Author’s note: Yeah, the second Brooklyn Nine-Nine blog post in two weeks. Well, what can I say? I’ve been binge watching the show lately…
What can you learn about birdwatching from Brooklyn Nine-Nine? Oh, lots.
I’ve always enjoyed watching birds, though in full transparency, I’m not a bird watcher. I like birds and appreciate them and buy birdseed to feed the birds, but I can’t tell a varied thrush from a spotted towhee or a wren from a finch from a flycatcher. My daughters are pretty enthusiastic birders, and my ex-wife is the sort of person who will travel hundreds of miles to see a snowy owl or a piping plover.
But a bird watching expert, I am not.
Well, until recently.
You see, as I’ve discovered while binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there’s a surprising amount of information about birds one can pick up from the series if (as usual) you dissect the episodes carefully.
So if you know nothing about birds, here it is – your very own Brooklyn Nine-Nine birding guide.
The Dutch Hookbill
How the bird is mentioned in Brooklyn Nine-Nine: If you’ve never heard of the Dutch Hookbill, well, Captain Raymond Holt could educate you. He’s the police captain of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine precinct, and along with being a perfectionist and detail-oriented and kind man, among many other qualities, he is an avid birdwatcher.
In the episode, “Coral Palms, Part 2,” Captain Holt and Jake Peralta are in a jam. Without getting deep into the weeds of the plot – but it’s an excellent episode, as they all are – a powerful mobster has taken a sheriff hostage and is after the two of them.
As Jake says, “This is bad. Figgis has the marshal, and now he knows where we are. We're sitting ducks. That's the worst kind of duck.”
“Tell that to the Dutch Hookbill,” Captain Holt says.
Why the Dutch Hookbill is the worst kind of duck: It has a beak that curves downward, as opposed to upward like every other duck. Which makes the Dutch Hookbill a pretty ugly duckling. Farmers in the Netherlands bred the Dutch Hookbill for their eggs, though at some point, people stopped eating the eggs, and by 1980, the breed almost went extinct.
They’ve made something of a comeback in recent years, though. On the plus side for the Dutch Hookbill, while people enjoy eating their eggs, hunters have never been very interested in going after them since these are domesticated, and not wild, ducks. So except in cases of natural causes, at least the Dutch Hookbill is rarely a dead duck.
How the bird is mentioned in Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In the 2020 episode, “Ransom,” Captain Holt’s beloved dog, Cheddar, is dognapped. Long story made shorter – when meeting with the dognapper, Jake ends up posing as Kevin, Captain Holt’s husband, who is also a birdwatcher. This leads to Jake having to know how to act like Kevin, which means Jake needs to try to learn something about birds. Or at least enough to pass as Kevin.
At one point, trying to show Jake how he acts, Kevin says, “Look, Raymond. A yellow crested warbler.”
Jake repeats the line.
“No, you’re too excited,” Holt says to Jake. “The warbler’s a common bird.”
Jake tries his Kevin impression again, and Holt groans, “Ugh. Not excited enough. They may be common, but they’re still birds.”
Eventually, though, Jakes gets it. “Yes!” Holt says. “That’s the right level of excitement for such a bird. You captured the essence of Kevin. You’ve done it.”
A little about the yellow warbler: Interestingly enough, there is no official yellow-crested warbler, according to my ex-wife, who is an expert birder. As am I, as noted, now that I've watched most of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes.
So Holt and Kevin got the yellow-crested warbler thing wrong? Well, yes, it looks like it, but you have to remember – Cheddar was dognapped. Kevin and Holt were as stressed and panicked as pet parents could possibly be. So Kevin naturally made an error, that Holt didn't pick up on, and referred to the yellow warbler as a yellow-crested warbler.
(Now, if these were fictional characters, I might put the blame on the scriptwriters credited for this episode -- Dan Goor, Michael Schur and Nick Perdue – but when I'm watching favorite TV shows, I like to assume I’m watching a documentary.)
As for yellow warblers, they’re small songbirds who spend their winters in Central America and northern South America and then breed and live the rest of the year in central and northern North America.
There are over 50 different kinds of warblers, but the yellow warbler is arguably the prettiest. They’re a little larger than the American goldfinch and about the size of a yellow-rumped warbler. Not that I would know a yellow-rumped warbler from a yellow warbler. I'm not that much of a birding expert yet, but after I watch a few more episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I'm sure that I will be.
In the episode, “Greg and Larry,” villain Bob Annderson – yes, that’s spelled right; he spells "Anderson" as "Annderson," with three N’s – takes Captain Holt hostage and leads him to the roof of a building.
Unfortunately for Bob Annderson, Jake interrupts his plans.
“Why are you on the roof?” Jake demands. And then he realizes what Annderson plans to do, or he thinks he does: “Oh, my God. You’re gonna zip-line off of this thing like an American ninja. That is such a cool escape plan.”
Actually, I was gonna throw Raymond over the side and make it look like a bird-watching accident,” Annderson says.
Jake is not impressed. “Oh, please, do you think anyone's gonna actually –"
“--It's genius,” Captain Holt interrupts. “There's a red-tailed hawk roost a block away, and I've got a pair of micro binoculars in my pocket, like a fool.
A little about the red-tailed hawk: These are beautiful birds, and they look just as their name would suggest. These are birds with a red tail, and otherwise, these hawks sport brown and white feathers.
You’ll often see them near fields, maybe on a fence or a telephone pole or in a tree. They can be found throughout North America, including New York City, and so it’s not surprising that Captain Holt knew that there was one living nearby.
In the episode, “Johnny and Dora,” Lieutenant Terry Jeffords and Gina Linetti, the precinct’s administrator, hope to sneak into the archives at the mayor’s office and snatch a file on Madeline Wuntch (long, but hilarious, story). It’s on the fourth floor, and first, they’ll have to get past the desk clerk, Wayne Tercell.
Gina happens to know that Wayne is an avid birdwatcher (I bet he would have known there is no such thing as a yellow-crested warbler; sorry, can’t let that go…), and she is going to use that to her advantage.
As Gina says to Terry, “I'll distract the file clerk. Apparently he's really into bird-watching, so talking to a woman should blow his mind. And talking to this woman? It could kill him.”
So Gina is soon engaged in a conversation with Wayne.
“Here, can you look at this map of a park and tell me where them hot birds hang out?” Gina asks.
Wayne, not all that into Gina but definitely happy to look at the map, says, “Well, you’re gonna want to, uh, avoid the, uh, great lawn, because it’s basically just grackles.”
“Ugh, grackles?” Gina asks, playing her part of interested bird watcher to the hilt.
“I hate grackles. They’re the worst,” Gina says.
A little about grackles: So are grackles really the worst? Well, you can find them throughout the country, and so many birders aren't too excited to see them.
Still, Wayne seems to like them. He tells Gina, “A lot of people think grackles are just a common bird up here, but you know what? On the west coast, they don’t get grackles.”
Not yet, but they are moving west, according to Audubon, so maybe give them time, Wayne.
You’ll find grackles on a lot of suburban lawns, looking for insects, and you may see them in big flocks flying overhead. They’ll also eat bird seed and berries, and you’ll find them at parks and in fields. They’re everywhere, which is why they’re called the “common grackle.”
And here’s a fun fact: If you ever see ants crawling all over a grackle, they are allowing that to happen, on purpose. Other birds do this, but grackles are known for it – the ants will discharge formic acid on the grackle, which kills off parasites and helps them remove dead feathers.
After Wayne educates Gina on grackles, and while Terry frantic looks for this file, Gina stalls for time and ask for more advice for a novice birder such as herself.
Wayne is happy to offer his insight. “So many people don't know the difference between an anhinga and a snake bird and a swamp hawk," he says. "A lot of people don't know they're all the same bird.”
A little about the anhinga, snake bird and swamp hawk: I am impressed with Wayne. I have never heard of an anhinga. I guess I need to get to the Everglades more, which is where you’ll find them. They have a long, thin neck, and a long, thin pointed bill and a long tail. I hear when they talk to other birds, they’re also long-winded, but that may be just a rumor from jealous birds.
Anyway, the anhinga will sometimes breed in saltwater but it feeds in freshwater, and, well, I could go on, but I don't want to show off all of my knowledge, and you’re probably anxious to learn about the crested woodpecker.
Wayne also mentions to Gina the crested woodpecker. I would have had a pretty short blog post without Wayne.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a real problem or blind spot with crested birds. It isn’t that there isn’t a such thing as a crested woodpecker, but Gina makes a bird sound, and Wayne thinks she sounds like a crested woodpecker. OK, fine, but which crested woodpecker was Wayne talking about? Did he mean the crimson-crested woodpecker? Or maybe the blond-crested woodpecker?
It’s almost as if throughout the series, the scriptwriters were more focused on getting the comedy right than the bird education.
A little about crested woodpeckers: The crimson-crested woodpecker is large and can be founded in Panama, parts of Argentina and on Trinidad. The blond-crested woodpecker is found in Brazil, southeastern Paraguay, and extreme northeastern Argentina. I’m betting Wayne is familiar with them because he went on some birding vacation or expedition at some point.
Wayne also mentions the black-crested titmouse (it takes Terry a long time to find that file). That said, once again, Wayne says, “the crested titmouse.” But he was referring to the black-crested titmouse. He had to have been. According to my vast knowledge -- well, all of my Googling -- there are no other crested titmouses. Titmice? Well, never mind.
A little about the black-crested titmouse: You’ll find these in Texas and northeastern Mexico (Wayne has been all over the globe, apparently, or he just reads up a lot on birds). You’ll often find the black-crested titmouse in oak trees and flying about towns. They often get confused with the tufted titmouse because they look alike. Yeah, I used to get those two birds mixed up all the time...
In the most recent episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (I won't say much in case you haven't seen it yet), corn crakes make their way into a plot. It's a pretty significant part of the episode, in fact. Jake and Terry are trying to get Captain Holt and his husband Kevin's relationship back on track; they've had a falling out.
So Jake devises "Operation Corn Crake," and he and Terry tell Holt and Kevin that some corn crakes have been spotted near their lake house, where the officers of Brooklyn's 99th precinct are getting some R&R.
Both Captain Holt and Kevin are pretty excited. Kevin says that the corn crake is "among the rarest species in the northeast."
Holt says that the corn crake is the "veritable holy grail in the birdwatching community."
A little about the corn crake: According to eBird, the corn crake is "extremely secretive" and mostly lives in wet grasslands, meadows and hayfields.
They have a distinctive song (and we get to hear Holt and Kevin do corn crake mating calls). The corn crake mostly live in Europe and some pockets are in Asia and Africa, but they do sometime show up in the United States. In 2017, for instance, a solitary corn crake was spotted on Long Island. The last time one had been seen in the area? 1963.
How angry is Kevin at Holt during their spat? Kevin tells Jake that Holt is "an adequate birdwatcher at best. He once confused a pileated woodpecker with a downy woodpecker.
A little about the pileated woodpecker: Pileated woodpeckers are big, almost the size of a crow, and beautiful. They have black and white stripes down its neck and a red crest. They enjoy ramming their beaks into dead trees and fallen logs, mostly searching for carpenter ants. You'll find them in New York, where Holt and Kevin live, but also throughout much of the east and south and parts of the west coast.
The downy woodpecker is smaller and with less red feathers but some on its head. Mostly black and white feathers. They are just about everywhere in the United States except the most southern and driest parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Well, here's a map at the All About Birds website, if you want to see.
Stray Brooklyn Nine-Nine birding observations
- Police detective Charles Boyle was once attacked by birds. He shared this tidbit with a local police officer who didn’t believe he worked for the NYPD. He told the cop that if he looked him up on the internet and typed in, “Brooklyn detective attacked birds,” the officer would find an article with a photo of Boyle being attacked. We never learn why birds attacked Boyle, however.
- The precinct sometimes will use birds as inspiration. When Gina decides she wants to leave the precinct (and unfortunately the actress Chelsea Peretti does leave the series), in order to pursue a new career, she tells Captain Holt, “A bird can never learn to fly if it doesn’t leave the nest.” Holt responds with: “The bird that leaves the nest too soon plummets to its death on the concrete below.”
- In season five, Jake accidentally and tragically kills a pigeon that has gotten into the precinct. He has an elaborate plan to catch the pigeon and safely take it outside. His Rube Goldberg type of scheme should have worked, but here’s a helpful hint – if you’re going to try and trap a bird, don’t use an electric fan that doesn’t have a protection shield on it.
- In the pigeon scene, we also learn that Lieutenant Terry Jeffords hates birds and is possibly scared of them.
Where you can watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine (at the time of this writing): Original episodes are running every Thursday evening for several more weeks on NBC, and then the series (sigh) ends. You can also watch the entire series on Hulu.com.
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