Bird Magic

My wife and kids went to the beach last week. When they returned they gave me a present. Frankly, I wasn't expecting a present at all, so I found it funny that they felt apprehensive that I woud not like the present as it was cheap. Then I opened it, and it was....

...the Drinking Happy Bird!!!! I love it! I always wanted to have one. A craftsman of some sort (watch repair, glass-cutting?) down the street where I grew up had one displayed in his shop window. It was big (about 20cm long) and the legs and stuff were made of metal.

It took me a few minutes to get it set up and working properly. It appears that kids and cats are staying away from it for now so it is probably safe.

Then, what does a blogger do? Goes online to find a picture to post on the blog:
i-8f6bb96d78f86b8a6ac3f116d655ba22-a happy bird.jpg
Then, what does a scientist do? Goes online to find out how the thing works! And, lo and behold, there is ton of stuff about it online.

You can find a lot of information about its history and physics here.
i-a6546779b511a1c6a04a81f3035116f9-a_drinking_bird - original patent.jpeg
Here is a whole website devoted to the Drinking Happy Bird. It explains the Carnot Cycle and the physics of it in general.
i-97d0ee88d5bbb814e7f7f1c0f696a6fd-a DrinkingBirdCarnot.jpg
It even provides references from the literature (I am assuming that AJP stands for American Journal of Physics):

Julius Sumner Miller, Physics of the Dunking Duck, AJP 26, 42-43 (1958).

Jerry L. Gaines, Dunking Duck, AJP 27, 189-190 (1959).

Harry E. Stockman, Dunking Duck without Liquid, AJP 29, 335-336 (1961).

Harry E. Stockman, Secret of the Dunking Duck, AJP 29, 374-375 (1961).

Kemp Bennett Kolb, "Reciprocating" Engine, TPT 4, 121-122 (1966).

Robert Mentzer, The Drinking Bird - The Little Heat Engine that Could, TPT 31, 126-127 (1993).

You can also watch a movie, from which some data were extracted (is that really chaotic?):
i-6a0e741843c671fc8c6801df44861cb5-a DrinkingBirdData.jpg
If you think Nader siphoned off a lot of votes away from Al Gore back in 2000, think again. It was really the Happy Drinking Bird.

I am a biology blogger here, so I will leave the physics explanations to the sites I linked above, but you can modify the bird like this or like this and use these excercises in teaching physics.

Of course, there is a Wikipedia entry, as well as a site documenting the history of the bird, where we see that there is an exhibit of 6-foot tall birds:
i-ff947e7f2fa60d40e81dcbc5efc14f39-a happy bird exhibition.jpg

Oh, there's more. See this and this and this for more information.

It's so exciting to learn something new every day!

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I had one as a kid and I could watch it for hours. Plus, they always remind me of one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons.

I too had one, I bugged my parents for AGES to get me one after I saw it on TV. I'd have rather had a real bird, but that had to do! :) It was fun then it broke, I forget just how.

Hell and thanks for your blog.
I read lately your article about "drinking bird" and it was very interesting.

I would like to read the articles which are in references but unfortunetly I can't have acces to these one:

-Kemp Bennett Kolb, "Reciprocating" Engine, TPT 4, 121-122 (1966).

-Robert Mentzer, The Drinking Bird - The Little Heat Engine that Could, TPT 31, 126-127 (1993).

Have you got a pdf version which you can send me by email?
I am physics teeacher in France and I am interesting in using this marvelous thermodynamical device in my lecturers that's why I ask you this request.

Thank you again

Sincerly yours,


Sorry, I do not have access to those articles. You need to ask someone associated with a University.

i love them. i'm in high school and i'm taking an engineering class and we are learning aboout them.