Have you ever watched a parrot scratch himself with a feather? Here’s a YouTube video:
Owner Cheryl Rampton didn't train Poncho to do this. He figured out how to hold the feather in his foot and reach back to scratch his neck. If the grip on the feather needs adjustment, he uses his beak to hold it for a second. The wings stay tucked.
A parrot really has three “hands”: his beak and his two feet. With those he’s got nearly as much dexterity as we humans do.
When we want to design a character based on a bird, we naturally want to make their wings into hands. This makes sense from the standpoint of comparative anatomy, but it goes completely against their bird nature. And it’s impractical. A bird can gesture with his primary wingtip feathers, but he can’t shake hands, make a fist, or pick up an object with them.
Putting animal heads onto humanoid bodies leads to other absurdities. Did you every wonder why you never see Elsie the Cow below the shoulders? Would she have (ahem) breasts or udders? Either way would be pretty weird.
For the rest of the week through Saturday we’ll look at how character designers have developed clever ways to infuse animals with human personalities.