Many real birds are truly amazing, with nearly unbelievable plumage, voices and behaviors, but human imagination is greater still and a wide range of fictional birds are part of our culture. The more you learn about fictional birds, the more you can be astonished by their real-life avian inspiration.
The basic definition of fiction is something that is imaginary, but fictional birds are more difficult to define. Many birds familiar in literature – such as Edgar Allan Poe's iconic raven or Harry Potter's snowy owl companion Hedwig – may be fictional characters, but the bird species are very real. Books, movies and even cartoons often feature birds either as main characters or as pets or sidekicks, and while they may be simplified depictions, they are not strictly fiction. A truly fictional bird, though it may be loosely based on a real bird, is one that may talk or have a job or even dress in clothes but is found in no field guides, is on no birder's life lists and truly is an imaginary species.
Top Fictional Birds
There are many different fictional birds of all shapes, colors and personalities. Not only do fictional birds and bird-like characters figure largely in literature, poetry, music, art and film, but they are often seen as mascots or symbols. The more popular, familiar and spectacular make-believe birds include…
This bird from Greek mythology is said to be reborn from ashes or after being burned, and can live up to 1,400 years. Often depicted with brilliant, fiery plumage and a long tail or plumes similar to a pheasant (family Phasianidae), the phoenix is a symbol of the sun, renewal and longevity. These birds are popular in artwork and tattoos, as well as on flags or emblems. The most famous modern phoenix is Fawkes, the pet of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling and the associated movies from Warner Bros. Pictures.
- Donald Duck
This crazy Disney quacker first debuted in 1934 and is a cartoon variation of a domestic pekin duck with its pure white plumage and yellow-orange bill, legs and feet. Similar ducks in the same Disney universe include Donald's girlfriend Daisy Duck (first appeared in 1940), his uncle Scrooge McDuck (first appeared in 1947) and other anthropomorphic ducks.
- Daffy Duck
Another animated duck, Daffy is a Warner Bros. creation and first appeared in 1937. His black plumage, white collar and orange legs and feet associate him very loosely with the American black duck (Anas rubripes), though other field marks and typical characteristics are not usually depicted. Daffy's aggressive attitude can often be seen with these and other dabbling ducks. Daffy Duck still appears in comics and cartoons.
From the Hunger Games book trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the associated movies from Lionsgate, the mockingjay is a fictional bird in this unique dystopian universe. These birds are supposedly hybrids of genetically created "jabberjays" that were mutated from either blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) or Steller's jays (Cyanocitta stelleri), but bred in the wild with northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos). The failure of the genetic creation to serve as a spy against its enemies became a symbol for the revolution in the stories and was adopted for Katniss Everdeen as the movement's leader, even though the birds themselves do not figure largely in the stories.
- Tweety Bird
A popular animated songbird from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies from Warner Bros., Tweety's species is purposefully ambiguous. He is occasionally referred to as rare, endangered or the only living member of his species. His coloration and reference as a canary likely links him to the yellow canary (Crithagra flaviventris), an African passerine. Tweety is popular in cartoons, video games, comic books and a wide variety of merchandise.
- Toucan Sam
This iconic tropical bird is the mascot of Kellogg's Froot Loops cereal and first appeared in 1963. Originally his large bill had two pink stripes, but was eventually colored in a rainbow pattern to represent the cereal's colors. That is not possible today, as additional colors have been introduced, but the rainbow bill is still used. Because of Sam's general plumage pattern, bill size and bill colors, he most closely resembles the keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) or toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), though the overall resemblance is not exact.
These are just a few of the more widespread, recognizable fictional birds; email me with your suggestions to add to this list!
Photo – Froot Loops © Rosana Prada