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Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive


Intriguing finds from Scientific American's past
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Curious Photos from the Archive: A Hungry Little Bird Gets Stuck in a Breakfast Roll

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Since today is Friday the 13th, I’d like to share with you an unlucky situation I came across in the Scientific American archive. When I first saw this photograph from the December 15, 1917, issue, I had a very hard time figuring out what I was looking at.

Bird stuck in bread

First, I thought it was a petrified human heart or maybe a rotten red pepper. Then, I finally recognized the head of a bird sticking out of whatever that rock-like mound was supposed to be. Of course, I could have just read the caption, “A sparrow stuck in a breakfast roll” and saved myself some guesswork.

The accompanying article states that birds tend to be voracious eaters, often taking in twice their body weight in order to fuel their very high energy levels. Rarely do you see scraps of bread on the ground that aren’t pecked at by a few birds, but this sparrow seemed to have more than pecking in mind.

“It will be observed that this sparrow has eaten his way clear through a large breakfast roll, and out on the other side, only to find at the last moment, when his voracious bill has demolished everything within reach, that he is stuck in a straightjacket of his own making.” The article suggests that if one were to take a moral stance, this would appear to be a “just reward of gluttony.” I believe it was just an honest mistake. If I were presented with a chocolate cake larger than myself, I can’t deny the possibility that I would end up trapped inside after a short period of time.

The lesson to take away from this bird’s accident: If you want to leave scraps for birds, try and make them smaller than the actual birds that may feed on them. If you do see a bird trapped in bread, don’t scold him by saying, “I told you all those carbs were going right to your hips.” Instead, help the little guy out so he can immediately began working off those surplus calories.

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  1. 1. SpiralPup 2:11 pm 05/13/2011

    I once found an unfortunately dead gold finch stuck inside of a pomegranate in my yard. It had been a cold winter, and I had no idea how long he’d been in there. The pom had been hanging on the tree the entire winter, and he must have clambered inside to get the last few morsels and gotten wedged. It was very sad.

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  2. 2. biodan23 12:25 pm 05/15/2011

    The same thing happened to me with a stack of pancakes. Luckily I was with friends at the time.

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  3. 3. deltaclinical@gmail.com 5:19 pm 05/16/2011

    I am shocked –SHOCKED! — that Scientific American would print such a false and misleading explanation for the photo of the bird "stuck in a breakfast roll" in the December 15, 1917 issue.

    It is obvious that the bird is not stuck, but merely snuggling in the roll. He (or she) had only to stand up, and could have then then flown — or waddled — away. I certainly hope that the captions for your photos have been more honest and less misleading in the last 94 years since this picture was taken. Shame on SciAm for perpetrating a scam like this at a time when our Brave Boys were Fighting for Our Freedom in France, in a war that would end all wars. Or might have anyway, except for a few mistakes made here and there from 1918 to 1939.

    I would hate to think that this photo marked the beginning of the end for Scientific Credibility. How are you going to get people to believe in Evolution, Global Warming and Entropy if you go around telling them whoppers about birds getting stuck in breakfast rolls?

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  4. 4. JRWermuth 12:19 pm 05/17/2011

    How sad, deltaclinical@gmail.com has obviously been imbibing a bit too much before commenting.

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  5. 5. deltaclinical@gmail.com 3:42 pm 05/17/2011

    How sad; JRWermuth is evidently humor impaired. As it happens, I do not drink alcohol, but I do have a sense of humor. Maybe JR should take a drink or two before reading these comments. It might alleviate his grumpiness. Also, JR, please look up the definition of "satire", watch Jon Stewart, and a few re-runs of Monty Python. Thank you.

    And, biodan23, it’s a good thing you were dealing with pancakes. Had it been waffles, even your friends could not have saved you. Please be more cautious in the future. And use less syrup.

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  6. 6. Wayne Williamson 6:07 pm 05/19/2011

    cool photo…took me awhile to see the bird….

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  7. 7. SDCripps 4:00 pm 05/20/2011

    am I the only one that saw this and thought "now thats just adorable!"…?

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  8. 8. geopelia 9:32 am 05/25/2011

    I’ve seen two pigeons that had eaten the inside of a slice of bread and ended up with the crust round their wings and bodies.
    It looked very funny, but they were strong enough to break out.

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