The Playful and Ominous World of ‘Enlightened Birdmen'

Exploring the subreddit with a license to caw.

A 2008 New York Times article on a new study about crow behavior begins: “Crows and their relatives — among them ravens, magpies and jays — are renowned for their intelligence and for their ability to flourish in human-dominated landscapes … researchers have found that the birds can recognize individual human faces.” The line, and the study — which proves that crows are really (eerily) good at identifying, glomming onto, and maintaining a consistent hostile reaction to specific humans — implies that the crows are watching us.

If you thought owls were scary in Twin Peaks — or, you know, those birds that once came for Tippi Hedrenregardez how these crows responded to a group of people wearing the same mask, after being taught to react to said mask adversely. “They scolded people in the dangerous mask significantly more … even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down,” wrote The Times. There’s no fooling from these birds. Some species of corvids — the extended crow family — are able to hide food in upwards of 200 different hiding places and remember where each one is.

What’s the takeaway here? Crows are scary. If they get a notion implanted in their brain — Inception-style — you can be sure they’ll follow through. You just better hope that notion is not pecking your eyes out.

Given the acuity and foreboding personality of crows — who are considered to symbolize death or foreboding by multiple cultures and religions, worldwide — perhaps it’s no surprise that an online subculture of humans who enjoy taking on the persona of the birds is flourishing. It should be even less surprising that the place they choose to commune is virtual — and on Reddit at that. People like going somewhere where they can feel superior — and for some, that is putting on the crow hat for a while.

The members of the Enlightened Birdmen subreddit, which is today at well over 30,000 subscribers, exist to defy and battle any opponent of their aims — those outsiders designated as “Mudmen” (who say “GAR” a lot). With the focus on this population, additional enemies and alliances have become solidified. Allies of the Mudmen include jellyfish and “glorified spiders” — which I believe differ from a different enclave of spiders who help the Mudmen hunt. Sometimes the Mudmen and their allies show up to taunt the Birdmen.

This mythology and the whole structure is fun. The narratives never get too involved — or even cogent. Everyone is sort of following their own muse. Entries can just be a series of squawks. In fact, though the primary bird model seems to be the crow, a sparse Facebook page uses images of demon-eyed seagulls and ghoulish owls. No matter what kind of bird these users think they are, all users seem to understand that the main goal is to fire off endless “SCRRRAAAWWWWW”s and “KKKAAAWWWWW”s. Sometimes pop culture is traced in these posts: Lil Wayne’s falling-out with his label over the past year, for one. Of course, Weezy is a “mudman,” who they’ve managed to capture. The golden idol that stands tall atop their homepage is the Cash Money Records CEO, former Big Tymer and Weezy’s current nemesis: Birdman née Baby.

This does something to dispel the gnawing notion that the “Mudmen” and “Turdpeople” epithets have racist connotations, but perhaps not enough. Recently, one of the crows called for an end to “segregation” and establishing peace with the Mudmen, which seems to have been roundly ignored. Whatever else is true, the terminology is definitely rather unfortunate.

There’s speculation that crows and related species are smarter than some humans — certainly, they are smarter than most of their bird brethren. Perhaps the users of the (my emphasis) Enlightened Birdmen forum enjoy this feeling of superiority — the symbolic feeling of being able to dominate the Mudmen, who they can outsmart and ridicule. In this forum, irreverent and occasionally laugh-out-loud humor mixes with glimpses of something dark and even malevolent stowed away deep in the human (or internet-human) subconscious. In that way, this weirdo subreddit is really no different than almost any other message board and comments section you may frequent, reader.

But the Birdmen also strive for community and connection. On the message board, occasional evidence points to subscribers having gotten together to caw and convene merrily in real life. Perhaps it’s a positive thing: to see that the avatars you’re trading squawks with are insecure oddballs just like you. Perhaps an army of men and women in crow suits is preparing a Mudmen genocide in some major metropolitan area. There’s no way to know. Only the elusive crow elder, Father Bawk — perhaps — has all the answers, but no one seems to know where to find him.

A missive sent by the author to the creator and moderator of the forum — user “MrGarrett” (a.k.a. “Fantastic Human Destroyer”) — was never answered.

As a wise woman once wrote, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. So before you judge these crow-people too harshly, reader, consider the rituals and delusions you hold dear and close to your own heart. Some turn to church, meditation, or Crossfit to build a life worth living, and others pretend they are belligerent crows. You say “potato”…

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