Eats Like a Bird

Of all the inapt similes in common usage, “eats like a bird” is perhaps the most backwards. (“Could care less” is just mistaken English, and “smokes like a chimney” is sometimes right on and sometimes not, depending on what one is actually trying to say.) Trying to be pointedly descriptive, many of us employ “eats like a bird” as widely understood code for “hardly touches his food” or “consumes tiny amounts, much less than, say, a hippo or Guernsey cow.”

Expressed in pure volume terms — i.e., the amount of food measured by weight — birds do in fact eat less than, say, dogs. But in terms of proportion — i.e., the ratio of food to body mass — birds might be the world champions. Hummingbirds, for instance, eat close to their body weight every day, and spend the majority of their waking hours gorging. Imagine a human being who ate 150 lbs. of pizza every day, for 16 hours in a row.

Smaller animals have faster metabolisms, but even larger birds consume astonishing amounts of food. The seed feeders in my back yard get replenished every Saturday morning. By Sunday afternoon they’re usually almost empty. The birds in my neighborhood might have some sort of avian eating disorder — they’re about the plumpest finches and doves you’ve ever seen, and I sometimes fear they’ll eventually grow so rotund they won’t be able to take to flight and will crash to the lawn with an unceremonious thump. Even if the winged creatures of Hollywood are on the gluttonous end of the feeding spectrum, their slimmer brethren, if given the opportunity, would probably devour as much seed.

Whenever I hear someone say, “she eats like a bird,” I picture a woman with a fork in one hand, a spoon in the other, and a large bib draped around her bust to catch the excess bits thrown off by her constantly masticating jaws. Based on the behavior of the birds around my home, eating like one of them is a fine way to become obese.

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