Birding is like a drug. Maybe you try it once with a friend, and you’re unconvinced. It’s confusing, you don’t really understand what’s happening, and in the end you just don’t really get the appeal. But then a week later you’re at a party and somebody’s like “hey, wanna do birding?” and you’re all “I guess I’ll give it another shot” and the next thing you know you’re flying to South America with a suitcase full of field guides, and your life is a shambles.
My point here, I guess, is that those who dip their toe in the birding pool quickly become immersed. They want to do it at every opportunity. It starts with a weekly bird walk but soon you’re idly birding as you drive to work, mow the lawn, or eat lunch with friends on a patio. You drift out of conversations or wander away from gatherings in pursuit of that next hit.
Some jonesing birders turn to technology for an extra fix. Some keep movie and tv lists (lists of birds they can identify by sight or sound in movies and tv shows). Others do Google Street View birding. Basically if there’s a way to observe and identify birds, some desperate birder has probably done it.
This brings me (finally) to the topic of today’s blog post. Recently I read the brilliant An Entomologist Rates Ant Emojis in which an entomologist…well you know…rates ant emojis. It’s excellent, and you should read it. Well this must have planted the seed of an idea in my head, because last night while washing dishes it struck me that while rating ant emojis is objectively good, identifying bird emojis could be even better.
A quick Googling produced some happy news. While there is a great consistency among duck emojis (they’re all Mallards) and eagle emojis (they’re all Balds), the humble “bird” emoji varies greatly across platforms. You’ll never guess how I spent the rest of the evening.
Without further ado then, here are my definitive (yes, definitive) identifications of 15 bird emojis:
We kick things off with Android, and the first of four blue bird emojis. But are they bluebird emojis? In the case of this slightly forlorn-looking little character, it would appear not. Its uniform blue hue and yellow accents rule out the bluebirds, so we need to look elsewhere for our ID. Blue birds with yellow beaks aren’t terribly common, but the plucky Blue Finch from South America seems like a solid fit here.
With its orange breast and pale belly, Facebook’s entry brings us squarely into bluebird territory. And may I say kudos, Facebook, for a strikingly pleasant emoji. It is easily the most elegant on the list, with its soft colours and fine details. I could stare at it all day. Alas we must ID, and this bird’s blue throat and lightly blue-washed belly make it a Western Bluebird.
Our second bluebird comes from JoyPixels, and it’s a very fine entry indeed. JoyPixels is really punching above its weight here, as a free emoji provider. This dapper little fellow is instantly recognizeable as a bluebird, and is satisfyingly distinguishable from Facebook’s. Its orange throat and white belly make it a dead ringer for Eastern Bluebird. This could hardly have worked out better.
Our fourth blue bird comes from Samsung, and this one is a bit of a mystery. I can’t explain it, but there’s just something about the gen of this bird that screams pigeon to me. It is robust and round, with a beady eye, a vacant stare, and a goofy little beak. It looks like a bird that walks around on the ground. Now it turns out the world is not exactly chock-a-block with white-bellied, blue pigeons, but I think we can all agree that the New Zealand Pigeon is as good a candidate as any.
We make the switch from blue to red with this frankly jarring emoji from Windows. Why does it look like this? It is somehow the complete antithesis of Facebook’s dainty bluebird. Regardless, it bears all the hallmarks of a Northern Cardinal: the crest, black mask, red plumage and darker wings. The yellow beak (a common stylistic choice in bird emojis, it turns out) stands alone in opposition. Perhaps it is borrowed from a Pyrrhuloxia.
Messenger has taken the red bird track as well, and we retain the yellow beak but lose the crest and mask, so cardinal is out of the question here. The yellow beak (and feet, in this case) again presents a challenge, but perhaps could be a representation of the pale beak of a Summer Tanager, whose uniform red plumage certainly rings true.
Oh Twitter. For an app that should be very concerned with birds, this emoji leaves me severely wanting. We’re looking at yet another red bird with a yellow beak and feet, but this poor creature is completely devoid of cheer. Appreciate its complete lack of dimension and its black, soulless eye. I don’t like it, and I sense that it doesn’t like me. I do think that the obvious crest (its only real feature) puts us back in the Northern Cardinal wheelhouse here, however poor the depiction.
We switch gear here with Emojidex, the first of three oddballs. This bird is instantly recognizable as a Cockatiel, but perhaps more notably it is not a ‘tiel you would see in the wild. The white plumage and yellow-washed head make this a lutino Cockatiel – a variety you’d find in pet stores. That detail makes this bird definitively non-wild, which is an interesting choice. Almost 11,000 wild birds to choose from, but none suitable for Emojidex apparently.
This cute little white number from Softbank is interesting, particularly because all-white is a pretty rare colour scheme for songbirds (which this clearly is). My thoughts immediately jumped to Snowy Cotinga, but the yellow bill again puts us in an awkward spot. Imagine, then, my elation when I discovered that Snowy Cotinga has a cousin named Yellow-billed Cotinga. You’ll never guess what sets them apart.
If there’s one emoji on this list that went in a completely different direction from the rest, it’s gotta be this bird from Openmoji. This critter is immediately recognizable as a corvid, and that makes it a bold choice in my opinion. It is my instant favourite…the bird emoji I didn’t know I needed. The heavy, slighly downturned bill and long wings relative to the tail put us in raven territory, and the brown hue points squarely at Brown-necked Raven. I love it.
Deep sigh. Ok. Kicking off a quartet of bird heads is Apple. What…what even happened here? Literally nothing about this suggests we’re looking at a bird aside, perhaps, from the beak. The texture of the head is so disconcertingly smooth that I can’t imagine this creature has feathers. This waxy appearance, the big eye, and the slightly downturned, grey beak put me in mind of the enigmatic White-necked Rockfowl, although the colour is obviously wrong. If anyone has a better interpretation, I’d love to hear it.
At first glance it’s hard to see Mozilla’s emoji as anything but a copy of Apple’s, but unlike Apple’s it doesn’t make me nauseated. It’s actually almost cute, and the little tuft of feathers on top suggests a crest to me. This feature, combined with its stubby beak and uniform grey colour put me in mind of Juniper Titmouse, and the more I look at it, the more perfect the resemblance becomes.
HTC dispenses with the model-esque profile shots and gives us the grade-school-picture-day dead-on aspect. It would be easy to assume that the blue hue and definite crest here were meant to evoke a Blue Jay, but that damn yellow beak just follows us everywhere. Perhaps HTC was thinking more exotic. Perhaps it is a Great Blue Turaco. Perhaps.
You could accuse WhatsApp of not really trying here. You could suggest that this is simply a lump of white Playdough with half a peach pit and a couple of blueberries stuck in it. Or you could concede that is is a remarkably accurate portrait of a fancy, white Rock Pigeon. It is beautiful, in a way.
What can I even say about our final entry from Japanese mobile phone operator Docomo? The proportions are bizarre. And are we to assume that the bird is blue, or that the artist only had a blue crayon to work with? It seems almost pointless to pursue an ID here, but for the sake of completeness, here goes.
Let’s assume that since Docomo is Japanese, the bird is Japanese also. It certainly seem to be a songbird with a small, straight, pointy beak. Let’s also assume that the artist had only a single colour to work with, but that they selected blue for a reason. I am struck by the bird’s round, puffy head and slightly cocked tail. For these reasons I propose that this is a Blue-and-white Flycatcher. Or maybe the artist was just trying to draw something vaguely bird-shaped.
Well there you have it, the answers to a question you never cared to ask. It’s looking like a long, cooped-up winter ahead, so this may only be the tip of of a pointless iceberg. Better start inflating the lifeboats.
Blue Finch: By Juniorgirotto – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49003640
Western Bluebird: By Ingrid Taylar from San Francisco Bay Area – California, USA – Bluebird on a Post, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8493287
Eastern Bluebird: By Sue Corbisez – B8, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64175568
New Zealand Pigeon: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1148866
Northern Cardinal: By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19534044
Summer Tanager: By Victor Quirós A – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33163898
Northern Cardinal: By Dawn Huczek from USA – a VERY silly bird!, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37128081
Cockatiel: By Astrophysique05 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24676383
Yellow-billed Cotinga: By Bruno Conjeaud – https://www.flickr.com/photos/brunoconjeaud/25844865343, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94625795
Brown-necked Raven: By Francesco Veronesi from Italy – Brown-necked Raven – Merzouga – Morocco 07_3411, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44790888
White-necked Rockfowl: By White-necked_Rockfowl_(Picathartes_gymnocephalus).jpg: Michael Andersen from Lawrence, United Statesderivative work: Sabine’s Sunbird (talk) – White-necked_Rockfowl_(Picathartes_gymnocephalus).jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17322013
Juniper Titmouse: By Flickr user Tony Randell . Photo uploaded to commons by user ltshears – Flickr here, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1817253
Great Blue Turaco: By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40796971
Rock Pigeon: By Imran Shah from Islamabad, Pakistan – Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia domestica), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81920371
Blue-and-white Flycatcher: By Ullas G Kalappura – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75542764