Not My Job: We Quiz Birder Jason Ward On 'Angry Birds'
BILL KURTIS: Finally, we spoke to a New Yorker whose eyes weren't on Broadway marquees, but whatever might be making a nest on top of them.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Before becoming a professional birdwatcher and landing a job with the National Audubon Society, Jason Ward was a kid in the Bronx who one day saw a peregrine falcon eating a pigeon.
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JASON WARD: Yes. Yes. So it was, like, my spark moment, my aha moment. It was the moment that I realized that birds have this special ability to make me smile. My - one of my very first memories of birds - and a lot of people out there probably can identify with this - is being pooped on by gulls in the parking lot of a supermarket. So that is my very first memory. But it wasn't the coolest.
MO ROCCA: Hold on. Can I ask about the poop, though, very quickly, since we're on that subject? Is it good luck because I have been pooped on a lot. And I had a terrible experience in college. I was walking across campus - I swear to you - and I was kind of half-running with my - kind of face...
SAGAL: Oh, God.
ROCCA: ...In front of my body.
SAGAL: This is going to be bad.
ROCCA: And so a bird that must - probably was flying towards me, the poop ended up in my mouth.
ROCCA: So disgusting.
ROCCA: And somebody said to me at the time, they said, it's good luck if a bird poops on your head. So it's, like, really great luck if it gets into your mouth, which is very difficult to have happen.
WARD: That's never happened to me.
WARD: So either you have an amazing amount of luck or the opposite. I don't exactly know which way that goes.
SAGAL: Now, there's a certain stereotype about birders. I'm thinking, well, affluent, white, old ladies. That's what I'm thinking.
WARD: Yes, 100%. Birding is largely thought of as something that's done by our grandparents.
WARD: And I am one of the many voices of individuals who are trying to break down that stereotype and introduce a new era of birders, birders who do things their own way and who break a lot of those traditionalist ways of doing things. And I wear what I want when I'm birding, as well. I think that's a major, like, hang-up.
SAGAL: Whoa. You're like, to hell with the cardigan vest.
WARD: This is going to get me just completely ostracized from the community. But yes, I don't wear floppy hats. I don't wear khakis. I'm out there wearing whatever I want. I can bird in a pair of flip-flops and some basketball shorts. It doesn't really matter to me.
SAGAL: Wow. You're, like, a punk birder.
SAGAL: All right. Roxanne, go ahead.
ROXANNE ROBERTS: OK. Do you kind of have a favorite kind of bird?
WARD: Absolutely. So my favorite bird is the peregrine falcon - that very first one that gave me the aha moment. It is the fastest animal on Earth. Take that, cheetah. It is also found on six of the seven continents. It's highly adaptable, highly resilient and extremely powerful.
SAGAL: Aren't those the kind of birds that often become sort of social media celebrities when, like, people put cameras on nests and everybody starts naming them and just falling in love with them and hoping that they kill a lot of things and make themselves happy?
WARD: You know what? That's interesting. Yes, people love doing that. They love placing cameras on the nests of birds of prey. And usually it's a really nice, just heartwarming story, until it isn't. There was...
WARD: There was a very famous incident that happened in Pennsylvania several years ago in which they were watching a bald eagle nest, and mom bald eagle brought back some really nice, cuddly kittens for...
SAGAL: Oh, no.
WARD: ...Dinner one day. And, of course, that made a lot of people very upset. My response to that is - I totally understand why that upsets people, and this is why the best place for your cats are inside.
ROCCA: Have you ever seen a roadrunner?
WARD: Yes, I've seen a ton of roadrunners. I've seen a roadrunner and a coyote, by the way, one time.
ROCCA: Did you - and what were they - how did they interact?
WARD: They were getting along. They were getting along.
WARD: I think...
SAGAL: No anvils involved?
WARD: I think they've been lying to us - propaganda all of these years. The cartoons have been lying to us (laughter). But these are birds that eat whatever they want, right? They prey on mostly large insects, but they'll catch another bird out of the air and just knock it against the ground and eat it. So these are...
SAGAL: A roadrunner?
WARD: Roadrunners - yes, roadrunners.
SAGAL: You mean the hero of the cartoons is actually a horrible cannibal?
WARD: Let me tell you something - there's an image out there that we can probably look up after all of this. There's a notorious bird called the loggerhead shrike. It's known as the butcher bird. It's a songbird that impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire. So this is a hardcore small bird. Roadrunners eat them.
SAGAL: And so that horrible, tough, torturing bird...
SAGAL: ...That vicious, amoral killer - the roadrunner just eats?
WARD: Yep - gobbles it up.
SAGAL: That would be an interesting turnabout ending to one of those cartoons, if the roadrunner just turns around and devours the coyote because that's the way it is.
SAGAL: Jason Ward, it is a pleasure to talk to you about birding. But we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: Watch These Birds, You Nefarious Pig.
SAGAL: You're an expert on birds, but what do you know about "Angry Birds" - that computer game where you throw birds at pigs? It's become a huge sensation in the last decade - bunch of movies. Answer 2 out of 3 questions right, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Jason Ward playing for?
KURTIS: Kevin Bell (ph) of Boston, Mass.
SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. In 2019, to celebrate the game's 10th anniversary, the game's designer company, Rovio, created which of these? A, the hyper-pig (ph), an actual breed of hog created to be especially devious; B, the Rage Rider, a scooter that goes faster the louder you scream at it; or, C, real birdshot - shotgun slugs shaped like the angry birds, so you could be meta when bird-hunting?
WARD: Wow. I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with C, that they actually made shotgun slugs that look like the angry birds so you could fire the angry birds at actual birds.
WARD: I'm going with C, yes.
SAGAL: I like your confidence. But no, it was B, the Rage Rider - you see?
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SAGAL: Because they're celebrating anger...
SAGAL: So you scream into the thing and it goes. All right, you two more chances. This is not a problem.
SAGAL: Here's your next question. Like any successful mobile game, "Angry Birds" has inspired its share of knockoffs, like which of these? A, Angry Words, in which you type as many curse words as you can in 60 seconds; B, Angry Curds, in which Little Miss Muffet hurls pepper jack cheese curds at a spider; or, C, Angry Turds, where you are a monkey throwing poop at the explorers that kidnapped your babies?
WARD: Wow. All right, I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're right - Angry Turds.
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SAGAL: Here's your last question. If you get this right, you win. The developers of "Angry Birds" were inspired to create the game by a surprising incident. What was it? A, while he was playing "Tetris" while on ayahuasca, the lead designer said, the shapes are birds, all shapes are birds, and the idea was born; B, the swine flu epidemic of 2009 because it showed the developers that pigs really are our enemy; or, C, one designer traveling in Norway observed McDonald's spicy chicken sandwich was called Angry Bird on Bread there?
WARD: All right, I'm going with B.
SAGAL: You're right.
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SAGAL: The swine flu epidemic - which, of course, is back in the news because apparently it was much worse than the one we're going through, I think...
WARD: Apparently, yeah.
SAGAL: ...Yes, somehow - was, in fact, the inspiration. They were looking around for villains in their game, and they said, swine flu, pigs - yes, let's do it. Bill, how did Jason Ward do on our quiz?
KURTIS: He did great - 2 out of 3.
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KURTIS: Keep looking for birds, Jason. You're a winner.
SAGAL: You did well. Congratulations, Jason.
SAGAL: Jason Ward is a naturalist and birder. You can check out his "Birds Of North America" series on YouTube and sign up for his virtual birding classes at atlasobscura.com. Jason, thank you so much.
WARD: Thank you so much. I appreciate you all for having me.
ROBERTS: Take care.
KURTIS: Thanks, Jason.
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SAGAL: That's it for our special not-really-spirit-of-Christmas-past, more-like-spirit-of-the-past-during-Christmas show. It's Dickens adjacent.
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Thanks to everybody you heard this week, all of our panelists, all our guests and, of course, Bill Kurtis. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Peter Sagal. We'll see you next week.
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SAGAL: This is NPR.
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