Previously, I spoke about how the humble Shy Guy might be the most iconic enemy to come out of Super Mario Bros. 2 and go on to new heights throughout the franchise. The guys — er, Guys are everywhere.
However, there is one that rivals if not exceeds the prominence of Shy Guys across the many Mario games, and that would be Birdo. But even so, Birdo is a bit different. You see, whereas Shy Guys have become quite commonplace as an enemy type (which has spawned many more enemy types in turn), Birdo arguably differs in that she is a more prominent character — similar to Toad or Yoshi by seemingly appearing as an individual who shares the name of her species.
Wait, “she”? Or “he”?
Overshadowing pretty much any and all of Birdo’s appearances and roles is the question of the character’s gender. The instruction manual states “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘birdetta.'” Other early materials such as guides would consistently refer to Birdo as “he” as well.
While Japan would continue with this, North American and European materials both would take to referring to Birdo as “she”, with the exception being a Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl that instead opted for the more indeterminate “it”. It seems that more often than not, Birdo is placed with the ladies of a game in dialogue and other groupings, such as a “Women of Racing” ad featured in Mario Kart 8‘s Royal Raceway track, or the women in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour‘s manual having a pink dot placed behind them.
Generally speaking, it seems Nintendo has largely been content to let the issue lie, but in 2008, it was raised again in the Japan/Taiwan-exclusive Wii game, Captain Rainbow. Known there as “Catherine” (and preferring the nickname “Cathy”), Birdo is given a deep male voice whose pitch rises when excited. The game plays with the question of Birdo’s gender identity, with one side quest calling upon the titular hero to find proof that the character is female after being arrested for using a ladies’ room.
Incidentally, whether this trait applies to the individual character or the entire species is unknown; regardless, a bow worn atop their head is a common trait to all Birdos.
That is, except in the Nintendo Entertainment System version of Super Mario Bros. 2, where Birdo made her first appearance. Subsequent releases in Super Mario All-Stars and Super Mario Advance would not only include the bow, but in the latter game, also allow the player to pluck it off her head and toss it away. If the player tosses it back at Birdo, however, rather than doing any harm, it resumes its place atop her head.
Birdo’s appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2 is as a mini-boss, guarding the Crystal Ball which opens the Mask Gate to the next area of a world. While Super Mario Bros. 2 and its remakes would have her holding the Crystal Ball in front of her, it only appeared in Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic once the final blow had been delivered, apparently being kept in her mouth. What’s more, prior to Super Mario Advance, wandering off-screen from where she is fought would cause her to respawn, and if the Crystal Ball hadn’t been claimed, it would once more be in her possession.
She does this in most, but not all, of the first two areas of a world. Other times, she might show up in a third area, or in other places entirely, like World 7-2, where she instead holds a Key needed to progress (well, maybe not her technically, but that’s a discussion for another time). At the beginning of World 4-3, Birdo also appears, as the player must leap atop one of her eggs to cross the vast expanse of water necessary to complete the level.
A Birdo’s appearance is as that of a pink prehistoric bird-like creature with a prominent proboscis — or large snout, if you prefer. She moves back and forth within a given area, occasionally hopping up and down and pausing however briefly to open their snout to launch an egg at the player. By hopping atop these moving projectiles and plucking them straight out of the air, players are provided the ammo needed to return these packages to sender and send the mini-boss flying.
Of course, there are other varieties that are trickier to combat, but again, that’s for another time.
Birdo’s prominence in Super Mario Bros. 2 was such that when the game was eventually brought back to Japan in 1992 as Super Mario USA, effectively canonizing it as a part of the Mario legacy, Birdo was front and center in the commercial advertising the game:
Less than a year later, the commercial for the 16-bit remake in Super Mario Collection (Super Mario All-Stars abroad) would also feature Birdo, here sporting a boa, evening gown, and pearls as the companion of Wart, the Big Boss of the game whose own legacy would not extend nearly as far:
On top of that, Birdo also appears on the title screen, accompanied by fellow Super Mario Bros. 2 alumni Pidget and Bob-omb (though the latter is in his Super Mario Bros. 3 form).
Ironically, despite her prominence, respect was not shown for her in the credits of the game. In both Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario All-Stars, she is mistakenly referred to there as “Ostro,” while the actual ostrich-like Ostro is called “Birdo” in turn. Fortunately, much like Clawgrip‘s turn as “Clawglip”, this mistake would later be remedied in Super Mario Advance.
Outside of Super Mario Bros. 2, Birdo’s star has skyrocketed both in and out of the Mario franchise — entirely too much for me to go into detail here, but here’s a bit of an overview.
Like so many others in Super Mario Bros. 2, Birdo was featured on merchandise and in multimedia endeavors aplenty. As early as the very first episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, a Birdo was given a very prominent role in “The Bird! The Bird!”, as a nearsighted mother Birdo inadvertently kidnaps Toad from the group of heroes, mistaking him for her missing son, Cheepy. Uncharacteristically for the species, this Birdo was given wing flaps beneath her arms which allowed her to fly.
A handful of subsequent episodes would feature less-distinct Birdos, though some — such as the weaponized Thunder Birdo in “Toad Warriors” — proved to be larger than the norm. That aside, they featured as grunts and guards for King Koopa’s forces. Likewise, they didn’t really play a prominent part in Valiant’s Nintendo Comic System series of Super Mario Bros. books, featuring as guards or various rabble among Koopa’s other troops.
In a way, it’s ironic: While characters such as Mouser were played up more in the short term, it’s Birdo who would prove to have the greater longevity in the franchise.
After Super Mario Bros. 2‘s era ended, Birdo put in a few odd appearances here and there, first as an opponent in Wario’s Woods, then as a boss in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars — and quite late in the game, at that, where she emerges from a large egg cared for by a Shy Away/Beezo (another Super Mario Bros. 2-born enemy) who had hoped to use her as a weapon.
In 2000, Birdo’s stock began to rise when she made her playable debut as a character in Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64. This kicked off a number of appearances in various role playing, Mario Party, Mario sports, and Mario Kart games (among others), the latter two where she appears to be particularly affectionate towards none other than Yoshi, as the two share several things in common — most notably both being dinosaur-like creatures of similar stature who produce great numbers of eggs that can be used as weapons.
Interestingly enough, their relationship — and Birdo’s gender — are brought up once again on the official Japanese website for Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, stating (per Super Mario Wiki) that Birdo “appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend, but is actually his boyfriend!?” For what it’s worth, Yoshis are sometimes (such as in a Japanese Super Smash Bros. Melee Trophy description) described as reproducing asexually.
However, despite her increased prominence, Birdo remains stuck in an odd trap of sorts that many Mario character seem to find themselves in: Effectively exiled from the main Super Mario series of games following a strong debut appearance, only to appear in what are considered the side-games of the franchise, no matter how well regarded they may be. It is a fate known all to well by fans of Princess Daisy and Waluigi (at least Wario gets his own games). Even with the implied affection between the two, Birdo hasn’t appeared in any Yoshi games, either — despite how awesome that could be, to say nothing of the abundance of Shy Guys therein.
That’s just about all there is to say on Birdo as a character for now, but don’t think you’ve heard the last of her kind here. As indicated earlier in the article, there’s still more to come.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.