Saturday, February 13, 2016

Categories

The White Throated Sparrow, or The Head Light Sparrow as The Artist insists upon calling him, is in the class of passerine or perching bird. One of the more absurd categories because it pretty much includes all birds except things like Penguins, Ostrich and anyone who might be too large to perch without risking serious damage, or who doesn't have the correct foot arrangement for perching on branches. Ducks might not be perching birds, but I've definitely seen Cormorants doing what I at least would call perching. It's all very well assigning universal categories so that the pompous arse world traveller in some distant place might begin his identification of an unfamiliar bird by asking the meticulous and incredibly dull question "Does he perch?" By the time the question's answered whoever the bird might be is long gone either toward the clouds or into the nearest bush, and the observer is left with a set of impressions that have nothing to do with anatomy, rather those impressions are of movement and characteristics of movement that touch familiar places that either smile back or frown.

Around here almost every bird perches except maybe the Sandhill Cranes who basically fly past in an often noisy manner and creatures like Ducks and Heron and there's a Rail that can sometimes get confused by the Vegetable Garden. But one of the things about most Sparrows is their capacity to hop, especially when it's cold and icy and miserable. They can skitter around like very determined fluffy mice and The White Throated Sparrow is definitely a prime example of a hopping bird. To have a category of "Hopping Bird" a person would have to go to the Latin, which just seems so wrong. But in German hopping translates into something like "Hupfen" and it does make great sense to think of Sparrows as "Hupfen" because a Sparrow does have that sort of grumpiness the word "Hupfen" inspires in the English Speaker. Henceforth I will always commence a process of identification of birds by saying "OK so he's most likely a passerine but does he have Hupfen." Yes indeed it's a sad thing when categories of anything alive or less alive ignore the existence of charm in their fellow beings.

3 comments:

Gin said...

Would wood ducks perch? Or would a wood duck chuck wood if a wood duck could chuck wood? Er, wait...I'm confused.

tim candler said...

Gin, this a really good point you're making. It's a grey line I know, but have to think that ducks of all shades and anyone who chucks wood has to be entered into that category of charm that might be called waddling rather than anything to do with foot anatomy. Waddling is a slower more ambling pace, more peaceful than hopping, kind of the opposite to a hummingbird, which is a perching bird and very fast paced but I don't believe a hummingbird has hupfen and I find it emotionally difficult to think of a duck as having hupfen. Such a pity the word waddle lacks lacks something.

Gin said...

Brilliant observation! Absolutely brilliant!