Hungry Birds

By: Peggy Nelson
April 25, 2011

Hungry Birds is not just another online impersonation. Cross-species enablers at the Latvian magazine Ir have hit upon a low-tech interface to allow birds to tweet. By placing pads of yummy fat on an outdoor keyboard, birds type out messages as they snack. The resulting strings are chopped into 140-character tweets: follow along at @hungry_birds.

There are other animal impersonators on Twitter. I follow @common_squirrel as a Zen punctuation throughout the day (run. jump jump jump. acorn! etc.) However the squirrel is a mechanical turk with a (lightly concealed) human operator. Not that that’s bad; here at HILOBROW we love a little animation in our mechanism. But the stream at @hungry_birds issues from the birds themselves.

[Talking to the animals, Rex Harrison and the PushmePullyou, Doctor Dolittle, 1967]

Of course exactly what is issuing is still an issue. The birds don’t know what they’re tweeting via this new method. And we don’t know what they’re saying. We don’t even know if they’re angry — at loss of habitat, at noise pollution, even at the loss of our witness and company, to what might seem to them like an accelerating tech-enabled solipsism. I suppose that with a series of strategic feedback loops, more intelligent ones among us (bird and human) might be able to figure something out.

[A Vending Machine for Crows by Joshua Klein, 2007]

But at the moment this is just blind signaling — not unlike the signals we launched into space as a byproduct of broadcast TV.

A #slowtwitter take on birds tweeting is offered by artist David Rothenberg, who has slowed down recorded birdsong and found that it sounds eerily similar to some types of jazz (check the embedded clips on his website). This is certainly intriguing, although we are no closer to grokking the communication (and neither is it clear whether Rothenberg’s habit of taking his clarinet into the field and playing “duets” with them is, either).

[Why Birds Sing, BBC documentary, David Rothenberg, 2007]

One wonders what we are are saying to each other, besides “we are here?” Although given the magnitude of the translation problems, perhaps that is enough.

[Angry Birds illustration by zero-lives]


Thanks to @LRJP! for the link.


Kudos, Spectacles

What do you think?

  1. I was struck yesterday by the wildness of my mp3 player—this notion that, while it can’t comprehend the music I listen to through it, I can’t grok the algorithms. It’s like we’re living in different dimensions that just manage to brush up against one another at certain contact points.

  2. That bird twitter feed is gorgeous. Tears came to my eyes when I read some of those tweets:


    But there was one recently that must be bogus, which is too bad. Shook my faith in the project. Here it is:

    sooo many award ss s s ! !! ! t s s ss s s s s s dd

  3. This is how Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy ends, as I recall — a boy and girl banished to discrete dimensions. But at certain prearranged times they can “meet” by sitting on a certain bench in a certain park in their own worlds… they can’t communicate but they can share something beyond words.

  4. I like the mp3 vision; one device, different worlds. One thing that appeals to me about possible worlds theory is the idea that multiples might exist in the same space, just in different dimensions, or from different perspectives. Not separate like birds and humans, but threaded-through. Of course what we want is the bridge, not a toggle-state. Or is it? I suppose viruses have a different interpretation of our bodies than we do. Is there a point at which understanding them becomes *being them? And if so, is there a way back, or is it a one-way street? Especially with machines, which we created in our own (partial) image. One might want to become-animal, but it’s much more likely that one would become an engineer.

    Pullman – isn’t that the one with the magic pets full of separation anxiety? I don’t know about sitting on a bench by yourself and just feeling like you’re really in touch with someone. I wonder how much of magic in books is a charitable interpretation of “wishful thinking” in life?

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