For the Birds Radio Program: French That's for the Birds

Original Air Date: April 13, 1988

Jeanne Tonkin, the French teacher at Ordean Junior High School, helps us learn a few words in French.

Duration: 3′59″


(Recording of Ring-billed Gulls)

I recently learned that some students at Ordean Junior High School in Duluth listen to this program before school in their French classroom, when they should be studying French. Uh oh–the jig is up. Today you guys are going to learn some French–at least some French that is for the birds. Unfortunately, my own knowledge of human languages is limited to English, Spanish, and Pig Latin, so I enlisted the aid of Jean Tonkin, the French teacher at Ordean, to enlighten all those listeners who have wanted to combine ornithology and French in one easy lesson.

The most basic word, of course, is “bird.”

(Jean–French for “oiseau”)

The state bird of Minnesota, the common loon, which is also found in France, is called

(Le Huart a collier)

Wisconsin’s state bird, the American robin, which isn’t found in Europe, is translated:

(Le Merle americain)

The most important bird in all of North America, the Blue Jay, isn’t found in France either, but lucky Frenchmen who see one in America call it:

(Le Geai bleu)

Ravens, found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, are called

(Le Grand Corbeau)

If someone acts as weird as a bird, he is “un drole d’ ovseau.” If he’s a special person, which we might call one rare bird, in France he’s “un orseau rare.”

Starlings, which are served on toast in France, are called “l’ Etourneau sansonnet.” House Sparrows, found throughout the world, are Le Moineau domestique.”

In spite of their name, french fries are an all American food, like the red-blooded American Ring-billed Gulls that eat them. These ubiquitous Northland birds are

(Le Goeland a bec cercle)

A man about town to Americans might be considered “cocky.” Sure enough, in France he’d be “Le coq de village.” The French use a lot of idioms about roosters. If they’re red from embarrassment, they are “rouge comme un coq.” And first thing in the morning, when the cock crows, is “au chant du coq.”

(Mere poule)
means a mother hen.

To eat like a bird is an expression in French, too–

(manger comme un oiseau)

which just goes to show that the French don’t know any more about the pig-out habits of birds than Americans do.

To kill the hen that lays the golden eggs is another expression shared with the French.

(Tuer la poule aux oeufs d’ or)

The French have a saying about chattering like a magpie–

(Bavarder comme une pie)

In France, people aren’t as happy as larks. They’re as happy as finches.

“Heureau comme un pinson.”

A bird’s egg in French is an oeuf, and Jean expalined that that’s why the French never eat two eggs for breakfast–One egg is an oeuf.

Important bird phrases you might need in the Northland are:

Let’s count hawks today.

(Allons compter les rapaces aujourd’hui)

It’s time to feed the birds.

C’est l’heure a nourrir les oiseaux.

Baker’s Blue jay Barn–up the shore aways.

(La grange Geai bleu de Baker–le longue de la cote pas loin)

And finally, that bird expression heard more than any other in Canal Park: Darn it–what did that gull do to my car?
(Zut alors–qu’ est-ce que la mouette a fait sur ma voiture)

(Recording of a Ring-billed Gull)

This is Laura Erickson, C’est Jean Tonkin, et cette emission a ete pour les oiseaux.