English usage Q: are birds non-animals?

Something I recollect encountering often in English-language texts (English being a foreign language to me) is the phrase birds and animals. (or the reverse)

Google yields 185,000 hits for the phrase “birds and animals” and 192,000 hits for the phrase “animals and birds”. (61,700,000 hits for the word “animals” and 25,400,000 hits for the word “birds”).

So the assumption that birds are not animals seems to be reasonably widespread, even in legal use (e.g. Permit to kill animal or bird doing damage, from a South Dakota statute). OTOH I have failed to find a dictionary definition of “animal” that excludes birds, and “animal” is invariably translated into German as Tier, which latter term definitely includes all members of the animal kingdom (there is no word in German for ‘Animalia member other than bird’).

So, is the usage of ‘animal’ in the sense of not including birds the main usage or a minority one?

Although technically unnecessary, I certainly think it’s common in the context you describe, where ‘animal’ is generally interpreted as ‘land creature’. If they were being really correct, they’d have to say “permit to kill mammal, reptile, amphibian or bird doing damage”, which would just be silly.

The same people who have to read the safety instructions on toothpicks, or the “open bottle away from face” instructions on soda pop, are the target audience of this message. There are a good number of people, while not stupid, don’t seem to have the common sense to realize that birds are animals, too. Probably more common is the lack of realization that insects, too, are animals. Animals are supposed to be fluffy and cute, right?

That is a good question. There’s no strong rule in English about whether ‘animals’ includes birds; you have to decide each time whether the person using the word ‘animal’ means to include birds or not. There is no single word for ‘land animals’, so ‘animal’ has to cover both meanings.

I think generally, ‘animal’ does include birds, unless the context makes it clear otherwise. I also suspect that many of the sources you’re seeing are older laws, and that in more modern times, ‘animals’ has been more used as the general term (including birds).

There is no question that in English “animal” in its broadest meaning includes birds, and in fact all non-plant organisms. However, there is a tendency to confuse “animal” with “mammal,” which is what the usage “birds and animals” is rooted in. While technically incorrect, this usage is so prevalent that it has to be considered one of the meanings of the word. It is often unclear in this context if the user means to include as animals (1) just mammals, or (2) mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. I think it would be relatively rare for someone using the phrase “birds and animals” to intend to include fish, insects, etc as “animals.”

From Merriam-Webster:

And, of course, the old dichotomy of living things into animal and vegetable is no longer accurate. Living things are now classified under five different kingdoms: (1) Monera or Prokaryotae (lacks a membrane-bound nucleus): all bacteria and all single-celled; all reproduce asexually but some also reproduce sexually. The following are all eukaryotic (having a membrane-bound nucleus and membrane-bound organelles):
(2) Protista: autotrophic (photosynthesis in algae and Euglenoids) and heterotrophic; asexual or sexual reproduction; single- or multi-celled;
(3) Fungi: form spores at all stages of their life cycle; usually reproduce asexually but many reproduce sexually by conjugation; single- or multi-celled;
(4) Plantae: all multi-cellular and most are autotrophic via photosynthesis; all reproduce sexually; and
(5)Animalia: all re mutlicellular, eukaryotic, heterotrophic, reproduce sexually, develop from a blastula, and most have tissues organized into organs.

My tissues are organized into facial, toilet and giftwrapping.

Even the five-kingdom classification is considered obsolete these days. The current model is one of three “domains” (Archaea, Eubacteria, and Eukarya) and umpteen kingdoms. See, for example, here.

This is probably the confluence of two or more separate laws governing the hunting of birds and other animals.

Fish are also sometimes excluded from the umbrella of animalhood; even dead fish often are considered different, as they are sometimes not considered “meat.”

I would say the folk understanding of the phrase animal includes mammals (but not humans) as its central group, and birds, reptiles, insects, and fish as less typical members of the class. For example, I know a lot of people who don’t eat red meat, but do eat poultry and fish; they consider birds and fish to be less “animal” than mammals.

One model of mental categorization of objects is the prototype model - there’s a central member that defines the category, and other objects are included or excluded based on similarity. So mammals (or perhaps some particular variety of mammal) are considered more animal-like at some level of cognition, while birds, reptiles, fish, and insects are somewhat less so. So there’s no binary classes, just degrees of similarity. And if you ask someone to picture or name an animal, chances are they’ll name a mammal first. (I would probably say “dog”; dunno why exactly.) Going down another level, the prototypical bird is something like a robin - a small songbird that flies. A turkey or an emu is recognized as a bird, but it’s not what you picture when someone mentions birds.

Of course, these classifications exist simultaneously with “expert” classes in most people’s minds, so they recognize that birds are actually, scientifically speaking, animals. But obviously our use of language reflects these folk categories.

You forgot amphibians, mollusks, echinoderms, arachnids, myriapods, coelenterates, sponges, and the three types of worms: annelids (segmented), nematodes (unsegmented), and platyhelminths (flatworms).

From the OED:

  1. In common usage: One of the lower animals; a brute or beast, as distinguished from man. (Often restricted by the uneducated to quadrupeds; and familiarly applied especially to such as are used by man, as a horse, ass, or dog.)

I’d suggest there’s a hell of a lot of doubt about that. I’ve never heard anyone refer to a yeast as an animal despite it being a non-plant organism.

Doesn’t this construction appear several times in the Bible? Things like Genesis 2:19: “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Is there a word in Hebrew which means “land animal distinct from birds” which was used in the original? If so, the construction “animals and birds” might be from translation of that Hebrew phrase.

On the contrary, I’ve heard a lot of people refer to yeast as an animal. I think I’d agree, but I’m old-days educated – there were only animals, plants, and fungi, so algea was a plant, and things like yeast and bacteria were animals.

On the other hand, when I think of yeast infection, I think fungus.

Alton Brown has uttered that yeast are animals.

Yeast are indisputably fungi. If there were only animals, plants, and fungi then yeast were still fungi.

And Paul McCartney has uttered that he is a walrus.

I was speaking of traditional usage. It’s only within recent decades that anyone would have considered a yeast as anything other than a plant. (That goes for fungi as well.)