General Question

Jeruba's avatar

I saw a bird. What did you see?

Asked by Jeruba (51542points) April 2nd, 2009

If I say “I saw a bird” and don’t add any details, what do you picture for the word “bird”? Do you fill in a generic bird, or do you just have a void where the “bird” image belongs, until you receive further information?

I hypothesize that most people automatically picture a describable bird that then changes when you start to add details, but that some instead just imagine a blank bird placeholder with no characteristics at all until details are supplied.

—If you picture a generic bird, what does it look like? And—is it a bird that would normally appear in the area where you live (temperate climate, tropics, Asia, western U.SD., etc.)?

—If you imagine some specific bird, such as a bird of your personal acquaintance, then answer this question instead for an animal that you don’t see as an individual, such as a cat or a cow.

—If you just hold an abstract bird-idea in your head, without qualities, do you have any particular thoughts about this ability?

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28 Answers

VzzBzz's avatar

I’m influenced totally by the peeping finches outside my window and pictured a greyish bird with red breast

purephase's avatar

i like grackles because they walk funny, so that’s what i thought of

Bluefreedom's avatar

What I would picture is a bird that I could see in my everyday environment around my home. These would include wrens, sparrows, doves, quail, and pigeons.

What I would really like to see, in the wild someday, is my avatar. I’ve been told by many that Bald Eagles are very beautiful and majestic birds of prey. I’m quite fond of them actually.

Jeruba's avatar

When you just hear “bird,” though, @Bluefreedom, do you picture any particular one? or a blend? or what?

3or4monsters's avatar

I think of cardinals.

Facade's avatar

I thought of a blue bird you’d see in a children’s story book.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

Yesturday, my sister drew a doodle of a blue bird. I thought it was great, and that’s what I thought of.

Bluefreedom's avatar

@Jeruba. I actually think of several different types of birds instead of just focusing on one certain type. Kind of like a mental slideshow of different species.

I’ve seen families of quail running through our neighborhood on several occasions and they’re just about the cutest thing going. Mom, dad, and 3 or 4 siblings all running in tandem through the yards.

MissAusten's avatar

I thought of the little brown birds (wrens? sparrows?) that are always in our yard, year round. It’s probably the most generic bird in my mind because they are so common.

casheroo's avatar

When someone says they saw a bird, I think of the most common ones I see.
Usually a robin, or these little brown birds we have all over.
Unless they specify, I don’t put much thought into it.

charliecompany34's avatar

when i see birds at certain times, spiritually, based on timing when i see it, it speaks to me symbolically. if it is in the middle of the road while i’m driving, it means “i’m stuck in my issues and may not be able to get out of them. if i see it sitting on a fence and chirping but not moving, it could mean pay attention to something so simple—the answer is there if you just stop and focus.if i see it flying and coming back, it says “you need to stay right where you are—it’s ok.” if it makes a nest in my rafters, it says “i can get comfortable here, but i do need to move on.”

birds are signs of peace, change and messages. you need to be tuned into it to see the signs.

i know—it’s deep.

rowenaz's avatar

crow black general bird shaped thing popped into my mind, surrounded by the trees and grass that grow here where I live.

andrew's avatar

I actually thought of a sparrow but then my mind actually jumped to a provocatively dressed woman. What does that say?

tinyfaery's avatar

A little, brown finch. Can’t get more generic than that.

MissAusten's avatar

@andrew, it says you have a Y chromosome.

Nially_Bob's avatar

I feel inclined to believe your ‘generic hypothesis’ is atleast somewhat valid as upon the bird being mentioned my immediate thoughts were drawn to a typical inkblot resembling a bird/angel figure.

augustlan's avatar

I pictured a silhouette of a black bird on a black branch (like a piece of art, not an actual bird), and immediately after a real sparrow. Mostly, I was just intrigued!

Jude's avatar

I see a seagull (garbage gut) flying overhead. Probably because I just came back from a run on the beach. :)

MacBean's avatar

I see the word “BIRD” in a bold basic serif font until I get more info.

oratio's avatar

I see a small grayish bird flapping it’s wings – like they do when they attempt to hover for a moment – in front of me. I don’t know why. I guess that’s the kind of encounters with bird I have mostly.

Jeruba's avatar

So out of everybody thus far who has answered the question asked, only Nially_Bob and MacBean see an unqualified abstraction that stands for a bird, and everybody else (I count 14, and add one for myself) pictures a describable bird of some kind. (The provocatively dressed woman doesn’t figure in my count, British slang notwithstanding.) Interesting!

My hypothesis is borne out by this small sample, so far, anyway. Thanks!

KatawaGrey's avatar

Can I still answer this? Oh well, I will anyway.

I didn’t actually picture anything because I immediately started thinking of things I had seen that would be proper to answer this question. However, if you had just written that you had seen a bird, I probably would have pictured the word bird, just as @MacBean did.

Point of interest: My psychology of women professor last semester asked us what we all pictured when we heard the word “mankind.” She said people usually pictured a bunch of men, but I picture the word “mankind” in those big cartoon block letters used in School House Rock videos.

Horus515's avatar

I pictured a white and black bird, like a sea bird, which is wierd since I live in the midwest.

Nimis's avatar

I was more influenced by the What did you see? part.
The way it was worded made me think of this.

To answer your question, I saw a ducrabbit or a rabbiduck.

lloydbird's avatar

I see a rapid non-linear scan through my mental collection of bird types and sightings,as well as a simultaneous fuzzy but precise and fleeting non-specific birdesque mental template.

Jeruba's avatar

@lloydbird, lurve for “fuzzy but precise and fleeting non-specific birdesque mental template.” I understood perfectly.

lloydbird's avatar

@Jeruba Hey thanks. It’s nice to be understood. Especially “perfectly”. And lurve to you too for it. (-:

andrew's avatar

I saw a bird. A sparrow. Possibly cartoonish—a la twitter.

One interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that as I’ve learned another language, I learn the words much more quickly if I see how they’re spelled.

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