You know what they say — "Birds of a feather flock together."
But why do they say it?
Bird-themed expressions like this one have become so commonplace, we rarely consider their origins, which are often rooted in natural history.
Many birds, for instance, migrate in flocks of their own species, a survival tactic which helps improve their odds against predators. Over time, the expression "birds of a feather" has become synonymous with people who are similar in nature.
Here are a few more examples of everyday bird idioms that actually teach us about nature.
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To "ruffle feathers" means to irritate, agitate or annoy a person. In the wild, this expression has two literal meanings.
First, chicks that feel threatened often ruffle their feathers to make themselves appear larger. Second, birds such as crows, jays and mockingbirds partake in a behavior known as "mobbing," during which they attempt to scare off predators like hawks or eagles by flying at them. Sometimes the birds swoop so close to the offender, they literally ruffle its feathers.
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"Pecking order" refers to the hierarchy within a social group. Among some bird species, including vultures, finches and domestic chickens, animals establish dominance within their flock by pecking at each other. The top-ranking bird, for example, eats first and can peck any other bird without reprisal. The second-ranking bird can peck any bird other than the alpha, and so on.
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"For the birds" is used to describe something that is unimportant or worthless. Basically, it is a polite way to call something "horseshit."
The expression was coined by the U.S. Army during WWII when military personnel would observe birds pecking at horse manure, which they called "road apples." Some birds, including sparrows and chickens, will peck through horse manure in search of undigested seeds, grains or oats.
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To be "happy as a lark" means, simply, to be joyful. There are about 90 different species of lark in the world, and every one has a high, melodious, tinkling call — generally regarded as cheerful, hence the expression.
Though a number of lark species are found in North America, the horned lark (Eremophila alpestris) is the only native species, and can be found year-round in parts of Tennessee, preferring freshly mowed fields or heavily grazed farmlands as its habitat.
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A slang term, a "wingman" is a person who helps or supports a friend, especially in regards to helping that friend get a date. This idiom is actually not bird-related; it is a military term that refers to the flight pattern of fighter jets, in which one jet flies just off the right wing of the lead jet.
Still, we didn't want to miss an opportunity to tell you about the lance-tailed manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata), a tropical songbird that depends on the help of a wingman to win a mate.
During mating season, two male lance-tailed manakins buddy up to perform dances and flight displays for a female. Should the duo impress her, only the alpha bird will get to mate with her. But don't feel too bad for his wingman. Studies show that manakins that serve as wingmen are more likely to become alphas in the future versus manakins that do not partake in the behavior.