Looking Back at the Magical, Drinking Birds — Did You Have One?
It is weird how you remember some of the most obscure things from your childhood...
Whenever I went to visit my grandparents, I always remember seeing one of the magical, drinking birds on top of their refrigerator. As we sat around the kitchen table having a discussion, my eyes would continually drift over to see if that bird was still drinking his water -- he was!
Did someone in your family have one of these things? They were very popular in the 70s and 80s.
Is the Drinking Bird a Toy?
This was one of those things that was classified as a "toy" when we were young, although it was quite dangerous. The bird was made up of two glass bulbs joined by a glass tube (the bird's neck). The space inside the bird contained a liquid, usually dichloromethane. The upper bulb had the bird's "beak" which was covered in a felt-like material, that would be dipped in water.
My grandparents kept this thing out of reach. The bird could become quite hazardous if the thing fell on the floor and the glass shattered. Also, early models were often filled with highly flammable substances. Dichloromethane can also irritate the skin on contact and the lungs if inhaled. It was also considered to be hazardous to people with heart, liver, or nervous system conditions and is also a suspected carcinogen. Gee, what a great toy to buy your kids!
How did the Drinking Bird Work?
Here is the scientific explanation of how it works:
- Once the bird's beak and head were dipped in water, the water would start to evaporate.
- The evaporation process lowered the temperature of the glass head which caused some of the dichloromethane vapor in the head to condense.
- The lower temperature and condensation together cause the pressure to drop in the bird's head.
- The higher pressure in the warmer base of the bird pushed the liquid up the neck.
- As the liquid moved upwards, the bird becomes top heavy and tipped over -- with its beak once again dipping itself in the water. This would start the process all over again.
Or, as my grandfather once explained it..."The bird is just really thirsty!"
The Drinking Bird was a TV and Movie Star!
These birds have also been featured in many TV shows and movies...
In The Simpsons episode "King-Size Homer", Homer used one to repeatedly press a key on a computer keyboard.
Two of them were used in the 1990 film "Darkman" to set off explosions. Drinking birds have appeared as part of a Rube Goldberg machine in the film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and the "Family Guy" episode "8 Simple Rules for Buying My Teenage Daughter". In season four of comedy-series "Arrested Development", a delusional character heard the voice of God speaking through a drinking bird. Drinking birds also made minor appearances during mission briefings in two episodes of TV's original "Mission: Impossible", the 1979 science fiction film "Alien", the 1989 comedy "When Harry Met Sally". See, I told you they were popular!
I don't know what happened to that glass bird that was perched for years atop of Grandpa's fridge. I just happened to do a search for one a few months back...and they still exist!
I decided to relive a part of my childhood and ordered one. I found several for under $10 on Amazon.com.
If you don't feel like ordering one, but would like to watch one for hours...Here is a 10 hour long video of a drinking bird...
Go ahead and click that play button...you know you want to! Just put that up on your computer screen at the office for awhile!
SEE: 30 Toys That Defined the '70s
KEEP READING: Check out these totally awesome '80s toys