If reading this header you think of Gary Larson, your thinking is not unlike mine. However, this is not what this post is about (though you could do worse than to search for the Larson cartoon “Stupid birds” online). Instead, I want to talk about those bird species that look like being drawn by a talented cartoonist even when in fact it is just me having taken a photograph. Scientifically, of course, they all belong to the extended family of Larsonidae.

As for an exact definition of a cartoon bird, I am afraid I have to use the old line once used to define pornography – “I know it when I see it” …

Cartoon birds have a wide geographical range – even wider than the examples shown here. Apparently, there is a definite ecological niche for these birds in many different habitats.

Take for example this Tawny Frogmouth, an Australian cartoon bird if there ever was one.

Or the Pied Currawong – a slightly more sinister type of cartoon bird, kind of “cartoon bird meets shifty second-hand car dealer”.

Unfortunately, I have not done much birding in the Americas yet. I am sure there are more Larsonidae there than just Tufted Titmouse. It is even a bit doubtful whether the titmouse is a true Larsonidae – ongoing genetic research may result in the species being reassigned to the separate family of cute birds instead (Adorabilae).

In Africa, Larsonidae are represented by the African Penguin.

In Europe, further research into Larsonidae is necessary before any conclusive statements can be made. A likely family member is the Eurasian Wren, given the absurdly short tail and the plumb body, both typical hints of a design by a cartoonist rather than a creator-god.

Finally, in my current home continent of Asia, specifically in China’s Yunnan province, broadbills are another example of the adaptability of Larsonidae to different habitats. This applies to both Long-tailed Broadbills

… And Silver-breasted Broadbills.

On China’s Tibetan plateau, evolution has changed the shape of the local Larsonidae into that of the Ground Tit, a Larsonidae well adapted to living on high-altitude grasslands. Mostly by hopping around in a rather funny and endearing way.

Finally, even closer to my home in Shanghai, we have Saunders’s Gull

… And of course the Reed Parrotbill.

But no post on cartoon birds would be complete without an owl – a Northern Boobook, to be precise.

By the way, if you think the drawings in this post were made by me, you far overestimate my artistic abilities. They were made by Wang Jing. Thanks to her.

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Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for the last 18 years and only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.