By Painting Their Markings, This Scientist Disrupted Birds’ Social Structure

A few lines of black paint was all it took to destroy these Pūkekos’ social standing

Pukeko bird
Courtesy of Flickr user Sally

Remember the Sneetches?, our Dr. Seuss said:

“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.”

And the plain-bellied Sneetches, with one Sylvester McMonkey McBean,
painted stars on their bellies, to gain social esteem.

Now, there are species like Sneetches, but in very real places.
Pūkekos get status from shields on their faces.

On their foreheads emblazoned are bright shields of red.
The shields’ size affects everything—access to food, sharing of beds.

But like a mean Mr. McBean, Cody Dey had a plan.
With his big brush of black, he caught those birds and began.

Dey painted some, but he did not paint all.
He shrank some shields and some statuses, three sizes too small.

But while Dr. Seuss' creatures learned that “Sneetches are Sneetches,”
the Pūkekos had trouble with Mr. Dey’s breaches.

Pūkekos’ shields can change size, a display of their might.
But by painting them down, Dey’d sealed their fates tight.

The painted Pūkekos never recovered their status;
their shields, shrunk for good, were now considered the saddest.


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