A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 28, 2011
“It’s so dry, the birds are building their nests out of barbed wire” (Texas heat joke)

"It’s so dry, the birds are building their nests out of barbed wire” has made Texas joke lists since at least the early 1990s. There is some truth behind the joke. During the 1930s economic depression—in the dust bowl of the Southwest—birds were observed making nests at least partly composed of barbed wire.


21 June 1933, Waterloo (IA) Daily Courier, pg. 12, col. 5:
NEW MEXICO CROWS
BUILD NESTS OF WIRE
Clovis, N. M.—(AP)—Crows in eastern New Mexico are so tough they build nests of barbed wire.

A lineman sent out from Clovis to investigate interruption of a telegraph wire service followed the line for 30 miles until he found a crow’s nest in the arms of a pole. Pieces of barbed wire, used for foundation material in the nest, were short-circuiting the line.

Google News Archive
21 March 1936, Regina (Saskatchewan) Leader-Post, pg. 4, cols. 4-5:
Barbed Wire Birds’ Nests
Down in the southwest corner of the continent they have what they refer to as the “Dust Bowl” of the United States. The area this year runs northward through the centre of Texas and north about half way through Kansas.
(...)
The picture shows dead mulberry trees in Texas, their trunks scoured clean of bark by the flying sand of the repeated dust storms. In the dead branches crows have built nests from strands of broken and rusted barbed wire from abandoned fences.

Google Books
Louisiana Conservation Review
Volumes 8-10
1939
Pg. 25:
Raven nests made of barbed wire typify the desolation in the Texas Panhandle resulting from the plowing up of the native grasses to plant grain. A few years earlier this area had been excellent cattle range.

Google Books
The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats
By Gerald L. Wood
Enfield [Eng.]: Guinness Superlatives
1976
Pg. 105:
There are also a number of birds which use very strange and sometimes uncomfortable material to build their nests. Madoc mentions a crow’s nest which was made entirely of barbed wire, and there is a record of a pigeon’s nest in Sheffield…

More Colorful Texas Sayings Than You Can Shake a Stick At
Texans have unique ways of expressing their feelings. Common as cornbread, old as dirt, funny as all get-out—homespun expressions link modern Texans to our rural and agricultural past, conveying the resolute spirit and plainspoken humor of our heroes and pioneers. Some sayings are instantly familiar because our parents and grandparents quoted them; others parallel the wisdom of biblical proverbs or Poor Richards Almanac.
-- Anne Dingus, Texas Monthly, December 1994
Here is a collection of the most geographically relevant expressions by category.
(...)
Dry
So dry the birds are building their nests out of barbed wire.

Google Books
Athena’s Disguises:
Mentors in everyday life

By Susan Ford Wiltshire
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press
1998
Pg. XII:
On Black Sunday, April 14. 1935, they were driving to Amarillo from their home in tiny Vega, the epicenter of the decade-long drought, when the sky turned so black with dust at noontime that they could not see their hands in front of their faces. Some thought the world was coming to an end. Nothing grew anywhere. Even milk cows had to be shot. Crows built their nests from barbed wire.

Google Books
Rosa Takes a Chance:
Mexican immigrants in the Dust Bowl years

By Susan Martins Miller
Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour
2006
Pg. 41:
Birds made nests out of tiny sticks and long grass. But not this bird. So little grass grew in the pastures. Even the trees were too dry to grow new branches. The bird had made its nest out of pieces of barbed-wire fences.

Google Books
Gun Work:
The Further Exploits of Hayden Tilden

By J. Lee Butts
New York, NY: Berkley Books
2010
Pg. ?:
Before a tobacco-chewing brush popper could spit, everything commenced drying up. Carlton declared as how it wouldn’t take long before birds started building their nests out of barbed wire.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, August 28, 2011 • Permalink