Why do people say

Marvin Gaye sings about “animals and birds” in “What’s Goin’ On,” and I’ve actually had someone say to me, “Birds aren’t animals – they’re birds.” I looked at him for a moment and said, “You’re trying to tell me that birds aren’t in the kingdom animalia? What are they then – vegetables or minerals?” He finally saw my point. Why do people have this strange view of the world? Are they just confusing the words “animal” and “mammal,” or is there some reason for this confusion?


My guess would be that “animals and birds” fit Mr. Gaye’s preferred rhythm for the song. I’m not too familiar with the song, but he probably needed five syllables, not the mere one syllable he’d get from just saying “birds.”

As for the person who said that birds aren’t animals, well, I have no theory on that one; perhaps that person hears “animals” and thinks dogs, cats, horses, etc., rather than birds. I find it hard to believe that he didn’t consider birds to be animals.

Being a zoologist by education I have sometimes noticed the same thing. Birds, Bats, and Dolphins seem to confuse people for some reason. That mammals can live in the oceans or fly in the air is something people don’t normally think about. Birds not being animals? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that birds may be related to Dinosaurs and are therefore closer to reptiles than mammals… but they are certainly animals.

Richard Dawkins quoted a court case in one of his books where a “cruelty to animals” injunction brought against a resturaunt owner for conducting the usual practice of boiling lobsters live resulted in an acquital because lobsters were “insects, not animals”, an amazing number of misconceptions to express in 3 words. Like it or not, popular taxonomy isn’t very precise. Popular use of the word “animal” is likely to mean it’s a vertebrate with fur. And as for the jury, maybe they sympathised with Steve McQueen’s character in “Tom Horn”: “That’s the biggest bug I ever et”.


Until a couple of years ago, my wife worked at a small, independent book store. She told me that some of her fellow employees got into exactly the same discussion one day, with several of them, including the store’s owner, making exactly the same statement (“Birds aren’t animals – they’re birds”).

My wife was flabbergasted by this, because each of these individuals is reasonably intelligent and certainly well-read. Her attempts at reasoning with them were more or less futile. At most, they said “Well, you’re just being picky.” Huh???

The answer to this quandary is very simple. **CRITTERS/b].
The term covers all, mammals, insects, birds and aliens.

My fifth-grade teacher ridiculed me for saying that a turkey is an animal. “It’s a bird,” she insisted.
What’s worse, my sixth-grade teacher ridiculed me for saying that people are animals.

I have also heard of people insisting that birds are birds, not animals, and I believe I know where the confusion lies. It comes from a fuzzy memory of what we learned in elementary school. In 4th or 5th grade, we are taught the different classifications of living creatures (plant/animal, vertebrate,invertebrate, etc.)

What these people really mean, but are remembering incorrectly, is that birds are not MAMMALS. Birds are in a classification seperate from mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. This is a difficult concept for 10 year olds to grasp because they think birds are warm blooded and should be called mammals. Actually, birds are more closely related to lizards, but it is tough to convince a kid that because birds are cute and lizards are icky. Somehow, in the attempt to impress upon young kids the seperation of birds from other creatures, they confuse it to mean that birds are not animals. They certainly are, though a different type of animal than all others.

I think you meant “Mercy, Mercy Me.”

It doesn’t help that the dictionary supports four different definitions that group life forms:
[li]members of Kingdom Animalia[/li][li]sometimes 1) above and protozoa[/li][li]any such living thing in 1) and/or 2) above except for humans[/li][li]mammals, i.e., excluding birds, fish, etc.[/li][/list=1]

This kinda parallels the definition of “meat”. I always though meat was the flesh of an animal (def 1). Then I had friends that said fish flesh was not meat because they (Catholics) could eat it on Fridays. Being as this was before I had my confirmation class in the Methodist church (and learning of other churches), I asked what the BFD was about eating meat on Friday. Just got a lot of rolling eyeballs; “You just don’t eat meat on Fridays!”

I was raised Catholic in an era when meatless Fridays were still the rule. The official definition said that meat was “the flesh of a warm-blooded animal”, which allowed you to eat fish, but not chicken, for instance. It was simply supposed to be a small sacrifice you made every Friday, but, as with most religious rules, the letter was followed rather than the spirit by most people. You couldn’t eat a hot dog, but you COULD have a lobster dinner, and fancy seafood resturaunts in predominantly Catholic areas did an enormous business on Friday nights.

… small children…