Imagine sitting down with your family in November to watch the classic Peanuts television special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. After enjoying the antics of Snoopy making a Thanksgiving dinner of toast, pretzels, popcorn, and jelly beans for all the neighborhood kids who rudely invite themselves over to Charlie Brown’s place, you find yourself horrified at the final scene: Snoopy’s little yellow buddy Woodstock stuffs himself on turkey.
To this day, this scene shocks viewers, with some accusing Woodstock of engaging in cannibalism. He seemed like such a nice bird.
Since we love a good Thanksgiving feast, and we love the Peanuts characters, this got us thinking: Is Woodstock really a cannibal?
The Answer: Not at all. And in the end, humans are worse.
In spite of being accused by Jeff Winger of sounding like the Jim Belushi of speech openings, let’s start by looking at the actual definition of “cannibal.” According to Webster’s dictionary, cannibalism is “the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.”
Cannibalism is most often defined in terms of human consumption, but the lesser and more general definition is eating the meat of something that is the “same.” Since animal tend to eat other animals, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s define cannibalism as one animal eating another animal of the same species. That should be “same” enough for this article.
Keeping this definition in mind, Woodstock is in the clear. While no one really knows what type of bird Woodstock is (because Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz wisely left his species undefined in the comic strip), he appears to be canary-like. One thing is for certain: he definitely isn’t a turkey. From a biological classification standpoint, turkeys and canaries (or other similar small yellow finch-like birds) are in the same class (Aves), but they differentiate below that. Turkeys are in the order Galliformes, family Meleagridinae, genus Meleagris and species M. gallopavo. Canaries (for lack of a better example) are also in the class Aves. However, they are in the order Passeriformes, family Fringillidae, genus Serinus, and species S. canaria.
They’re not even close to the same species, and therefore, Woodstock is not a cannibal.
But they’re both birds!
Sure they are. Cows, pigs, and goats are all mammals, and people eat those animals all the time without concerned parents pitching a fit. We are all in the class Mammalia, but we differentiate below that level. Just because an animal has wings and feathers does not make it the same species. While smaller birds like the domesticated canary will subsist on a diet of seeds and pellets, they can be fed meat and other human food, as long as it’s healthy as canaries are prone to obesity in captivity. It’s all protein at this point.
In fact, there are birds that make a habit of dining other birds. The red-shouldered hawk will attack pigeons and blue jays. Smaller birds make up almost a third of the diet of the noble bald eagle. The peregrine falcon makes its diet almost entirely of smaller birds.
Perhaps the most disturbing of these examples is the secretary bird, which will not just eat other fine feathered friends, but will hunt down eggs in the nest of these birds and devour them.
Horrifying. There’s your real avian cannibal.
Woodstock’s diet is nothing compared to that of humans
From a biological classification standpoint, human beings are just as bad, if not worse. While many Americans’ meat diet consists of beef, pork, and poultry, there are plenty of people across the globe who eat other forms of meat. In particular, bushmeat (a general term for a mixture of meat from wild animals sold in Africa and Asia) often contains meat from monkeys and even endangered great apes. More over, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Faces of Death series got it right as well. Monkey brains are a delicacy in some areas of the world.
Monkeys are in the class Primates, which is the same class as human beings. The great apes are even closer, sharing the family Hominidae with humans. In this respect, butchering and consuming the meat of closer species like this is especially dangerous because of disease transmission. Scientists believe that HIV jumped from monkeys to humans during the butchering of bushmeat. There’s a constant danger of other disease, like ebola, making a similar leap.
So Woodstock eating a couple slices of turkey breast is the least of our worries.