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Why are the Birds of Prey called the Birds of Prey?

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What the comics can tell us about Harley Quinn’s spinoff movie

Claudette Barius

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn) introduces moviegoers to the DC Universe’s greatest bird-themed superteam. Or are they bird themed? And why are they even called the Birds of Prey?

The Harley Quinn-driven Suicide Squad spinoff doesn’t really answer the question, perhaps because it seems obvious. But Black Canary is the only main member whose superhero alias is even remotely bird-related — and a canary is not even a predatory type of bird! If forced, we might shamefully draw a line to how the word “bird” can be a slang term for women, but the honest answer boils down to this:

The Birds of Prey are called the Birds of Prey because, up until fairly late in their existence, the team name was little more than an afterthought.

“Some situations require... ...a WOMAN’S touch!” yells the cover of Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Oracle. Black Canary kicks a guard in the head while putting another in an armlock. In the background, Oracle stares impassively, flanked by computer screens. DC Comics (1996).
Black Canary and Oracle (background) from the cover of 1996’s Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Oracle.
Image: Gary Frank/DC Comics

Originally conceived by editor Jordan B. Gorfinkle and writer Chuck Dixon, the Birds of Prey started out in a 1996 one-shot issue teaming Dinah Lance (Black Canary) and Barbara Gordon (formerly Batgirl, then Oracle, and, since 2011, Batgirl again), in attempt to boost the characters’ popularity beyond their devoted fan base and create a new franchise. When it was decided that Black Canary/Oracle wasn’t a snappy enough title to sell the issue, DC assistant editor Frank Pittarese, according to Dixon, stepped up with the subtitle Birds of Prey.

That is, the real story behind the name is that someone in the editorial team made the only suggestion that the creative team could agree on. It could have been much worse — runner-up in the contest was Hell’s Belles.

Readers proved to enjoy the pairing of Black Canary and Oracle, and so the concept continued through a number of special issues and mini-series before graduating into an ongoing monthly in 1999. Through all of this, the Birds of Prey title stuck around, even though it wouldn’t actually be mentioned inside the comic for almost a decade.

Lady Blackhawk suggests the name “Birds of Prey” to Huntress, Black Canary, and Oracle in Birds of Prey #86, DC Comics (2005). Gail Simone, Adriana Melo/DC Comics

Writer Gail Simone took over the series in 2003, adding the characters Huntress and Lady Blackhawk to the team, thankfully solidifying the “bird” and “predation” motifs. And in 2005’s Birds of Prey #86, it was Lady Blackhawk herself who suggested they call themselves the Birds of Prey, finally bringing some continuity and common sense (almost) to an otherwise confusing mantle — even if the other members of the team openly admitted to finding the name contrived and cringe-worthy. When Simone revived the Birds of Prey in 2010, she continued to add characters who made the name seem more intentional, including former Teen Titans Hawk and Dove.

At the end of the day, you might still ask why the film’s character lineup call themselves the Birds of Prey. And we can’t blame you, because after 24 years, the answer still doesn’t go much farther than “It sounds cool!” But you know what? That’s enough.

And if you’re upset that there’s no rhyme or reason, it’s time to relax and ask yourself exactly what the hell “The Avengers” means, anyway.


Chloe Maveal is a freelance pop culture journalist in Portland, Oregon who specializes in British comics, comic history, fandom culture, superheroes. You can find her on Twitter @PunkRokMomJeans where she’s inevitably yelling about Judge Dredd’s cybernetic butt.