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The Flora and Fauna of Gaming: Birds

4:00 PM on 07.20.2009 // Ashley Davis

Some people make a hobby out of studying animals for fun in the real world. But not me. Why would I ever want to do that when there are even more interesting creatures to watch inside of the games that I play? That is why I always keep a notebook on hand to sketch and quickly document the behaviors of the beasts I cross paths with while gaming. When the day is done, I retreat back into the real world to write a complete log of what I saw.

Through videogames, I have traveled to many different places and seen many different creatures. Some are friendly, others deadly. Some are fantastical, others very similar to real-world creatures. But it doesn't matter to me; I love studying all virtual animals, whether or not they are dull and want to bite my head off!

Of course, I am not without my biases. If there is one type of animal that fascinates me above all others, it's birds. Perhaps it's flight envy, or maybe the fact that I just think that feathers and beaks are adorable. Either way, I tend to pay the most attention to them. Below the jump are some excerpts from my videogame birdwatching log; hopefully you find the information useful while on your own journeys. Be sure to click on the pictures to see all of my quick notes!

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #5: My subject today, the Mallard duck, is one that I have seen many times over the past two decades. It is likely the most iconic game bird in existence, being one of the first winged creatures many of us ever saw in a videogame. A truly stunning animal in person, their appearance is based off of the Mallard ducks of Earth. They are a bit blockier and flat, but these attributes only add to their overall beauty.

Unfortunately, it is these qualities that also make them a prize trophy. Countless amounts of them were killed for sport during the 1980s. One would think that, by this point, they would have been hunted to the point of extinction, but they somehow have continued to flourish. Perhaps this can be attributed to overbreeding, but I have yet to find their breeding grounds to see whether or not this is the case.

If they do constantly breed, that may explain why they sometimes fly in pairs; if they always have their partner nearby, they can repopulate as necessary. But what's strange is that all of them have the markings and feather colors of male birds. How could they possibly reproduce if they are all the same sex? Every time I go back to Duck Hunt to look for the answers to all of these questions, I come back even further perplexed. As much as these birds look like ordinary Earth ducks, they are certainly nothing alike outside of the realm of appearance.

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #98: The tiny hummingbird is already hard enough to find in the gaming universe without it also being somewhat of a rarity. But if you search hard enough, you may just find one or two of these beautiful little birds. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a very small flock of these birds in the world of Kolibri today. But my studies were supposedly interrupted by an intergalactic threat to the world, which, unsuprisingly, scared most of them off. I had pegged them as being much too small to defend themselves. I was wrong... at least, on one account.

The lone specimen that I was left with was quite remarkable, and I soon forgot my woes in not being able to see how the birds functioned as a group. This hummingbird was probably about the size of my thumb, but full of otherwordly power. It never stopped to rest its wings; instead, it hopped from flower to flower to fuel back up on a near-constant basis so that it could keep going.

It didn't seem to need its comrades to assert itself to the front of the line where food was concerned. When wasps and other insects barred it from entry to a group of flowers, it emitted tiny balls of energy from the tip of its beak to drive them away. While it is true that the insects probably need the nectar as much as the bird, that is just the way nature works. Those without energy beams will have to eat whatever is left over.

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #179: Earlier, I spent a lot of time following the trail of a very large species of bird called a breegull. As far as I know, it has no Earthly equal, although it does somewhat resemble a mixture of a roadrunner and a flamingo. The female specimen (you can spot them by the red coloring on the tip of the beak) that I studied had plumage that is shockingly red in color, with yellow on the tips of the crest, tail, and wing feathers.

From this beak spouted a very shrill call. Many would call the sound annoying, but I found it interesting because she used it in a way that mimicked human speech. Even though her squawkings were difficult to understand without a translation, I could almost sense a tone of sarcasm in them. She seemed to berate pretty much every other animal she came into contact with by becoming even louder and pecking at them.

There was only one exception: a large brown bear. I nearly never saw the two separate from one another, and all the while, the breegull stayed somewhat docile. These two animals appeared to have a very symbiotic relationship; the bear gave the breegull protection from outside threats, while the breegull enabled the bear to travel easily through her ability to fly, run fast, and wear shoes.

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #10: The true identity of bird number ten is very hard to pinpoint because of its bad intentions. In true baddie fashion, any time a hero moves into its sights, it swoops down into his path, deals damage, and pushes him backward. As such, it is very hard to study this species up close. Because of this, I will collectively call enemy birds of this type "annoying bird enemy."

The annoying bird enemy resides in several different games, ranging from Ninja Gaiden to the newest entries in the Castlevania series. Even though its attack pattern is always the same, it remains hard to dodge. Depending on the world one is in, these birds can take a player down with one fell swoop. Fortunately, most variations can only take off a small chunk of health at a time, rendering them more of an annoyance than anything else. The "kick" effect that their attacks have are the real threat.

Most of these birds have talons, which would suggest a member of the falcon family, but many are also black and crow-like. Maybe someday, I can get close enough to one without being pushed into a pit or having a third nose hole clawed into my face to know for sure. Today was not that day.

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #52: Today I studied the kiwi, a flightless bird that hails from New Zealand. Unlike their real-world cousins, they are small, yellow birds with a penchant for sneakers. They may not look like a very interesting species to study in the wild, but they have plenty of other talents to make up for their small wings and heavy bodies. For one, they are very proficient with bows, arrows, and bombs. This is a great feat for a creature that, as far as I could tell, doesn't have fingers on the tips of its wings.

The biggest enemy of the kiwi is the leopard seal. These two creatures are part of a very interesting natural cycle of events. Every year or so, a carnivorous leopard seal will kidnap all the kiwis it can in order to prepare them as a feast. But there is always one kiwi bird left behind (I am unsure whether this is part of the tradition or just a constantly made mistake on the part of the seals). This bird follows its instincts to track down the walrus and free its brethren. The force of nature is so strong that even when these two enemies are kept behind bars in the same zoo, the tradition must continue.

That being said, almost all of the other animals that the lone heroic kiwi encounters seem to be enemies as well. Everything from snails to cannon-wielding sheep are out for its blood. The kiwi is at the bottom of the food chain, but this only means that it can shoot without worry of killing an ally. Nature is much crueler than these little birds' innocent faces let on.

Ashley's Birdwatching Log #242: A lot of the excitement in videogame birdwatching is that new spieces often pop up unannounced. Today, I discovered a very strange looking species of bird called a prinny. I followed their distinctive call -- a repetitive "dood!" sound -- to the lair of a flock of these creatures.

Upon first glance, I thought that I had found a warm climate-dwelling penguin, but upon further inspection, prinnies are much different. First of all, they do not have webbed feet. In fact, they don't have feet at all, only stubs that are a lot like peg legs in appearance. Second, in addition to their flipper-like wings, they have a second smaller set of wings jutting from their lower neck. But even with four wings, they remain a flightless bird. Third, they are much bigger in size than most penguins, standing about waist-high to a human.

One very curious property of this species is that they are extremely volatile. They must be handled and handle themselves very carefully, as the slightest bump or misstep will cause their bodies to erupt in an explosion that is fatal to the bird. From my birdwatching post, I saw that the area's native peoples often use them as weapons. The blast from a thrown prinny is so powerful that it takes out both the bird and the enemy. Seeing such cruelty unfold caused my heart to swell with sadness, but I had no right to interfere. I should have known what to expect entering a place like the Netherworld to study birds.

Ashley Davis,
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