon called paedomophosis I mentioned but didn’t have 20 seconds to discuss, which has already been proposed as the flightlessness mechanism for a number of birds. (The best way to shrink wings is to arrest adult development, which has side-effects like fluffy feathers, and, in the case of G. viasesamensis, naivety.)

        W00t I’ve been Boingboinged!

        1. Congratulations, Birdguy! Nice talk and not without merit, I can honestly say I learned something.

  6. One of my very few memories from my Sesame Street days, about two and a half decades ago, is that Big Bird claims to be a golden condor.

  7. he’s an ostrich, everyone knows that! these scientists spend too much time in the lab and not enough time in front of the tv. tv has many answers.

  8. The aristocracy have traditionally been very supportive of taxonomical research. If he wants a blood sample he should speak to the Count.

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