Worldbuilding: Ospreys and Red Herrings

Sometimes, the world just throws you for a loop. I heard an osprey calling the other day; which isn’t that unusual in this area. There are several bodies of fishable water, and there’s usually at least one osprey nest in walking distance. But the water isn’t that close, and the call was oddly low to the ground. So I went looking.

(Writers. Curiosity gets us every time.)

So. Outside. Looking up. No osprey wheeling in the sky. None perched in any of the tall pines they might have, maybe, chosen to take a break in. And unlike a lot of birds, I’ve never seen ospreys on telephone poles.

Yet there again came the characteristic rising osprey-on-nest cry. So I followed the sound….

To a blue jay, sitting in a crepe myrtle.

Now, I’ve heard mockingbirds mimic ospreys before. They’re usually easy to pick out, because after about four to eight “osprey” notes, they switch to something else. But this was a blue jay. Beak open. Throat visibly working. Perfect osprey call.

At which point I had to blink, shake my head, and turn around to head back into the house. “Okay, that’s enough weird for one day….”

Inserting some random weirdness like this into a book often doesn’t work very well. The reader assumes, rightly, that every detail in the book should be important to the story. So just throwing in a bit of randomness, no matter how true to life it might be, can do serious damage to story flow.

Which means the thing to do might be to make it not random. Or at least, not look random. Meaning it really is important and will turn up later… or it’sĀ a Red Herring!

After all, bird augury is a classic ancient means of divination. Your osprey-imitating blue jay could send fantasy characters off on the wildest of goose chases away from the real villain, because it’s so weird it had to be important, right?

I’m not following that blue jay anytime soon. Curious, sure; I’m not crazy.

(Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s nesting in a big oak tree nearby, so there.)




19 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Ospreys and Red Herrings

  1. We have a Blue Jay (at least one) that hangs around the trees around the house. It likes to mimic the crows who are on and off visitors. When it’s not squawking at the other birds (we have a lot of trees and therefore a lot of birds – not even close to an expert but I think there are wrens, a couple of cardinals, robins, a woodpecker, and a mourning dove with occasional visit from snowy egrets and cranes and at least one bird of prey but I’ve never gotten a good look at it) or annoying the heck out of the cats (it likes to dive bomb them and then laugh from the safety of a high perch).

    Birds that mimic stuff like mockingbirds and blue jays might also make for interesting clues about something strange happening in the area – they have been known to mimic car alarms and phone ringtones so who knows what else they might mimic . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We always want the particular pair of blue jays that build a nest in the hedge at the edge of the yard to come back in the spring. This particular pair isn’t particularly weird and I’ve never heard an oddball call from them, but they are insanely territorial. Every year they come back they ensure that we only have two birds eating our berries instead of hundreds.

      Maybe that bird your characters found is important, but not for the reason your characters think it is important. Maybe it’s not the familiar of the high priestess, but merely the wild bird that she wants around because it chases everything else out of her herbalist garden. All the other wild birds were eating their way through her juniper berries, elderberry, holly, those maggots she uses that make a home in her compost pile, and many more things she wanted them to leave alone. Maybe it even has modifications she made to it so it could chase the cats that were bound and determined to use her herb patch as a litter box instead of just the other birds.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Truth is stranger than fiction. Misdirection and Red Herrings are important things in a story – maybe they were placed by the villain, maybe not, but if done well the readers are happy to continue reading to find out. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh yes, birds are not as stupid as people think. (Unless they are barnyard turkeys-those are *exactly* as stupid as you think…) We had an owl recently that had figured out how to get into the chicken coop by walking right in through the chicken door (For those who don’t have chickens: a small wooden opening about 18 inches square with a ramp attached that leads into the chicken yard).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is kind of why I liked my old job, even though it was so ridiculously stressful. The true stories that came through that office were insane.

    …granted, property tax liens & loans. Weird was the new normal.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So yeah, this has nothing to do with your current post but just stumbled on to this tidbit and am dying to share this with someone who’ll find it interesting (really hope you do.)

    So Yamuraiha is actually based on Yamlaykha from the original Arabian Nights who is…
    A Serpent Queen.

    A. Literal. Queen. Of. Snakes.


    Researched a bit bout Sharrkan too, stumbled straight into a very very very flowery piece of prose if you get what I mean. Shall never be able to think of him the same way again.

    Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. When I was about six, we heard the strangest bird call from our roof. Turned out to be three peacocks of all things! They turned out to be escaped pets but it was a surreal experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was running a little late to work once and went around a blind corner and saw a peacock in the middle of my lane. Normally I’d swing around him, but there’s a man walking his dog about ten feet behind it. I hit the bird rather then the man. Who preceded to rip me a new one about going too fast, thus killing the guilt I was feeling. I got to work and called my mom.

      “Did you know the neighbors had a peacock?”
      “Yes. Why, did you hit it?”
      “They don’t anymore.”

      What was really dumb was the next week, I was heading to work on a damp, drizzly day, went around the next corner, which is also a blind, and there were about four or five peahens in my lane. Luckily this time I was slow enough to stop. But, really?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The owner of the three that escaped luckily secured them better and they never got out again.
        The only other place I’ve seen peacocks is the Bronx Zoo and they seem to wander at will and generally take over the place.

        Liked by 2 people

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