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Artistic License – Ornithology

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"Only after Philosopher's Stone had been accepted for publication did I realize that Snowy Owls are diurnal. I think it was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets that I discovered that Snowy Owls are also virtually silent, the females being even quieter than the males. So all of Hedwig's night-time jaunts and her many reproving hoots may be taken as signs of her great magical ability or my pitiful lack of research, whichever you prefer."
J. K. Rowling being refreshingly honest

Cartoon birds in starring roles tend to be the more recognizable species; anseriforms (ducks), galliforms (chickens and turkeys), strigiforms (owls), and sphenisciforms (penguins) are particularly popular and will all look pretty generic. In some cases, you will have to take the writer's word for it what species they are meant to be. Parrots (psittaciforms) are also popular and they'll sport generic chicken-like bird feet and will either be pure green with huge yellow beaks, or have cockatoo crests and a bizarre mix of rainbow colors. Diurnal raptors (falconiforms) tend to look like an odd combination of any carnivorous bird; in particular cartoonists seem to get hawks and vultures confused with each other (and sometimes corvids, which are passeriforms, are tossed into the mix too). And there's this one especially overused cliche where virtually every bird of prey, like eagles, falcons, vultures or even owls will be portrayed with the distinctive screech of the red-tailed hawk: most infamously the bald eagle, whose real cries are far less fearsome-sounding.

Almost all generic small cartoon birds will behave like robins, hopping around on the lawn and eating worms. And they will appear as a Palette Swapped sparrow, often bright yellow or blue, with a yellow beak and legs. While this is the case for some passerines (like the yellow warbler or the indigo bunting), for others it's not the case.

A major subtrope is the idea that all birds are chickens. Even today, when your average person is unlikely to see live chickens on a regular basis, all birds seem to act like domestic fowl. They make neat nests out of straw. They spend most of the day there and all of their time sleeping there. They lay loads and loads of oval, white eggs, and these contain babies who will emerge fluffy, yellow, adorable, and constantly chirping to their mom. Mom will then immediately lead them out of the nest to hunt for worms, of course. If the show takes things far enough, the birds will hang out in a large, somewhat organized group made up mostly of females and chicks who are led by one dominant male.

Barring the possibility that it really is the hardest thing in the world to crack open a Peterson Field Guide, there may be a reason for the chicken thing. This is largely a problem of Western Animation, and Disney's shadow is extremely long. Most of his characters were domestic mammals; hence the popularity of chickens as a model for all of our flight-capable theropod friends. Furthermore, many books on animal drawing will focus almost entirely on mammal anatomy — and you might get a tiny section on the chicken to cover birds.

This may or may not have to do with the fact that birds are far less diverse morphologically than mammals (despite having almost twice as many species). Thus the phrase "birds (them) and beasts (everyone else)".

Can certainly extend to other flying creatures; many are the pterosaurs and other Giant Flyers that are shown constructing chicken-like nests. See also Feather Fingers, Noisy Nature, Toothy Bird, Ostrich Head Hiding, Acrophobic Bird, Flying Flightless Bird, Penguins Are Ducks, Mouthy Bird, No Cartoon Fish, Peculiar Penguin, and All Animals Are Dogs.

The grandchild trope of Artistic License – Paleontology and sister trope of Raptor Attack. Related to Artistic License – Arachnids and Artistic License – Marine Biology.


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  • Captain Morgan would like to remind us that "The Parrot is Calling." Said parrot has horribly deformed feet just to make the "T" shape in the slogan.
  • State Farm's ad in which an American husband crows about having bought a falcon with the money he saved on their policy takes a major artistic liberty, as it's illegal to simply buy birds of prey in the United States: all species are protected under law, and captive-bred birds can't be bought without falconry training and a license, so the idea that it was bought on a whim falls pretty flat. Considering the other ludicrous things other people in the commercial were shown having bought with their saved money, this can be chalked up to Rule of Funny.
  • There's a cosmetics commercial which shows a speckled, tan-colored bird's egg being coated with a tan liquid to conceal its spots: a feat viewers are expected to regard as a wonderful improvement. But speckled eggs use their markings for camouflage, and coating a fertile egg with anything can suffocate the embryo inside, which rather spoils the positive imagery the advertisers surely intended.
  • A Geico commercial features a team of men trekking to the South Pole, only to find that Dora the Explorer beat them to it. The ad shows penguins, but they're African penguins, a species that wouldn't be able to survive in the extreme cold of the Antarctic.
  • Tecate's black eagle mascot in recent commercials has short black feathers on the area (lore) between its eyes and beak. The two species of actual raptor known as "black eagles" (Ictinaetus malaiensis and Aquila verreauxii) both have bare yellowish skin in this location.
  • A UnitedHealthcare commercial features a bride and groom who get attacked by birds when the wedding guests throw birdseed in celebration. The wedding in question happens at a beach, and the birds in question are seagulls, which primarily eat fish or invertebrates and would only resort to nibbling seeds if they were really starving.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: When Ichigo has to rescue the soul of a little boy who has been trapped inside a bird for a very long time, the bird is persistently referred to in English, including the official manga and anime English translations as a "parakeet". It's not. It's a cockatiel, a bird more closely related to cockatoos than grass parakeets (such as the budgie).
  • Kimba the White Lion: Averted by Coco the parrot in the 80s version. He has two toes in the front and two pointing back like a real parrot does.
  • Arrietty also averts this by demonstrating corvid intelligence. A crow spots Arrietty, caws, and looks away, so Arietty turns away as well, to talk to Sho. Several minutes later, the "harmless" crow suddenly attacks from her blind side. Only the cawing of another crow gives the attack away at the last second.
  • Averted in Tamako Market. Dera Mochimazzwi, a nondescript cockatiel-like parrot, has two toes pointing forward and two pointing back like a real parrot.
  • Pokémon: The Series portrays Spearow, an aggressive bird Pokémon combining traits of a sparrow and a bird of prey, as having black and white vision. While it is a Pokémon and not an animal, this still can come across as slightly odd.
  • Inko Colors: Averted. The birds are all nicely accurate in anatomy and movement, and the parakeets even possess the proper zygodactyl feet.

  • Laser Kiwi flag: In real life, no Kiwi has the ability to shoot green lasers. Or lasers of any kind, really.

    Comic Books 
  • Piers Baker's Ollie and Quentin: Whenever the seagull Ollie is drawn with his mouth open (he and Quentin, the lugworm, are usually mouthless) we can see that his mouth is not in his beak but below it. As if his beak was some kind of nose.
  • Supergirl:
    • "The Super-Steed of Steel" features one scene wherein a bald eagle captures a little girl called Bonnie. Birds of prey cannot carry humans around, not even toddlers.
    • "Supergirls Super Pet": One scene features an eagle swooping down on some chicks which are running scampering around the the dead of the night. Neither eagles nor chickens are diurnal birds, so neither of them should be out and about (let alone hunting).

    Films — Animation 
  • Mulan: Hayabusa, Shan-Yu's loyal pet, normally acts like a falcon (albeit with a red-tailed hawk's call) until the very end after getting all his feathers burnt off. He promptly starts to cluck like a chicken. He can also run around on the ground as swiftly as a chicken, which, while funny, is very hard for most falcons to do due to their anatomy. (Flightless falcons in rehab actually can and do run as their primary way of getting around, and they are surprisingly good at it) He also has vertical slit pupils (unknown in any bird of prey; actually there's only one bird with vertical pupils, the skimmer). Then again, weird eyes are also a prominent trait of his master, Shan-Yu.
  • Finding Nemo:
    • The film features beautifully-rendered and researched Great Barrier Reef fish, but has a number of inaccuracies when it comes to birds. The pelicans look more like a mixture between the Australian and American brown pelicans, though their colouration mimics that of juvenile seabirds like albatrosses and gulls, which are brown until white feathers replace the brown ones. The gulls are based on the Australian endemic species Pacific Gull, which has an absurdly oversized beak, but they are quite uncommon in Sydney occuring further south and west.
    • In Finding Dory, Becky the loon's behavior seems to be a mix between a duck and a pigeon. She flies in a flock, walks upright on the ground, perches in trees and eats plant-based foods such as popcorn - none of which real loons do. Granted, she was more than a little insane…
  • At the end of A Bug's Life (also by Pixar), a passerine bird that constantly attacked the main characters actually hatches out several down-covered chicks with completely-opened eyes that proceed to eat Hopper alive. In real life, baby passerine birds are born mostly naked (aside from a few hairy feathers in a few species) and blind, and would look nothing like they do in the film, which look more like baby chickens.
  • The movie Legend Of The Guardians The Owls Of Ga Hoole is one of the least obnoxious examples, and goes well out of its way to avoid this trope. For the most part the birds looked, acted and moved like owls. The film even avoids the dreaded Acrophobic Bird trope ("We're on the ground! The worst place for an Owl!")...
    • Aside from their eyes. The fixed raptor glare wouldn't have cut it in a visual medium.
    • One odd bit: Nyra, a female Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is nearly solid white, with a few gray patches and spots. In real life, only male Barn Owls could have this coloration. Females are considerably darker. Then again, her plumage is more due to Color-Coded for Your Convenience. Soren's mother and father represent the normal colour dimorphism for barn owls. It's also stated in the books that one of the defining traits of Nyra is her very white facial mask and body. Several times it's stated there that her face looks like the full moon came out of the sky and down to earth. Which means the film-makers actually got that part right.
    • Another sexual dimorphism aspect, and probably the most glaring error in a film that managed to get things mostly right, is the fact that for many owl species, the females are significantly larger than the males. In no scene is this more glaringly wrong than the scene with the king and queen snowy owl, where the queen is smaller and more slender than the king, because Women Are Delicate. In reality, the sizes would be reversed, with the female a good head taller and heavier, as well as heavily spotted. This mistake is particularly unusual considering that the books this movie was based on does get this aspect right.
  • Rio deals with this with mixed success. The parrots are referred to only as "blue macaw", but they are a real species, Spix's Macaws note , which really are nearly extinct in the wild, had lived in Brazil, and are currently the subject of a captive breeding program. The other birds in the movie are also real Brazilian species. But:
    • The macaws' and toucans' feet are generic cartoon bird feet with two toes pointing forward and one pointing back, when they should have two pointing forward and two pointing back, like real parrot-types do. Blue and Jewel also sport Cockatoo-like crests, although much smaller ones than Nigel, the actual cockatoo.
    • Rafael the Toco toucan has a mate who more closely resembles a Keel-billed toucan. Interspecies Romance, maybe, but they have kids.
    • While blue macaws are accurately portrayed as cavity nesters, there's a yellow parrot in the opening scene who nests on a branch instead. The only parrots that build nests on tree branches are monk parakeets, and even they don't build classic "cup" nests.
    • Also, parrot hatchlings don't look like that. Presumably, Rule of Cute overrode reality, as parrots, like most arboreal birds, enter the world naked and blind.
    • Blue-and-yellow macaws have their face covered in blue and yellow feathers, when it should be naked with white skin. They also lack black feathers which line the facial skin and cover the chin.
  • The Three Caballeros - While the birds are either Funny Animals or slightly cartoony, the Disney animators did show their work, showcasing many obscure species. The one major misstep is the Aracuan Bird. Aracuans are real, but look and act nothing like their Disney equivalent, making the Clown of the Jungle a "take our word for it" case on par with Chuck Jones's Roadrunner. If we were to compare the Aracuan to an actual Brazilian rainforest bird, it most closely resembles the capuchinbird (which shares the bald forehead and long thick feathers on the back of the head and neck). It also happens to have a really weird call (although nothing resembling the cartoon bird's hysterical voice). The name "aracuá" is given to the noisy chachalaca in Brazil. And there has to be some inspiration from Woody Woodpecker as well.
  • The ostriches in the "Dance of the Hours" sequence of Fantasia are supposed to be female... but the plumage is that of a ''male'' ostrich. Females are brown.
  • Zig-zagged in Pixar's Up. For the most part, Kevin's behavior gloriously averts this trope, since she acts pretty much like a bird would in real life; even her eating Carl's cane before spitting it out is a typical avian reaction to testing something for edibility and finding a negative result. That being said, though, she looks more like an avian Cartoon Creature than anything else - she has the body shape of a ratite, but colorful plumage more like a bird of paradise. Additionally, the bright coloration she sports is more common in male birds than females, and in many ratites it is the male that raises the young, so it would be more realistic to refer to Kevin as a "he" (although it's never confirmed which gender Kevin really is).
  • The (in)famous peeing baby penguin in Happy Feet 2. Penguins are in the Neognathae infraclass of birds, they not only don't have a urethra (just a cloaca), they don't even have urine. Their bodies use uric acid instead of urea, and uric acid (the white paste in pigeon poop) doesn't have to be diluted in water.
  • The Toilet Humor gag in The Angry Birds Movie features the Mighty Eagle peeing in the Lake of Wisdom (which the Bomb and Chuck were bathing in, much to their horror). Prior to this, the two unfortunate birds were shown gargling and spitting the water as they played in it, two things birds can't do in real life.
  • The Rescuers Down Under:
    • The bird chart Jake looks at when Wilbur is about to land shows various species such as scrubbird, lorikeet, honeyeater, butcherbird, galah, noisy miner, rufous whistler (misspelled as "rufus whistler"), crested bellbird, freckled duck and flowerpiercer. However, almost none of these birds are the right shape and size (for example, the dove seems to be smaller than the wren, the crested bellbird looks more like a cockatoo), and flowerpiercers are native to South America - they probably meant to call it a flowerpecker, which would have been more accurate for Australia.
    • Both Rescuers movies also underestimate the albatross' size enormously if you compare them to the mice characters. Also, albatrosses are found almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere (although they lived in Bermuda in prehistoric times). What one is doing in New York is anyone's guess.
    • On the other hand the eagle character, Marahute, is absurdly oversized; while the Australian Wedge-Tailed Eagle is one of the largest flying birds in the world, it's not nearly large enough for a human child to ride on. In her case it's Invoked; she's a fictional species whose magnificent size and rarity is the main crux of the plot.
  • In The Sword in the Stone, Archimedes the owl has only three toes in each foot; two pointing forwards and one pointing backwards (and even that back toe could be interpreted as a heel).
  • In Aladdin, Iago is a zoogeographical mystery. His pointed tail and coloration resemble a scarlet or red-and-green macaw, but that would be really weird considering the movie takes place in Medieval Arabia and America hadn´t been discovered yet (macaws are exclusively New World birds). Also he seems rather small for a macaw. There's also the possibility that he's a red lory, which is native to Indonesia. And let's not even get into the fact that he has teeth and is lacking one toe in each foot.
  • Averted in Brother Bear, in which a non-speaking bald eagle plays an important role and for once, it makes actual bald eagle sounds instead of red-tail hawk sounds.
  • Saludos Amigos has a greater rhea which is identified as an "Argentine ostrich", complete with having only two toes and its Portuguese name translated to "avestruz" (the proper name in the language is "ema").
  • Chicken Run: The entire premise is that Mrs Tweedy, tiring of the low profits from egg production, decides to convert the farm to make chicken pies instead. However chickens good for egg laying make poor meat birds and vice versa, so if she had succeeded her pies would have been poor quality and unlikely to sell well. The premise does work however, if you assume that the current chickens will be used to make a prototype pie batch to prove the machine and concept work and once this has happened a broiler breed will replace them. It wouldn't even be out of the question for her to simply either not know or care about this fact, as neither her or her husband are particularly intelligent and only seem in it for the money; there's even a gag where they (accidentally) agree that the chickens are "revolting".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Jungle Book (2016):
    • A cuckoo chick is shown sitting in a nest on a branch, when its foster parent, depicted by a green bee-eater, arrives to feed it. However, while there are many different cuckoo species in India and they are nest parasites of a fairly wide variety of birds, bee-eaters are not among those species known to be targeted by cuckoos. Also, bee-eaters don't build nests; they breed in burrows excavated in riverbanks and sandy areas.
    • At another point in the movie, while Baloo and Bagheera are climbing the cliff in pursuit of the Bandar-log, the call of a red-tailed hawk (a species not found in India) is heard.
  • In the So Bad, It's Good film The Giant Claw, the eponymous bird... thing has a mouthful of some other animals' teeth, human hair, and can flare its nostrils. This would be excused because it's an alien, but it's already so fake-looking that the nostrils just compound the silliness.
  • Howard the Duck: A great many things, some of which can be explained by the fact Howard is an alien and some not-so-much:
    • Small potatoes compared to some of the other weirdness in the movie, but on Howard's homeworld, duck hens have breasts.
    • Later on, a parody of the (in)famous "rise of man" evolution sequence is shown and Howard's earliest ancestor is... an egg. Well, at least we now know which came first.
    • When the eponymous character freaks out over being offered eggs at a restaurant, shouting about how he's not a cannibal. This is despite the fact that as an alien, there's no way he could be even remotely related to any terrestrial bird species. And even if he was, eating chicken eggs is no more cannibalism than a human eating beef or pork is.
  • In Clash of the Titans, Zeus' totem is a bald eagle. Bald eagles live in North America, not Greece. Contact between the two continents was not formally established until many centuries after the movie is supposed to take place. The nearest plausible analog would have been the similar-looking, but lesser celebrated, White-Tailed Eagle, or the similar-sized and equally impressive Golden Eagle.
  • Mary Poppins features the title character singing with a robin during "Spoonful of Sugar"; however, it's an American robin, while the story takes place in London. It's also a pair of male robins building that nest.
  • Heaven And Earth 1990: In this 1990 Haruki Kadokawa samurai film, one scene features a singing White-crowned Sparrow, which is a common enough bird in Alberta, where the film was shot ... but essentially impossible to come by in medieval Japan, where the film is set.
  • Classic horror film The Birds suffers from this once or twice. Not so much from the birds' behavior, since it's kind of the entire point that the birds are behaving very oddly, but from two specific scenes:
    • The first is when the seagull smashes into a door and kills itself. One character states that it must have lost its way in the dark, while the other points out that there's a full moon. Really, most birds have atrocious night vision, and will only take flight at night if they have no other choice. Even with a full moon, the gull likely couldn't have seen much.note 
    • The second is much worse in that it's an ornithologist speaking. She states that birds are quite stupid due to their small brains. Not only are many birds reasonably clever, but brain size and mental ability are two factors that actually don't correlate nearly as well as most folks expect. Ravens, which are exceptional problem-solvers and widely considered the smartest birds in the world, have very small brains. This was still a fairly widespread belief among ornithologists at the time period the film is set in.
  • In Jungle 2 Jungle, Mimi-Siku points out a bird and says "hoko." His father interprets this as meaning "bird," but Mimi-Siku corrects him by saying "hoko" means "toucan" and that "bird" is a different word. The problem is that the bird pointed out was a scarlet macaw, not a toucan.
  • In the Charlie's Angels (2000) movie, Natalie (Cameron Diaz) pinpoints the Big Bad's fortress by listening to a bird call over her connection to Bosley, being held captive there. She pinpoints the bird as a pygmy nuthatch, which she says is only found in Carmel, California. Two problems: 1) The bird depicted was not a pygmy nuthatch, and 2) even if it were, the nuthatch's range goes from Mexico all the way into British Columbia.

  • Cartoon Animation: The cover art for one edition of Preston Blair's seminal animation instruction book has a veritable flock of Palette Swapped Sparrows, some of which are downright psychedelic.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy is normally correct on this and parodies this trope when Bartimaeus transforms into a raven for the first time and it was in the dark. He winds up almost normal but with a bright blue beak.
  • Italian 18th century poet Ugo Foscoloassociated the colourful bird Hoopoe and graveyards in his famous work "Dei Sepolcri" (roughly translated as "About the Tombs") because he felt that it was poetically fit. This may have been inspired by Estonia , and to a lesser degree in neighboring areas, where the hoopoe has traditionally been considered to be a harbinger of death. Across the sea in Scandinavia, it is a harbinger of war.
  • Both averted and lampshaded in Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar novels (the author is a falconer). While certain tribes have raptors with near-human intelligence, this is explicitly the result of a generations-long breeding program and a psychic link between handler and bird — wild raptors are nothing like the Hawkbrothers' Bondbirds.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In addition to Hedwig, a snowy owl, being depicted as hooting and flying at night, the cover of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets clearly depicts a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in the owl cage during the Ford Anglia drive. It is well known that Hedwig is a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus formerly Nyctea scandiaca).
    • Draco Malfoy's eagle owl is far bigger than one would expect, as demonstrated here. Eagle owls have a range of different sizes; the Eurasian Eagle-owl is currently the largest owl living in Britain. It's the largest species of owl in the world, actually.
    • The whole series is full of weird owl behavior. Hedwig drinking orange juice is one example; owls, like cats, are pretty much hypercarnivorous and probably wouldn´t even consider that stuff drinkable. Owls of many species are kept together in a castle tower, when in reality this would be a recipe for disaster; larger owls are extremely intolerant of smaller owl species and will kill and eat them if they have the chance. Hedwig and Ron's diminutive owl Pigwidgeon are kept together at one point which would've resulted in Harry's pet eating his best friend's. The list goes on and on.
  • In Babylon Rising by Tim La Haye and Greg Dinallo, villain Talon trains hawks to serve as instant messenger pigeons. Furthermore, his trained hawks can unroll scrolls, kill a man by dive-bombing his back, and fly around carrying big snake statue bits.
  • Victoria Hanley's The Light Of The Oracle crosses this trope with Animal Motifs. In the Oracle world, certain people are granted magical powers by birds, and the type of bird that chooses you determines what power you get. Clea- the resident Alpha Bitch- was chosen by a vulture, and spends the book bullying and plotting against the protagonist. Much is made in-universe of how fitting it is that such a cruel girl should be chosen by such an ugly bird. Except...vultures aren't cruel. Most of the time, they only eat what's already dead, scavenging off the kills of other predators. This- while disgusting- does not make them the emblems of vice and malice other characters hold them to be. If anything, they clean up the world.
  • Averted in Animorphs: Tobias' iconic "TSEEEEEEERRRRR!" is a decent onomatopeia for the classic "bird of prey" sound in movies... because he is a red-tailed hawk.
  • Let's Start Drawing: The character Timothy the Toucan is seen swimming several times despite the fact that Toucans can't swim.
  • The protagonist Maggie aside, magpies are portrayed as rather birdbrained in Firstborn. Even other birds consider them annoying pests. In real life, magpies have been shown to be more developmentally advanced than many other types of birds.
  • The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen: In one of his tall tales, Munchausen narrates an encounter with a giant kingfisher which had placed its church-sized nest in a tree and laid at least five hundred eggs. Kingfishers are tiny birds which excavate burrows in riverbanks and lay two to ten eggs each time, but Munchausen would never allow facts to get in the way of a good story.
  • Les Voyageurs Sans Souci: When Sébastien, Agathe and Timoléon are running down a tower's staircase as fleeing from a furious eagle-owl, it is said that the swooshing of his wings is akin to the rumbling of a storm. Very dramatic, but eagle-owls make no noise whatsoever when flying.
  • Warrior Cats: Snowkit was taken by an unspecified type of hawk. However, the only hawk in the area that books are based on is too small to drag a 5-month old cat. Either Snowkit was very small, the bird was abnormally large, or it was Misplaced Wildlife.
  • In Golden Gate by James Ponti, the City Spies are trying to find a coded message in a photograph, which depicts a trio of ravens. Brooklyn, the group's hacker, explains that two common names for a group of ravens are "a conspiracy" and "a murder." While the first is correct, the second is a collective noun for a group of crows, not ravens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a Disney adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson (a series spun off from their film adaptation) the family meets a falconer and his... bird. A bird that is played by at least three different species over the course of the episode. She is shown flying (via Stock Footage of a falcon), landing on the ground (suddenly, she's a Red-Tailed Hawk), and then landing on the man's wrist (now she's a Golden Eagle).
  • The History Channel aired a program about a black African mummy found in the Sahara, in which footage of a contemporary African cattle-herding village was used to simulate what the dead boy's community might have been like. Unfortunately, a rooster is heard crowing in the background, and while the mummified boy's culture had acquired goats and cattle from the Middle East, chickens (an Asian species) wouldn't make it to Africa for another few thousand years.
  • Hysteria, the woeful TV movie about the rock band Def Leppard, features shots of American bird species in its very first scene, despite being set in Sheffield, Yorkshire.
  • Wheel of Fortune has trouble with bird-related puzzles, most often by putting two completely unrelated birds in the same puzzle. Twice they've had SPARROWS & PARAKEETS as a puzzle, and another time, they had CARDINALS & CANARIES — which is doubly wrong, as cardinals are a family of birds, and canaries a distinct species.
  • In-universe example: On "The Bloodhound Gang", a series of kids' detective shorts, a slimy lawyer re-wrote his bird-loving client's will to leave his fortune to a charitable organization the lawyer would run. Said organization's declared purpose was to finance the care and protection of the American passenger pigeon, a species that's been extinct since 1914.note 
  • An episode of Rome has an Australian sulfur-crested cockatoo kept as a household pet. In ancient Rome, more than fifteen hundred years before European contact with Australia. The DVD commentary explains that they asked the animal suppliers for an exotic-looking bird and that was what they got.
  • Some fun with falconry - Henry VIII in The Tudors is shown handling a Harris's Hawk, a North American species that would be utterly alien to 16th century falconers and in fact, only popularized in Europe from the late 20th century onwards.
  • On Bones, a park ranger in an East Coast nature reserve once urged Brennan and Booth to finish up their investigation quickly, as their presence might disturb the migration of boobies through the area. This line, aside from existing solely so Booth could make a cheap boob joke, must've caused facepalms among birdwatchers everywhere, as boobies are rare outside the tropical Pacific and they certainly don't migrate anywhere along the East Coast. There may be some Fridge Logic here though, as the Northern Gannet does migrate up and down the east coast, and is from the same family of birds as the boobies (and very similar in appearance to them to the point where immature gannets can be confused for adult Brown Boobies). Why a park ranger would commit such a gaffe is still dubious.
  • One episode of The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon being terrorized by what the cast calls a "blue jay." It's really a black-throated magpie-jay, which on top of that is not native to Pasadena. Justified since Sheldon has a crippling fear of birds, and wouldn't be expected to know enough about them. Also, the bird was established as an escaped pet.
  • Beast Legends (a 2010 series about reconstructing mythical creatures based on the biomechanics of real animals) had a giant bird that launches quadrupedally like a pterosaur. Aside from the fact that it has too many fingers (4 instead of 3), no real bird has a hand remotely appropriate for such a launch. Although it's technically not a real bird, that is no excuse.
  • The Sesame Street segment "African Animal Alphabet" portrayed the umber bird as a generic perching bird, but the real bird is a long-legged wader.
  • In the The X-Files episode "Chimera," Mulder is put on a case in which ravens are behaving strangely and may be involved in the disappearance of a woman. The ravens are featured extensively... but every bird in the episode is a crow.
  • In the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode “Return to Skyfire”, Charles mentions someone having cartilaginous lips, giving her an avian-style beak. Beaks are made of bone, not cartilage.
  • In the Henry Danger episode "Grand Theft Otto", the titular class pet Otto has a male name and is referred to as male, but is very clearly a female eclectus parrot.

  • This got Alice Cooper into trouble once. Someone threw a live chicken onto the stage at a concert. Cooper, as he admitted later, had never actually seen a living chicken, and assumed it could fly. So he lofted it back at the crowd, only to see it fall into the audience, which promptly tore it apart, much to his shock.
  • In Calvin Harris's "Feels" there's the line "When I say I want you say it back — parakeet". While it is technically possible to teach a parakeet to speak, it's difficult (especially if they're female) and they tend to sound like tinny and robotic, unlike other types of parrots.

  • Karl Pilkington from The Ricky Gervais Show told the story of how Plato died, incredibly incorrect. He stated that there's a species of bird (or that there used to be) that dropped its eggs onto rocks so they would hatch, and as Plato was bald and from above his head would look like a rock, the bird dropped it and the egg killed him. Ricky and Stephen just laughed and didn't bother trying to correct him, though they said he was wrong on so many levels.

    Sound FX 
  • The Colbert Report: And there's always that wonderful moment, known to all birdwatchers, when you're watching a movie and it shows a shot of a bald eagle... while a Red-Tailed Hawk screams in the background. Presumably they thought sparrow-like chirping wasn't manly enough for the mascot of Eagleland. Once an Episode on The Colbert Report, the eagle in the opening credits (whose name is Liberty, if you were wondering) makes precisely this noise. This makes sense in the context of the show, as bald eagles should sound like that.
  • Comedian Brian Regan told a story about a golf tournament that was caught inserting non-indigenous bird sounds by a savvy bird enthusiast. "I guess I'm supposed to believe the blue-breasted whipper willow has decided to alter its annual migratory route to enjoy a little golf!"
  • Sadly, the David Attenborough documentary The Life of Birds got some things wrong. While showing species endemic to the south-west of Australia, a Pied Currawong can be clearly heard in the background - this is a species confined to the eastern seaboard of the country. It also identified the takahe as a cuckoo (it’s actually a rail) and the kagu as a close relative of herons (which was suggested by one ornithologist in the 1980s but never gained any traction).

    Standup Comedy 
  • Brian Regan discusses a time when a sports channel used stock bird noises as ambiance during a golf broadcast. A viewer noticed that the noises were of birds not indigenous to the region, and called the network to call them out on it.

  • FurReal Friends has a new line of baby animal animatrons that you feed fake milk. Unfortunately, that line contains a duck and a parrot. When did baby birds start drinking milk? (Baby pigeons do, but ducks and parrots do not.)

    Video Games 
  • The Final Fantasy series' Chocobos are functionally ostrich-like horse analogues. In some games like Final Fantasy Tactics, they have a vaguely plausible, though friendly appearance, but traditionally are cuted up and somewhat resemble chicken-like moas. Some can also fly, despite being as big as a donkey. Baby chocobos are pure "baby chick" though.
  • The Spiteful Crow enemy in EarthBound (1994) has the same problem as cartoon crows (mentioned in the Western Animation section below), in that it has a yellow beak instead of a black one. It's doubtful this was intended to be realistic as said enemies wear sunglasses and a bow tie.
  • In a weird version, the Moas of Guild Wars look nothing like the real moa, but are fairly accurate phorusrhacids...
  • In The Sims 2 Pets, there's a birdcage with fairly accurate-looking models of several different species, including an African Gray Parrot, a Crested Cockatoo, American Kestrel. They're all roughly the same size and can be interacted with the same way, including Play With and Teach to Talk. An American Kestrel is a small falcon. Not only is it smaller than an African Gray Parrot or a Scarlet Macaw, it is absolutely impossible to teach any falcon to talk, and if you play with one you should definitely be protecting your hand. (Somewhere, an ornithologist and a falconer are crying on each others' shoulders.)
  • In SimAnimals, this is averted in the case of herons, which will eat small mammals. Too bad about the omnivorous owls.
  • In a case of All Long-Legged Birds Are Herons, the flash game Treasure Madness recently offered a map that depicts black-crowned cranes standing around in a lake, as if wading for fish. Cranes of this species are savannah birds that feed on land.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Tails Adventure gives us the Battle Bird Armada, a paramilitary organization whose ranks include Doctor Fukurokov, an owl with a beard.
    • The Babylon Rogues are neither shown to be able to fly (rather, they ride upon sky-surfing hoverboards). They also generally resemble one another, despite Jet, Wave, and Storm being a hawk, a swallow, and an albatross respectively; all very different species. Oh yeah, and the second game they're in implies they're the descendants of aliens.
  • In Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, the villains are crows who want to bring about an eternal night. Crows are diurnal (active during the day) and like most birds have awful night vision, so why they'd want an endless night is perplexing. One wonders why the game-makers didn't just go with owls.
  • Surprisingly averted in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Squawks (an otherwise nondescript cartoon parrot) has two toes pointing forward and two pointing back, as a real parrot does. Earlier games in the series gave him two toes pointing forward and only one pointing back.
  • Animal Crossing:
    • The ostrich villagers have generic bird feet (three toes with a hallux) instead of only two toes like in real life. However, a few of them closely resemble other long-necked birds like cranes, herons and flamingos rather than ostriches.
    • The character of Blathers the museum curator, combines the above inaccuracies about owls with another example that mixes this and Rule of Funny: a Running Gag in the series is that Blathers dislikes touching insects whenever you donate them to the museum, when in reality; owls often eat insects. Blathers himself is aware of this fact when describing the dynastid beetle in City Folk.
      Blathers: Many species hunt this beetle. Examples include moles, crows, and owls... WOT WOT?!
  • In the bonus chapter of Grim Tales 6: The Vengeance you need to get an owl out of a hollow tree by offering it a treat. Said treat is a piece of candy.
  • Scribblenauts lets you summon almost anything, and does recognize several potentially obscure bird species. However, because of the DS cartridge's limited space, many of these birds reuse a different species' model.
    • Summoning a hamerkop (a small stork-like pelecaniform) summons a woodpecker.
    • Summoning a tropicbird (a small seabird) gives you a swan.
    • Writing "frigatebird" (another seabird) gives you a robin.
    • The secretary bird (a terrestrial bird of prey) is treated as a crane (a close relationship between the two was once suggested, but was long-abandoned by 2009).
  • The pelicans in Feeding Frenzy: Shipwreck Showdown hunt by skimming the water surface, which isn't something any real pelican does.
  • Spyro: Year of the Dragon:
    • Sgt. Byrd is a penguin unique for his ability to fly, which he achieved by being raised by hummingbirds according to his backstory. Yes, a bird with solid bones and short, flipper-like wings managed to become capable of flight simply because he was raised by hummingbirds.
    • The hummingbirds themselves are absolutely enormous compared to Sgt. Byrd whereas in real life, all hummingbirds are smaller than all penguins.
    • Harbor Speedway had what appear to be seagulls referred to as blue-footed boobies. This is in spite of the fact their feet are yellow!
  • Averted in the Switch version of Go Vacation. Macaws, toucans, and woodpeckers are correctly depicted with two toes in front and two in back.
  • The Big Bad of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is a cassowary who plots to banish warm-blooded animals and refers to himself as cold-blooded. Cassowaries, like all birds, are also warm-blooded.
  • Angry Birds: The titular birds have feathers, beaks, and eggs, but the similarities end there — their lack of any limbs to speak of is due to stylization. They also come in multiple colors and shapes, and supplementary material describes them as being of different species, but they all take care of three similar-looking eggs in a chicken-like cup nest. Different unrelated species of bird in Real Life wouldn't cooperate in such a specific manner... though then again, they don't exactly hurl themselves out of slingshots to take down green pigs in poorly constructed structures, either.
  • In Drawn: The Painted Tower, you must conjure up a cardinal to eat the bugs that plague a talking tree. Cardinals are seed-eaters, with short conical beaks unsuited to preying upon insects.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has Polly, a pet parrot with the coloration of a scarlet macaw- minus any black on the beak- but a crest like a cockatoo that's raised all the time. She is also notably depicted with three toes in the front and a hallux in the back, whereas parrots have two toes in the front and two in the back.

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, it is implied that Molly the Monster's pink coloring comes from her having some genetic material from a flamingo. In real life, flamingos' pink color comes from proteins in the plankton they eat, and their feathers turn drab without it.
  • Light was made of this in Freefall when the crew's pet emu was outfitted with speakers to allow it to vocalize, and wakes up the genetically-enhanced wolf AI with a meep meep! ..."Can our roadrunner outrun our coyote?"
  • In The Bird Feeder, while there is a veneer of accuracy, and often actual bird facts are used, there are several mistakes that have been made. A particularly egregious example occurs in #202, "Old Country," when Josh asks Gramps what he means when he refers to "the old country," and Gramps replies, "You know, Carolina," referring to the Carolina chickadee. Josh and Gramps are established as black-capped chickadees, which is a separate species. Attempts have been made to apologize for inaccuracies, such as #373, "Size," which shows the actual relative sizes of the birds, and #398, "True Colors," and #399, "Another Apology," which shows the correct coloring of cardinals and bluebirds. This doesn't mean the inaccuracies have been corrected, though, and laziness is given as an excuse for continuing them.

    Web Original 
  • ARKive's bird taxonomy is a mixed bag, as relatively cutting-edge ideas (placing the hamerkop as a pelecaniform) are used along with older, discredited theories (buttonquails are placed with cranes and rails, but this has been abandoned in favor of allying them with plovers and gulls).
  • New Life SMP: The Penguin origin is described to have fur, even though birds have feathers and not fur. In this case, the blame's more on the creators of the mod than the SMP members themselves.
  • Not Always Right:

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Real Life roadrunners are omnivorous, gray, about one foot long, look like little Velociraptor when walking, and make pigeon-like sounds. But the Road Runner (yes, the Road Runner) is slightly larger and more ratite-like in appearance, beeps like a car and seems to eat only bird seed .
    • War and Pieces features a roadrunner on the wrong side of the Pacific.
    • Daffy Duck has been heard to quack and have a white neck ring like a mallard, but has all black plumage more like a black scoter.
      • In his very first color cartoon (back when he actually looked like a duck) Daffy had a light blue ring around his neck. Make of that what you will.
      • Hatta Mari from Plane Daffy is a pigeon with cleavage.
      • Actually parodied at the beginning of a Daffy cartoon where he's seen floating in a pond with a group of mallard ducks that act and look realistic. He comments that he always seems to stand out in a crowd.
      • A riotous in-universe example provided by Daffy as Duck Dodgers when he accidentally gets the Green Lantern outfit and wise-quacks he's now the first flying example of his species. (Cue a badelynge of ducks flying by in the background.)
    • With the dodo having been extinct for decades, Robert Clampett took liberties in designing a dodo for "Porky In Wackyland."
    • Pelicans in Warner Bros. cartoons seemed to have oversized pouches under their bill tops, leading Daffy in 1938's Porky & Daffy to quickly quip "Funny thing about the pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can." (The pelican in question here is the referee in a fight in which Daffy is competing.)
  • Donald Duck never flies like an actual duck, but whenever we actually do see him flying, he flies like a hummingbird. Of course, strictly speaking, Donald doesn't even have wings, his wings were anthropomorphized into arms early on, so the "hummingbird-like" flight is a riff on the gag of someone flapping their arms fast enough to take flight.
  • An interesting case with Duckman, its case of the show trying to make a nod to realism but missing the mark by being too clever by half, in "Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.", Duckman, who seems to be hitting it off with two very beautiful (and very stupid) ladies, comments in an aside that he wishes he had a penis. Now it's true that most birds don't have penisesnote  but among the small handful of birds that do? Ducks.
  • One episode of Johnny Test has penguins referred to as "flightless furballs".
  • Another All Birds Are Chickens toe error: On The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog, a woodpecker was depicted with three toes in front and one in back, rather than the proper two-and-two. Rather disappointing for a show intended to advance science/nature education.
  • Woody Woodpecker. A garishly-colored feather duster with goggly green eyes and a beak that occasionally exhibits teeth, he's no doubt been the cause of many an ornithologist's tears. Then again, the species he is in theory, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, entered urban legend status around when they started making these cartoons.
  • Margaret from Regular Show. The official site calls her a robin. She's bright red like a male cardinal, but really looks more like a Palette Swap of Mordecai (a bluejay). And she has lady pecs.
  • Family Guy
    • The episode "Friends of Peter G" features a gag where two drunk seagulls are talking about how KFC is delicious, and one of them freaks out when the other one points out that he's eating bird. Never mind that there are plenty of other animal species which will eat their own kind—a gull eating chicken is no more cannibalism than a person eating a cow. That, and some species of gulls will prey on other birds. On the other hand, they were drunk.
    • Another episode had a gag involving "backwards-knee birds", in which a heron taunts an alligator by making a "backward-knee" step away from it. Birds do not have a backwards-pointing knee, that is actually their ankle.
  • One episode of The Flintstones had a dodo (which looked nothing like a real dodo) that mimics speech like a parrot. This is lampshaded by the main characters. Then again, it is a Running Gag on the show that prehistoric things act just like their (very) loose modern counterparts.
  • The Jonny Quest episode "Treasure of the Temple" had a toucan that can mimic human speech like a parrot.
  • Ralph from Martha Speaks was revealed to be a female duck in "his" second appearance upon laying eggs, in spite of having the coloring of a male mallard.
  • The Adventure Time episode "One Last Job" averts this by showing a male bird with beautiful plumage with extravagant tail feathers while the female is drab and plain-looking, a reference to males of some bird species being more vibrant to attract possible mates (especially true when it comes to peafowl).
  • One episode of Johnny Bravo had an emu being fed avocados, which are poisonous to birds.
  • The ducks in Breadwinners eat nothing but bread, which would kill a real duck.
  • Phineas and Ferb
    • The ostriches have three toes on each foot, instead of two like in real life.
    • Pelicans not only have oversized bill pouches but also generic bird feet with only three toes (real pelicans have four toes that are all webbed).
    • Zig-zagged in "The O.W.C.A. Files" where Maggie the macaw would have zygodactyl feet (correct for parrots) in some scenes and with anisodactyl feet in others.
  • Done in-universe in Ed, Edd n Eddy where they make a bet by taking on the others' personality quirks and behaviors, with Eddy trying to unsuccessfully imitate Edd's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness by claiming chickens to be mammals just because they can't fly.
  • Gravity Falls
    • The taxidermy ostrich seen in the episode "Northwest Mansion Mystery" has a hallux.
    • Pileated woodpeckers are drawn with two toes pointing forward, and only one pointing backward. Meanwhile, the macaw from "The Hand That Rocks the Mabel" (referred to as a "South American rainbow macaw" and resembling a blue-and-gold macaw with a red head) has three toes in front and one in back.
    • The American white pelican seen in "Legend of the Gobblewonker" has a bill pouch too large.
  • The Simpsons
    • Surprisingly averted in the episode "The Musk Who Fell To Earth", which had a bald eagle that made realistic chirping noises (even named "Squawky" by the family). Previous episodes, however, had it scream like a red-tailed hawk like in many portrayals.
    • Done strangely in "Puffless" where Duffman's scarlet macaw would be drawn with the correct zygodactyl feet (two toes in forward and two in back) in some scenes and with anisodactyl feet (three toes in front and one in back) in others.
    • Also averted with the woodpeckers in "Behind the Laughter" and the roadrunner in "The Scorpion's Tale", which both have zygodactyl feet like in real life.
    • Played straight in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge" where Lisa perpetrates the myth that rice makes birds explode.
    • In "Bart the Mother", Seymour Skinner implies that the cuckoo and the nēnē are extinct species like the dodo, which they aren't (although the nēnē is endangered. Also, it's possible that he just meant they went extinct locally, although "extirpated" is the preferred term in that case). Also, cuckoos aren't a species but a family of birds that include the roadrunner.
    • In "Diggs", Comic Book Guy's falcon can mimic speech in the manner of a parrot, which he lampshades.
      Comic Book Guy: Once again, I must point out that you are not a parrot.
      Falcon: Fatso! Fatso! Pees in the shower! (squawks)
      Comic Book Guy: Shut up!
    • "Whistler's Father" showed toucans with cockatoo-like crests on their heads.
    • Played for Laughs in "Bart's Comet" and "Brake My Wife, Please", which both showed penguins flying.
  • In the Llama Llama episode "Let's Go Camping", a crow call is heard at night, despite corvids being diurnal.
  • Arthur:
    • In "So Long, Spankie", DW has a pet budgie which ends up dying that same episode to teach An Aesop about death. His design is simplified and he doesn't even have the normal (typically blue) cere of a male budgie.
    • In "Muffy's House Guests", peregrine falcons are described as an endangered species. They're not even close, thriving in urban environments. (On the other hand they used to be an endangered species for much of the 80’s and 90’s, meaning that a writer could have been under the impression they were still endangered.)
    • "Brain Freeze" involves an ice cream shop whose mascot is a blue penguin with a pig's tail. Brain lampshades this:
      Brain: A tail? Not only are you blue, you are also anatomically incorrect!
  • The storks in the Pixar short Partly Cloudy are also worth of noting for their somewhat flat beaks, which resemble more those of ducks than storks, but this is probably because they are easier to animate.
  • The premise of "Eagle Egg Hunt", a segment of Molly of Denali, is that Molly must re-position a naturalist's webcam so viewers won't miss the hatching of three bald eagle chicks. Actual raptor eggs are laid, and hatch, a day or two apart, ensuring that one chick will be younger and weaker: if there's not enough food for a trio of chicks, the youngest automatically loses out and dies rather than all three starving slowly.
  • In the Total Drama World Tour episode "Rapa Phooey!", Chris states that female condors are larger than males. While this is usually true among other birds of prey, it's actually the opposite for condors.
  • Hit-Monkey: In "Home Sweet Home", a snowy owl claims it cleared the remains of Hit-Monkey's tribe and later wants to eat Bryce's remains. While owls can scavenge it's still rather rare and certainly not enough to make eating dead primates a regular thing.

Alternative Title(s): Somewhere An Ornithologist Is Crying, Artistic Licence Ornithology