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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Eclipse Birds
'Hey! Put her down!' 'No, it's ok! The next chance for me to be carried to a blood cauldron isn't until 2024!'
Title text: 'Hey! Put her down!' 'No, it's ok! The next chance for me to be carried to a blood cauldron isn't until 2024!'

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: More on birds/animals behavior during this 2017 eclipse. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This comic is the fourth consecutive comic with a solar eclipse as the topic. This comic was released in the morning on Monday, August 21, 2017, when later a total solar eclipse was visible within a band across the contiguous United States from west to east. The other comics are 1876: Eclipse Searches. 1877: Eclipse Science, and 1878: Earth Orbital Diagram.

During an eclipse birds and other animals show a typical behavior like they do in the case of the darkness in the night and a following sunrise. Birds stop singing during totality, then greet the return of the sun with a "dawn chorus". Owls, however, become active as do mosquitoes. But it's not easy to find studies about this behavior because the main focus lies mostly on the eclipse itself. And total solar eclipses are rare -- roughly every 18 months and then mostly not in the same region of this world. A nice article can be found here: Effects of the 2001 total solar eclipse on African wildlife. Hippos were so confused that their daily routine even on the next day was not back to normal. Baboons stopped feeding and a sun squirrel that fed in the afternoons didn't so, while other mammals like crocodiles, zebras, or lions were not affected. Butterflies settled and did not restart flying, mosquitoes appeared and settled before reappearing in the evening. Also bees moved into a hive and didn't came out until the next morning.

After the 2017 eclipse NASA published some highlights. A video presents chirping crickets in Jefferson City, Missouri. The California Academy of Sciences supports a citizen science project about life responds.

In this comic, Cueball tells Megan that this will happen. However, instead of just cheeping and screeching in a different pattern than birds actually do during an eclipse, in the comic, the birds begin to prepare to make a sacrifice to appease their gods, similar to how ancient cultures like the Aztecs, are said to have acted. Megan remains strangely nonchalant, offering only an clichéd admiration of nature as the birds around her use fluent English to set up a sacrificial ritual.

In the title text, it turns out that the birds are about to sacrifice Megan, and Cueball tells them to stop. But Megan tells him it is OK as she wants to try experience of being carried to a blood cauldron as she won't get another chance until the next eclipse in the US on 8th of April, 2024. (A small region around Carbondale, Illinois will experience two total eclipses in 7 years).

Transcript

[Cueball and Megan standing together looking to the right.]
Cueball: I heard that during an eclipse the birds all freak out.
Megan: I guess we'll see!
[Beat panel, the white background sky turns at the top slightly darker.]
[As the sky turns to dusk sounds can be heard. It's written above Cueball and Megan inside squiggly bubbles.]
Chirp Chirp!
Chirp!
Peep peep peep!
Squawk!
[The sky is now nearly dark, more at the top of the panel. The sounds continue, written in similar bubbles.]
Chirp!
Clank clank clank
The time is upon us!
Peep!
Kachunk
Prepare the blood cauldron!
Cueball: Wow.
Megan: Isn't nature amazing?


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