The Poets’ Birds ~ The Great Prairie Podfluffer

More rare than the Phoenix but as Texan as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Great Prairie Podfluffer appears in late summer or early fall, hidden among flocks of migrating grackles or brown-headed cowbirds. Always well camouflaged, it’s sometimes mistaken for an ordinary plant; you might notice its similarity to a dry and splitting Green Milkweed pod. Still, a closer look reveals its dark eye and sharp beak: both helpful for nabbing insects or the occasional field mouse.

Because of its rarity, Podfluffer poetry is in short supply; unlike the swallow or lark, few sing its praises. Had Emily Dickinson come across the creature, I’m sure she would have captured its spirit in her inimitable way, but only Lewis Carroll has left us a few lines to suggest he might have known the Podfluffer.  Enjoy Mr. Carroll’s “Little Birds” and judge for yourself.

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.
Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.
Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!
Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.
Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.
Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”
Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!
Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.
Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.
Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.


Comments always are welcome.

98 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds ~ The Great Prairie Podfluffer

    1. I think your tongue’s in your cheek, Pit. You surely recognize it as a horizontal milkweed pod. When I spotted it in the field, I laughed. It looked so much like a bird to me I thought, “Why not post this baby?”

    1. I added ‘pareidolia’ to the tags as another little clue. Pareidolia is the term for seeing familiar objects or patterns in otherwise random or unrelated objects, and I do it constantly. Seeing faces or patterns in the clouds probably is the most familiar example; another is seeing a man in the moon — or a rabbit, if you’re Japanese. When I saw this milkweed pod, my immediate thought was, “Bird!” I just wasn’t sure which species I’d make it!

    1. Isn’t ‘smirkling’ the best word ever? It was fun to see ‘oysters’ included, too — a reminder of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” I think Carroll would have liked this bird. After all, in “Jabberwocky” he warns us to:

      “Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

      I’ve always taken that advice quite seriously!

  1. HaHa, good one, Linda! I examined that photo carefully before reading the comments here and am pleased to see I’m not the only gullible reader! I’ve never heard of a podfluffer, but you introduce me to so many interesting critters that I wouldn’t be surprised if one should exist. And I’d never read Carroll’s poem before either, so win-win!!

    1. It’s true that this post’s quite different from what I usually do, but I just couldn’t help myself. There’s too little fun in the world these days, and when I saw this “bird,” I thought it was just too good not to share. After all, Hamlet was right; there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies — and who’s to say the Prairie Podfluffer isn’t one?

      Besides: the poem is as much fun as “Jabberwocky,” and “Jabberwocky” is one of the best poems ever.

  2. Thanks a lot, dear Linda. We had problem to recognize this bird. You need a lot of practise and train your eyes to see this bird. We like the text, well, we like nearly all Lewis Carroll’s texts.
    Wishing you a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley

    1. Lewis Carroll’s verse always makes me smile. He had, shall we say, a unique way of looking at the world, so it seemed to me that an imaginary bird and Carroll’s poem would be a perfect match. It’s true that learning to see this bird can take some time and effort, but after all: that’s just as true for many of the birds that show up in our field guides!

    1. Our expectations really can shape what we see, can’t they? To be honest, I’ve been a little surprised that everyone didn’t see the ‘bird’ immediately, but I’m one of those who sees everything from people to castles to cats in the clouds. I saw a ‘crab spider’ in some beach branches last weekend, and the friend who was with me gave me a look that clearly said, “This woman is crazy.”

    1. It took a while to come up with the name. If I’d been smart, I would have added a scientific name that included the specific epithet pareidolius, but I just didn’t think of it. What did occur to me was that this bird might be a distant cousin of a certain hill country roadrunner I know.

    1. Every once in a while I let the kid out to play. As Ray Wylie Hubbard says in the intro to one of his songs, “The problem with irony is, not everybody gets it.” The same can hold for humor — at least, for a minute or two!

  3. Terrific find for this rare creature! Many search an entire lifetime without catching a glimpse of one. I, myself, have only seen it once, deep within the Big Thicket of east Texas, late one night during a particularly vivid dream after consuming more than my fair share of possum chili.

    The Little Birds may hold the key to salvation.

    Mr. Carroll left us many collections of word gems. Among my favorite: “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”

    1. There are a lot of strange creatures in those deep east Texas woods, but not only there. Your mention of possum chili reminded me of Mr. Maxwell, whose Houston car wash at 43rd and Yale was raided in 2016. Customers could get their cars washed while browsing his collection of drugs and guns, do a little high-stakes gambling, and have a lunch of grilled or stewed raccoon meat. You can take the man out of the country, etc.

      I love that Carroll quotation. Given the way reality is going, we’re going to need a bit more imagination.

    1. Wouldn’t that be fun? If you had someone who could describe the podfluffer as well as the counselors at camp described the snipe, I suspect there are more than a few who’d take their gunny sack and head off to find one!

  4. Clever! And podfluffer is a great choice of name. Your description of “its dark eye and sharp beak” reminded me of a line from a different Lewis Carroll poem, “Jabberwocky”: “The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”

    1. This one was fun — and probably inevitable, once I spotted the ‘bird.’ I mentioned elsewhere that I might have made things a little easier if I’d included a scientific name that included pareidolius as the specific epithet — or maybe not.

      “Jabberwocky” is one of the first poems I memorized, and I still enjoy it. While reading a bit about Carroll, I learned something about him I didn’t know: “His mathematical writings include ‘An Elementary Treatise on Determinants’ (1867), ‘Euclid and His Modern Rivals’ (1879), and ‘Curiosa Mathematica’ (1888).”

    1. It’s a great poem, and unexpectedly funny in places. I love the verse about the bagpipes; I’ve known a few people who would pay to have bagpipes go away! They get hauled out for various festivities around here, and it’s fun to see people’s responses to them.

  5. Yes, GP. I was. The funny thing about “snipe hunting” is that there really is a snipe.

    Superb poem. Mr. Carroll was quite familiar with “wonder”. I was pretty sure I was looking at a milkweed pod after last Monday but my eyes are tired so wasn’t sure. I did do a Google search and all I came up with was fluffer and won’t go into what I found.

    1. Hey! There really are podfluffers, too! Well, there’s at least one. I don’t know what you found with your search, but if I separate the word from the imaginary creature, the first thing that comes to mind is your local treat: the fluffernutter. I still haven’t tried one of those, and I need to do it. I’ve got the peanut butter.

      1. Absolutely. My former employer, I now work for his daughter, liked them so much he named his dog Fluffer. It’s a great flavor combination and is a mystery to me why it isn’t our national sandwich. I had to cut down on them as I am diabetic and a sugarless fluff isn’t possible I don’t think. Not as good anyway.

    1. You’d better look more closely when the girls seem to be chasing something around the yard. They might be on the trail of a prairie podfluffer! As for the poem: that’s pure fun. We spend so much time trying to force everything in life to make sense, and then Carroll comes along and says, “Watch this!”

    1. I can’t help it; I’m a pareidoliac — someone given to seeing similarities in unrelated things. The man in the moon. (The Japanese see a rabbit.) Cats in the clouds. Faces in rocks. Birds in the middle of a prairie! There’s a fascinating article here about our tendency to see ‘faces’ in various natural phenomena. The author didn’t mention the Prairie Podfluffer, though.

  6. Oh, Linda, you got me. I didn’t even believe it was not a bird until I read several comments. The first ones I thought were playing along with you. If this is just a milkweed pod, how does it have a long brown neck? Besides podfluffer is a bird name. Okay, I’m smiling along with you. Terrifically fun post. I like Carroll but I would never be able to read this aloud. I love the rhyme but can’t get with the rhythm. By the way, if this were in water, I would think it is a spike-tailed mudpuffer.

    1. I love ‘spike-tailed mudpuffer’ — that’s just terrific. That ‘neck’ you see is another pod. The one that looks to me like a bird is actually sticking out horizontally from the plant, which the ‘neck’ pod is hanging down like most of them do. I didn’t see that hanging-down part like a neck; it looked to me like the wattle of a turkey. Imagination’s a wonderful thing!

      I thought long and hard about what this one’s name should be. The fact that you thought ‘prairie podfluffer’ is a bird’s name is all the proof I need that I found a good one!

    1. I had both a dad and an uncle who were more than happy to pull my leg, whether or not I was wearing bells. I’m not as inclined toward leg-pulling, but I just couldn’t resist with this one. I did try to come up with a scientific name, but failed. Now, I know that the specific epithet should be pareidolius, but I haven’t come up with a genus yet. Maybe someone else will come along with the right one.

      1. I’d vote for “Pareidolius avium.” that said, though, I’d rather be joshed in English than in Spanish. In English, they pull your leg. In Spanish, they pull your hair!. But, then again, in French, they roll you in flour. . .

    1. Your comment made me laugh, Lisa, and it made me happy. We don’t have to always see the “same old things” in the “same old way.” Thank goodness for these quirky little visions that bring a smile!

  7. Hehe, good one! You had me puzzled for a bit! Prairie Podfluffer is a brilliant name…makes me think it would be fun to make up names for real or imaginary birds… :) I laughed aloud at
    ‘Letterpress, when toasted
    Loses its good looks.’

    1. I can see the map now: just like the old ones that said, “Here there be dragons.” I’d expect Podfluffers to range up into your part of the country, being prairie birds and all!

    1. I figured even if my Podfluffer didn’t amuse anyone else, it amused me, and that made it worth posting. On the other hand, another commenter added this, from Lewis Carroll: “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” The way things have been going, I think wielding the weapon of imagination isn’t the worst thing we could do.

      1. Imagination is refreshing to me. I have a novel in my head that continues each night before bed. If I don’t like the path it’s taking I change it. And I suppose I’m a favorite auntie and great auntie because I still have that imagination on hikes with the kids. I hope we never lose our ability to create stories and adventure. :)

        1. You’re right in the tradition of Carroll, then. Many (or most) of his best stories and silly poems were written for children he knew and spent time with. Story-telling beats screen time every time.

  8. Great Prairie Podfluffer is a first rate moniker. We play this game sometimes, ascribing bird names to other objects and some can be quite funny, clever even. Then there are those I wouldn’t want to repeat on your blog!

    1. It tickles me that you enjoyed the Podfluffer’s name, David. When I took a look at the Wiki entry for mythical birds, I was astonished by their number, and the creativity of the names various cultures have given them. Given your sharp wit, I can imagine that you’ve come up with a few good names yourself, and probably given Miriam and your birding friends a good laugh or two.

    1. No need to be ashamed. After all, there aren’t many people who’ve seen a Great Prairie Podfluffer; the number is exactly equivalent to the number of people who’ve laid eyes on this post. Think of it as a chance to exercise your imagination muscle. Like all muscles, it can atrophy if it isn’t used!

    1. When I found the bird and still was trying to figure out how to introduce it, I wasn’t sure I could find an appropriate poem. Once I remembered Jabberwocky, it didn’t take long at all to find the the esteemed Mr. Carroll had given us just the right words. I hadn’t thought about it until this minute, but the Podfluffer might have made a good “September bird” for Kate’s calendar.

  9. I must admit to studying the Podfluffer photo intensely, quite unable to discern a bird. Thinking of the infamous snipe hunts I thought I might get cute writing here and mention spotting a snipe in the shadows. Then I decided that perhaps I should search snipe just to be sure there was no such creature. Well-l-l, I discovered there is a snipe bird, which you, no doubt, would have delighted in pointing out to me.

    1. As it happens, another commenter mentioned the snipe, wondering if podfluffer hunts might begin to rival snipe hunts. The experience of being fooled in my youth by older campers who sent me off into the woods in search of snipe might have predisposed me to try a little ‘fooling’ of my own! I will say that it took decades after those snipe hunts for me to discover that actual snipes exist. I’m fairly sure I’ll never bump into an actual podfluffer, but who knows? In the meantime, this one at least offers a chuckle.

  10. I thought I’d commented here Friday. I guess not. Work has been crazy and my brain is about frozen.

    That is the coolest photo. At that angle, it does look like an odd bird, posing to blend in with it’s surroundings. Rather like bitterns do in a patch of reeds.

    1. I’ve seen only three bitterns in my life, but as soon as you drew that comparison, it made sense. Bitterns like to stretch out their necks, and it seems as though the podfluffer does, too. Of course, some might suggest that the bird isn’t the only odd thing around here!

    1. That’s wonderful! It never occurred to me to do a search for ‘podfluffer’ — what a cool idea. It’s even cooler that this really is a rare bird — Google says so, and if Google says so, it must be so! (Right?)

  11. Love this. Interesting connection about Carrol between mathematic and poetry: it’s like in the music, it’s about finding a natural rhythm! Love this piece:

    “Little Birds are writing
    Interesting books,
    To be read by cooks:
    Read, I say, not roasted –
    Letterpress, when toasted,
    Loses its good looks.”

    It makes me smile :-)

    1. That verse you quoted is one of my favorites from the poem; it always makes me smile, too. The math/poetry/music connections are interesting. I well remember my first music theory class, and my shock and discovering that math was going to be involved!

  12. I’d asked Uncle Google upon reading this last week and had come up empty. That’s when I realized you’d sent us off on a snipe hunt! LOL

    1. I know. It was bad: which is to say it was good, and a great deal of fun. When I did my own Googling, I found this post in several feeds, including a blog called called Jer’s Place. I did some snooping and finally found his current blog; it’s the same sebastianjer from WU/ His name’s Jerry Brown, he’s a carpenter,and he lives in SC. I don’t think I knew that at the time, but you might remember him.

      1. Yes, it was fun!

        sebastianjer…. I do remember him. If I knew he was from SC, I’d forgotten. I’ll have to do some snooping of my own!

  13. I appreciate learning about a new bird to me. Being a native of Montana, our state bird was the Western Meadowlark, who always migrates south when summer ends. The Great Prairie Podfluffer might remain hidden in its natural camouflage, but Lewis’ poem calls it out. The poem is different in style which adds to its appeal.

    1. I know the sound of duck and goose calls, but I’m unsure about the sound of the podfluffer. For some reason, I imagine a raspy voice! Wouldn’t it have been fun to hear Carroll read his poems aloud? I imagine he got quite a kick out of them.

      Lucky you, to have the meadowlark as your state bird. The Western Meadowlark is more common in Texas’s Panhandle, while we’re more likely to see the Eastern in my area, but the songs of both are delightful.

  14. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s a frumious bandersnatch, aka a milkweed pod. I went to visit a big milkweed patch this past weekend, more pods in one place than anywhere else I know, many fluffing up. Thanks for the poem!

    1. It’s evidence of Carroll’s staying power that ‘Frumious Bandersnatch’ was the name of a psychedelic rock band in the ’60s. Of course they formed in Berkeley. Some of the group went on to play with the Steve Miller Band, so they had talent.

      I’ve not seen many of these green milkweeds this year. It could be a result of the freeze, or flooding, or untimely mowing. Sometimes one is enough, as this gem proves! Which species did you find? There are so many. Even here in Texas there are more than thirty: amazing.

      1. As a teenager, I saw the Steve Miller band at a concert in the college town I lived in. One of the first concerts I went to, but I wasn’t aware of the Frumious Bandersnatch band. The milkweed field was all A. syriaca, common milkweed, hundreds of pods.

        1. I don’t feel quite so bad about never having seen your A. syriaca. I found this note in my go-to guide for milkweed identification: “There is only one record of Asclepias syriaca in Texas, which is in Randall County. This record lacks habitat or location data and at present is not documented by a voucher specimen. *Note: Please notify us via email if you document a population of this milkweed in Texas.”

          Guess I’ll have to enjoy your photos of this one!

    1. Sometimes, there’s nothing for it but to have a little fun! I had great fun coming up with the name, and really enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the poem. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

    1. Isn’t he a hoot? To be honest, I wasn’t certain anyone else would see him as I did, but I couldn’t resist posting his photo. There’s just the slightest — the very slightest! — resemblance to Peanut!

  15. Your attentive eyes see and your camera captures beautifully the most wonderful imagery, Linda. Your imagination captures all our imaginations! Lovely poem, and extraordinary ‘bird’ lol!

    1. Isn’t that just the funniest thing ever? Faces in rocks and bunnies in clouds are fairly common ‘visions,’ but an imaginary milkweed bird just had to be shared. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and that silly poem, too.

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