Designer birds

"Chat" (a birding magazine) editor Janet Millenson recently spoke with DNA Designer John James Gifinchey about some of the work he is doing for the newly-formed National Birding Association (NBA).

CHAT:  Could you explain why the NBA hired you as a consultant?

GIFINCHEY:  In college, I majored in corporate design with a minor in genetic engineering. The NBA would like to increase the popularity of birding by redesigning North American birds to make them more viewer friendly.

CHAT:  How can you accomplish this?

GIFINCHEY:  With some of the new advances in recombinant DNA, we now have the ability to alter bird species in a variety of ways.

CHAT:  What are some of the projects you're working on?

GIFINCHEY:  First, I had some of my marketing people analyze which of the current lines of birds were working and which weren't. For instance, we've had a great deal of success with our warbler line, but sparrows have not been nearly as popular. A lot of birders think they are too difficult to identify.

CHAT:  What are you planning to do about that?

GIFINCHEY:  We originally considered phasing out sparrows altogether. But then one of my creative people got the idea of redesigning them so that each species would have a small corporate logo on the breast, around where the little spot on the song sparrow is at present. This would make sparrows into little mobile advertisements. The logos would make them much easier to tell apart, and the NBA would earn advertising revenue, so we would be killing two...I mean, taking care of two problems at once.

CHAT:  Are you going to phase out any species?

GIFINCHEY:  Only if the economics don't work. Our market research tells us that eliminating species makes the listers go postal, so we try to avoid it whenever financially possible. We're more likely to try to add or redesign species. For instance, we've gotten a lot of complaints about "Empidonax" flycatchers, which you almost have to have in the hand to tell apart, so we're changing them so that each one will now have a distinctive breast color. We're going to stick to pastels, because colors such as mauve are out right now.

CHAT:  Can you change characteristics other than appearance?

GIFINCHEY:  Our researchers are developing genes which will allow tough-to-see birds such as rails to hover at feeders like hummingbirds. We're also trying to change the nesting instincts of our showcase birds such as scarlet tanagers. One idea is to have them build covered, heated nests so that they can stay around all year instead of doing the "snowbird" thing.

CHAT:  Are you doing any research on bird song?

GIFINCHEY:  That's one of our most exciting opportunities. We've already looked at various market niches and are developing birds that can sing in the styles most popular in the areas where they live. Within a few years, we will have Southern species that can sing country music, birds in Florida and Arizona that can do Big Band music, and pigeons that can rap.

CHAT:  How can people find out more about your work?

GIFINCHEY:  I'd be happy to send you a copy of my preliminary report for the NBA. It will be published on April 1.

-- by Bill Young, from Bill Murphy

...and Sue Sarlette & Gerald Pearson suggest that Gifinchey could genetically engineer barcodes on birds so you can scan them at the checkout counter.

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