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Birds Thou Never Wert
George Plimpton
December 28, 1981
Unsuccessful in their search for an extremely rare woodpecker, three avid bird watchers construct the ultimate birds, one just this side of paradise and the other straight from the junkyard
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December 28, 1981

Birds Thou Never Wert

Unsuccessful in their search for an extremely rare woodpecker, three avid bird watchers construct the ultimate birds, one just this side of paradise and the other straight from the junkyard

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"His head should be bald, shouldn't it?" I asked. "With quite a lot of wattles and warts and dewlaps and so forth?"

John and Victor agreed. But then a curious hassle occurred. One of the birds most noted for its warts and pimples is the ocellated turkey, a large gallinaceous bird most commonly seen in Guatemala, with a bleak gobbler head from which its melancholy eyes stare beadily out of a colored moonscape of those warts and pimples. Another suggestion was the guan. But guans are a rare and exotic species. One of them, among the rarest birds in Central America, is the horned guan, which has protruding from its forehead a red Popsicle-like horn that shines like a neon tube. When I suggested this appurtenance for the giant cacophonous, Victor had exclaimed in obvious concern, "Oh, no, no! Let's leave the guans out. The guans are too rare and splendid. We can't put a guan's horn on the cacophonous. I don't mind a rhino's horn on him, a very small one, or the horned lizard's or the horned viper's—why, the lizard and viper have several—but let's leave the guans out. They are," he said with an air of finality, "exempt." He poked furiously at the fire.

"We could give him a teen-ager's pimple rather than a guan's," Rowlett quickly suggested.

"Right," Victor said.

"What about its habits?" I asked, to get Victor off the guans.

"The cacophonous goes in groups," Victor said. "It hangs around miniature-golf courses and in the back lots of industrial plants. Wherever you have man coming in and destroying the natural habitat, you have the giant cacophonous waddling in after him, attracted by the sound of saws, jackhammers and the suck of pumps, things of that sort."

"What does it eat?" I asked.

"It eats everything," Victor said gloomily. "Garbage, French fries. Occasionally you can spot the cacophonous under cars in drive-ins from where they can emerge on those lily-trotter feet and ingest bits of French fries that get dropped from car-window trays. Omnivorous. Do you know how a hummingbird tantalizes a flower blossom? So delicate? But this thing, the cacophonous, comes along and eats the whole flower. Chomp!"

"And possibly the hummingbird with it," Rowlett offered.

"If you pick one up," I said, "he should throw up on you. I understand that's what happens when you pick up a shearwater."

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