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Bye Bye Birdie

Claim:   A match used to splint a budgie's injured leg ignites and causes the bird to explode.

LEGEND


Example:   [Healey & Glanvill, 1996]

A friend of a friend was asked by her gran to look after her budgie so the old dear could keep her usual Wednesday-afternoon appointment with the hairdresser.

The young woman decided to bird-sit with her new boyfriend, and as they waved the elderly lady off, he came up with the idea to give the bird a treat, reasoning that it must have been ages since it had been allowed to fly around.

After checking that no doors or windows were open and that the cat was out of the room, he opened the cage door and encouraged the bird to stretch its wings. The timid thing took some enticing, so long ago had it last tasted freedom, but then it gathered itself, sidled over to the door, and burst upwards, flying and flapping around in a small feathery frenzy.

Alas, its over-enthusiasm, combined with a novice's grasp of aerobatics, proved costly. For in a crazed bid for even greater liberty, it flew head-long at the large double-glazed patio doors, smashed into the glass and tumbled to the floor.

Luckily, it was still alive, though its leg was quite clearly broken. What would Granny say! The young couple resolved to apply first-aid and come clean with her. Ingeniously, the bloke produced a box of matches from his pocket and, taking a reel of cotton, delicately bound one stick around the distraught budgie's damaged leg as a splint. Then he gently lowered the bird back inside its cage.

Tragically, the boyfriend had not known about the sandpaper floor of the cage, and as the poor budgerigar shuffled over to nibble its dried cuttlefish, the match struck, and the poor thing was engulfed in flames.
 

Origins:   If popular lore is to be believed, our brightly-colored feathered friends are constantly falling victim to fatal yet Budgie hilarious accidents. In the realm of the tall tale budgies and canaries are considered odd pets, almost more decorations than companions, and therefore legends about the unfortunate demises of pet avians tickle our funny bones instead of causing us to reach for our hankies. When we hear about a matchstick-splinted bird's combusting in a ball of flame, we can find the story comical without seeming insensitive because we don't view a budgie's death as the personal tragedy the loss of a cat or dog would be.

Budgies (actually, budgerigars) are small Australian parrots, usually light green with black and yellow markings when found in the wild, but those bred in captivity can have different colorations. Canaries are small yellow (sometimes greenish) finches known for their pleasing song. Both are pets popular for attributes such as their bright colors and how well they fill a home with their chirpings.

Another "splinted budgie" tale has a different ending:
[Healey & Glanvill, 1993]

A friend of a friend and her husband were spending the evening at her elderly grandma's cottage, budgie-sitting while she attended her regular whist drive. Granny loved her feathery friend, but never let it out of the cage, so the young couple decided to allow it to stretch its wings, first checking that all the windows and doors were

When they opened the cage door, the budgerigar burst out and careered hell-for-leather around the room.

Apparently, though, the bird was so over-excited at its new-found freedom that it crash-landed on a coffee table and broke its leg.

The two guardians were understandably mortified — what would Granny say? They gently scooped up the tiny anguished casualty, and promptly made a splint out of a matchstick, fastening it to the broken limb with some of Granny's cotton.

Things ran smoothly until it came to tidying up their bit of first aid.

As they were trimming the end of the cotton, the budgie twitched and the husband accidentally snipped off its other leg . . .
Though the splint is missing in this next tale, another motif ties it to the original example:
[Smith, 1986]

There are times when you can try just too hard. A young man was invited for the first time to visit his girlfriend's parent's home. As he was very keen for them to like him he was all set to make a good impression, whatever might happen.

When he arrived at the house he was invited in only to discover immediately that his future mother-in-law was desperately fond of budgerigars. Unluckily the young man was allergic to such pets — a fact which he regrettably attempted to hide.

They were sitting together in the lounge when the conversation turned to pet birds and the girl's mother let the budgie out of its cage to fly around the room. It flew round for a while and then settled on the young man's head. In desperation he tried to dislodge it but misjudged his actions and knocked the bird straight off his head into the roaring fire, where it burnt to death in front of everyone.
(Another "date harms the family pet" tale, though not one involving small birds, is the venerable Rain of Terrier legend. Yet another well known story features a budgie or canary and a carpet.)

Not every budgie or canary legend ends with the pet's demise:
[Collected on the Internet, 2000]

An old (probably at least a bit crazy) woman near Sydney loved her pet canary so much that she decided to throw it a surprise birthday party. She gathered some of her friends and family for the occasion. To make it a real surprise for the canary, she put a band-aid over its eyes. And surprise, surprise — when the band-aid came off, so did the poor birdie's eyes.
Barbara "bird cede" Mikkelson

Last updated:   24 May 2013

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Sources:

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.
    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (pp. 114-115).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Gruesome Urban Myths.
    Bucks: Ginn and Company, 1995.   ISBN 0-602-26200-3   (pp. 32-35).

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   "Grandma's Budgie."
    The [London] Guardian.   5 June 1993   (p. 67).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nastier Legends.
    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.   ISBN 0-7102-0573-2   (p. 100).