1792: Bird/Plane/Superman

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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You can apply special translucent films to your windows to help keep birds/Superman from accidentally flying into them.
Title text: You can apply special translucent films to your windows to help keep birds/Superman from accidentally flying into them.


This comic is a logical comparison of observations to resolve the classic Superman catchphrase of comic book bystanders: "Look, up in the sky... It's a bird!... It's a plane!... It's Superman!", hence the title. Superman, a character originally created for comic books in the 1930's, is an alien with superpowers, including the power of unaided flight; hence the catchphrase exclaiming peoples' amazement.

At the correct distance both birds, planes and the fictive Superman could be mistaken for each other. So this comic aims to help people identify the airborne object by listing on which properties they are alike and on which they are different. This problem was also mentioned in the title text of 1633: Possible Undiscovered Planets, putting Superman near the bird/plane boundary explaining why all this confusion has arisen.

The observations compared range from the mundane to the bizarre and they are listed and explained i details below in the table. Here some highlights are mentioned, but for all these there are much more detail below.

Some of the mundane observations are that birds do fly around with people, while Superman can do it, and planes are meant for it; and that the latter two are new "inventions", whereas birds have flown around for millions of years.

Interestingly enough there are actually two observations that have check mark for all three; the first being that there are enthusiasts for all three different flying objects. And these will obsess over small color details in otherwise similar looking objects. The other common thing is that they all may have sex in midair. It is, however, a misconception that birds have sex in midair. The possibility of that happening for the others two are discussed in the table.

Three observations only counts for birds, where all those that do not count for birds do count for both planes and superman. Two of these relates to the fact that birds are eaten by cats and humans, the last is that birds flap their wings to fly, the others have other means of flight. There are observations that rules out only planes or only superman, but none that rules out only one of them at the same time as birds are ruled out.

There are also three direct jokes towards the bottom. The first is that David Attenborough may also have observed Superman's mating habits just like he has with birds in the documentary series The Life of Birds. The second is that not only birds poop in flight, but that Superman could and would also do so. And the third (and also final observation) is that not only birds chase insects to eat them, but also Superman chase them... though only when he is bored. These last three observations have that in common that the planes are left out of all of them, and the joke is always on Superman. As it has been before in 1384: Krypton and 1394: Superm*n (released just ten comics apart).

The title text refers to black stickers (decals) in the shape of an easily recognizable predatory bird, like falcons to enhance the visibility of clear glass windows or doors and scare smaller birds away before they crash into the window. This may actually not work very well according to this article: Why Birds Hit Windows, where a falcon decal is also shown. But they are meant to warn birds away and according to this comic they could also prevent Superman from flying through your window (and thus also stop him from possibly just continue through the building). They are not known to affect the risk of airplanes flying into the building.


Bird Plane Superman Explanation
Carries people Some birds are capable of flying of while carrying a small human away, but this happens extremely rarely (although hoax stories are often reported). Of course an Ostrich can easily carry a human they have done so often in arranged races. But as they cannot fly (with or without humans on their back), and this comic is about recognizing objects in the air, this will not affect the check mark!

Most planes are specifically designed to carry human passengers, although many are cargo planes with humans only acting as crew, and autonomous drones without humans also exist.

Superman often carries other people with him, such as his girlfriend, rescued victims or the various villains that people need to be rescued from.
Often flies in groups Many types of birds fly in flocks, particularly during long-range migrations. Some birds often fly in the V formation which has also been copied by planes. This formation has been used at least twice in xkcd in 1440: Geese and recently in 1729: Migrating Geese (notice the similarity in number of that bird comic compared to the one for this comic).

Planes sometimes fly in group formation, particularly when engaged in military operations where mutual support is tactically useful (or when conducting practice maneuvers for such operations). Though the people who would mistake those plains for bird will mainly see this at air shows.

Superman is a unique person, and thus does not fly in groups of Supermen. While Superman occasionally operates alongside other flying superheroes, and in some stories is duplicated or split into multiple beings, Randall apparently considers these circumstances too unusual to meet the "often" qualifier.
Created in 20th century Birds evolved from dinosaurs, appearing as early as the Late Jurassic period, roughly 150 million years ago. That birds evolved from dinosaur who also had wings with feathers before they evolved on to becoming birds has often been referenced by Randall in comics like 1104: Feathers, 1211: Birds and Dinosaurs and the title texts of 867: Herpetology and 1527: Humans

The first successful flight of a powered heavier-than-air craft took place on December 17, 1903 and was performed by the Wright brothers. There are several other claims for the first such flight, for instance Alberto Santos-Dumont from Brazil was given a spot at the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, published in June 1938.
Uses magnetic navigation Some types of birds use magnetoreception to navigate using the earth's magnetic field as a guide.

Artificial magnetic compasses, along with other navigational equipment, are used by planes.

Superman, while possessing a plethora of super-senses/powers, does not appear to be particularly sensitive to magnetism.
Enthusiast community obsesses over small coloration details Birdwatchers identify bird species by a range of characteristics, including small details in the bird's color pattern which identify one species apart from another.

Similarly, airplane hobbyists and plane spotters take note of the colors of a plane's paint job and insignia.

Comics fans can similarly identify the artist and date of a depiction of Superman by the coloration and configuration of his costume and be obsessed with their favorite coloration being the canon.
Preyed on by cats Cats kill several billion birds a year, often - but not always - eating them.

There has never been a case of a cat successfully catching and eating a plane.

As Superman is a fictional character the same goes for him, but also in the comics he has never been eaten by a cat, although he has been devoured by a dinosaur although that (probably[citation needed]) did not kill him...
Occasional mid-air sex A common misconception seems to be that birds sometimes have sex in flight. But according to this article Animal Sex: How Birds Do It they cannot do it, and in this article Do hummingbirds have sex in midair? it is explained that even hummingbirds don't actually mate in midair.

Mid-air sex involving planes usually involves passengers (and potentially air crew), not the plane itself. However, this could also be a metaphorical reference to in-flight refueling (such as the depiction, set to romantic music, in the opening scene of the movie Dr. Strangelove, a movie Randall has referenced before for instance in this scene from 1608: Hoverboard) It could also refer to this incident where one plane landed atop another in mid-air.

As for Superman, there have been occasional moments in the comics which indicate or at least imply that he sometimes engages in mid-air sex.[citation needed]
Eaten during seasonal feasts Turkeys, a type of bird, are eaten by Americans during Thanksgiving, a "seasonal feast" held on the fourth Thursday of November of each year. Britons eat Turkey or Goose at Christmas, in other countries it may be ducks instead.

It is unlikely that normal humans would eat a plane, however it has been done by Michel Lotito who has digested an entire Cessna aircraft. However he used two years to consume the plane, so although he may have eaten some parts during holidays, he did not do it because there was a seasonal feast.

Superman is too strong and "made of steel" for him to let any human eat him. But as also mentioned above he has been devoured by a dinosaur although that probably did not kill him... Referring back to the possible sex Superman has had in flight, it seems he is able to have sex with a human. Although the slang eat me (link NSFW), usually mean the man eating the woman,it can also be used the other way around. In this case Superman could have had holiday-sex with his girlfriend, where she ate him.
Propelled by flapping Birds fly by flapping their wings.

Planes have fixed wings, and fly by maintaining forward velocity and exploiting the aerodynamic effects of air flowing over the upper and lower wing surfaces, which are shaped and angled to produce lift.

Superman flies using superpowers which require neither wings nor flapping.
Sometimes loses ability to fly, needs to sunbathe to regain it Birds can "lose" the ability to fly, if their wings are weighed down by water from swimming. One way for birds to dry out their wings is to sunbathe.

An airplane can lose its ability to fly, but no issues occurring in modern aircraft can be fixed by sunbathing, except in some experimental solar-powered aircraft. So this is actually wrong as these planes would loose their ability to fly if left too long without exposure to the sun, and the problems would be fixed with a sunbath.

One of Superman's superhero abilities is the ability to fly. However, he may lose this ability with prolonged exposure to Kryptonite, which make him weak. Also the rays from the sun at his home planet Krypton can remove his super powers as it happened in Superman II. Superman's ability to fly is a superpower caused by "electromagnetic radiation from the rays of a yellow sun", so he could regain his strength and superhuman abilities through sunbathing in the Sun's light here on Earth. Which was how he got his super powers in the first place.
Can take a punch Many birds are small and fragile creatures, whose bone structures are meant to be light in order to fly, and thus are not very durable. If a man punched, say, a pigeon, he could probably break/dislocate most of its bones, either killing it immediately or leaving it in a state from which it will probably never ever recover on its own. However, there are definitely some big, flightless birds that could take a punch from a human such as ostriches and emus, but since both are large creatures that would probably react by fighting back, it would not be wise to try. Also Randall is (again) plainly ignoring this type of birds as they cannot fly and this comic is about making mistakes regarding things flying through the air (typically far enough away from the observer to mistake a pigeon for a plane).

Planes are usually massive, or at least big enough to carry a human, and have to be made of materials durable enough to withstand hurtling through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour reliably on a regular basis. You could definitely punch one safely. (Meaning safe for the plane, not your hand.)

One of Superman aka the Man of steel's trademark abilities is his near indestructibility; a punch from any regular human would not hurt him, but again hurt the hand.
Mating behavior often observed by a hidden David Attenborough Not that we know of David Attenborough is an English broadcaster and naturalist, who produced a documentary series The Life of Birds. Included in the series is an episode entitled "Finding Partners", which discussed mating rituals of birds. That these can be very strange has been mentioned in the title text of 1747: Spider Paleontology, of course in relation to Dinosaur behavior.

Planes are dead inanimate objects with no mating behavior. However, referring back to the observations made under the Occasional mid-air sex explanation it could be discussed if this was mating behavior. Also there are movies like Planes and it's sequel has living planes, which could mate. But Randall may know for sure that Attenborough is not interested in those.

The comic states that we don't know for sure if Attenborough has observed Superman's mating behavior. As Superman doesn't exist[citation needed] Attenborough has not seen Superman in reality (which would lead to a "No" response), but maybe Attenborough has watched all the movies in which Superman courts Lois Lane just to observe Superman's (made up) mating behavior (which would lead to a "Yes" response). Since we do not know Attenborough's habits, this leads to Randall giving the "Not that we know of" response.
Capable of intentionally releasing poop mid-flight Birds often poop during flight, often enough that people regularly get hit in the head by the poop, which has caused the unlucky people to come up with the superstition that it brings good luck. For birds it is just economical to shed excess mass when they are going to fly, and many birds poop just at take off. But on long flights it the best use of resources to not carry extra weight along, that increases their efficiency. Unlike mammals who pee urea, bird poop is both pee and feces as birds only have one hole a cloaca, and the black poop is surrounded by their pee which is the white stuff containing uric acid. Not peeing lots of water out reduces their water loss.

Some planes may be able to intentionally purge their septic tanks mid-flight, depending on the design of the waste interlocks, especially assuming the controls are inside the cockpit or cabin. As the TV show MythBusters has shown, a leaky septic disposal system can unintentionally lose liquid waste and cause a "blue ice" sighting on the ground. This is, however, not the planes poop and also not the plane that released it intentionally, and planes are not supposed to do this.

Superman, being more or less human, could be capable of pooping during flight, but this would generally result in unnecessary drycleaning bills. But he has probably never been shown to either take a leak or poop in any of the canon comics, books or films[citation needed]. So he may not even be able to poop! But Randall assumes he can.
Chases and eats bugs Only when bored Many bird species prey on insects and similar-sized animals.

Planes often fly into and kill insects (as well as birds, and sometimes humans), but this is unintentional and doesn't provide them with nutritional value, and they certainly do not chase them around.

Superman is not known for eating insects, but Randall implies that he does sometimes, but only when he's bored. This could be interpreted as if he then tries to avoid his boredom by chasing the bugs intensionally, but why also eat them then? So it would probably rather happen because if you fly around while bored you might yawn at the wrong time and swallow a fly, just like when riding on a bike or any other relatively fast but open vehicle.


Bird Plane Superman
Carries people
Often flies in groups
Created in 20th century
Uses magnetic navigation
Enthusiast community obsesses over small coloration details
Preyed on by cats
Occasional mid-air sex
Eaten during seasonal feasts
Propelled by flapping
Sometimes loses ability to fly, needs to sunbathe to regain it
Can take a punch
Mating behaviour often observed by a hidden David Attenborough Not that we know of
Capable of intentionally releasing poop mid-flight
Chases and eats bugs Only when bored

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The explanation says that "birds evolved from dinosaurs". But birds **are** dinosaurs -- 05:40, 31 January 2017 (UTC)


Randall missed that a plane can lose it's ability to fly via excessive icing on surfaces. While it is not usually the way in which it is cured (using deicing solution and onboard aircraft systems to melt them,) sunbathing the plane in greater than freezing temperatures is an excellent way to regain the ability to fly. (And without additional energy cost, too!) 17:58, 30 January 2017 (UTC)

Now that we have solar planes, some planes may occasionally require a sunbath to get airborne again. 21:51, 30 January 2017 (UTC)


Perhaps we should mention the pre-twentieth century attempts at powered flight some of which were powered by flapping.

Also should we mention that a hta craft pwered by flapping would be an ornithopter.

Mating & Peeping David

Given their is only one David Attenborough and he does not spend his entire life making wildlife documentaries the chance of his observing any individual bird copulation is remarkably small. 19:28, 30 January 2017 (UTC)

What sort of birds mate in mid flight? -- 19:47, 30 January 2017 (UTC)

Swifts for example. --DaB. (talk) 21:37, 30 January 2017 (UTC)
You seem to be right about swifts mating in mid flight. According to | this source, the common swift (Apus apus) is the only species who engages in this behavior.-- 14:59, 1 February 2017 (UTC)
mid flight poop

From what I understand, superman gets the majority of his energy from the sun. Is there any confirmation that he can poop mid flight, or even poop at all? Maybe he just slowly releases various gasses?-- 22:47, 30 January 2017 (UTC)

Well Superman does eat, so it is likely he does poop too. Sun gives him super power thing, but he frequents restaurants as Clark Kent. --Trimutius (talk) 04:00, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

Planes are definitely capable of releasing their poop intentionally. They choose not to. Truth Rating: Pants On Fire. 14:47, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

It depends what you mean by 'plane poop'. Is it engines exhaust? Fuel, hydraulic oil or other technical fluids? Or is it passengers' poop... If you mean the latter than no, there's no "empty toilet in mid flight" functionality. A malfunction may cause the toilet contents to spill over but it is not intentional. -- Malgond (talk) 11:39, 1 February 2017 (UTC)

The Indian government thinks planes do intentionally release their poop. Citation: [1] -- 21:48, 2 February 2017 (UTC) User:Scryer

There were several aircraft in the early days of flight that had toilets that were directly connected outside. One such one, the Supermarine Stranraer, got the nickname "whistling shithouse" because when the toilet seat was lifted, the airflow through the tube caused it to whistle. Also, during WW2 on bomber aircraft, they would sometimes crap in a cardboard box and throw it overboard rather than use the difficult to use and unpopular chemical toilets. 06:59, 7 February 2017 (UTC)

I was under the impression that birds either do not have sphincters, or do but can't control them to hold their poop in. Would this not mean that birds should not be ticked, or am I completely wrong? 06:35, 1 February 2017 (UTC)


No need to go to ostriches or emus, swans can fly well, and certainly take a punch, though i would *strongly* recommend against trying. [2]. Geese are also probably not much safer. -- 12:27, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

Title text

I've never seen such a sticker with a spider web - unless on Helloween. But stickers depicting silhouettes of birds on the other hand: https://www.google.com/search?q=vogel+aufkleber&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjj64Xlv-zRAhXGtxQKHS3ABh0QsAQIgwE&biw=1920&bih=914 But it seems as if this is a regional (Germany - or maybe Europe) thing, since searching for "bird stickers" didn't yield such a clear result... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:22, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

Magnetic navigation

There is no evidence that Superman is not able to fly in Magnetic navigation mode... 17:33, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

There is no evidence that Superman exists. -- 15:00, 1 February 2017 (UTC)
Other Comparisons

Missing: Frog and Underdog. Underdog would be a disappointing subset of Superman, Frog a subset of Bird. Schnitz (talk) 20:09, 1 February 2017 (UTC)

This page has quite a few typos and instances of awkward phrasing. I'll go through it and clean it up in a bit.
--Sensorfire (talk) 01:03, 19 August 2018 (UTC)