Birdo has been written about over and over online, and for good reason— Nintendo has been very confusing about who she is. Male or female? Enemy or ally? A species called Birdos (like Yoshis) or just one singular creature named Birdo?
Let’s start with Super Mario Bros 2, the game that introduced Birdo (and a game that was fairly wackadoo as far as SMB games go, let’s be honest). In the manual for this game, there are a few things that need to be addressed:
First of all, Super Mario Bros 2 is based on a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic. That game was turned into SMB2, with the main characters changed to Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool/Peach (with brown hair!), and most of the enemies and other things basically staying the same (except the shells in SMB2? those were originally mega-racist blackface heads. no joke). Then, SMB2 got ported back to Japan as Super Mario USA. It’s not surprising some confusion and name-changing happened.
In Japan, Birdo’s name is Catherine.
Second, in at least the first run of the North American SMB2 manual, the names for Birdo and Ostro (an ostrich-like enemy often ridden by Shy Guys) were switched. This is just a fun fact that further highlights poor Birdo’s confusing history of neglect at the hands of Nintendo.
Third, Doki Doki Panic and SMB2 have multiple Birdos, implying this is a whole species called Birdos, much like Yoshi is just one of a whole species called Yoshis (and since they all only ever say “Yoshi,” we never learn their individual names—except Boshi in Super Mario RPG).
The red and green Birdos are listed in the DDP manual but not the SMB2 manual, although they are in the game and also listed as enemies in the official Super Mario Bros. Encyclopedia for SMB2. They never show up again in any other games.
And fourth, the main point that Nintendo waffles on, is what you can see above in the image from the North American SMB2 manual: Birdo’s gender confusion. “He thinks he is a girl” and he would rather be called “Birdetta.” Later prints of the manual left out the second sentence, and “Birdetta” has only been mentioned again once that I’m aware of; however, the gender question hasn’t been dropped.
One of the most interesting things I learned in researching this post is that Birdo’s gender was brought up when the game changed to SMB2 and her name was changed to Birdo. I sent the screenshots from the DDP manual above to my awesome friend Tony and had him translate them for me. An important note he gave me is this:
There are no intrinsically gendered third person pronouns, but first person pronouns are strongly gendered. If you want to refer to “he” or “she”, you’d say “that man” or “that woman”, but there’s no nominative or possessive way to say “her” directly. If you know their name, you’d just use that in place of a pronoun.
That’s important because in the descriptions for the Birdos, or rather the Catherines in the DDP manual, they use third-person pronouns and thus they can be translated as “it.” Tony also pointed out that “this guy” is used like we use it in America: most people will use it in a gender-neutral way, such as referring to a mixed-gender group as “you guys.”
This is the strongest of the Catherine tribe. This guy only shoots fire, so you can’t kill it with eggs. You’ll have to use a ‘mask’ nearby. You’ll see it in chapter 6 page 12.Green Catherine
The weakest of the Catherine tribe. It attacks with eggs from its mouth. You can defeat it with 3 attack items. Appears on page 1-2 of chapter 1 and page 1 of chapter 2.Pink Catherine
The second strongest of the Catherines, it shoots both eggs and fireballs. After chapter two, it’s the Catherine that appears most frequently.Red Catherine
(Tony explained that “chapters” and “pages” here are like worlds and stages in SMB2.) Notice how not one of these descriptions says anything about Catherine thinking she is any other gender or preferring to go by any other name. Clearly that was inserted when DDP was changed to SMB2 for North America. Readers would have inferred from her name that she is female. So why out her? And why change her name to Birdo?
When SMB2 was released in Japan as Super Mario USA, her description now had the part saying “he thinks he is a girl,” but her name went back to being Catherine… and now “he” preferred to be called “Cathy.” Considering we’ve now learned that gender in Japanese is inferred from context when third-person pronouns are used, it seems switching back to using the name Catherine would definitely imply that she is a girl. COME ON, NINTENDO.
Then, poor Birdo actually wasn’t even in any games for a long time after SMB2. Mario Tennis for the N64 was released 12 years later, and now not only was Birdo on the good guys’ team, but also was referred to simply as female. It’s also hinted that Birdo and Yoshi might be an item (to be fair, that’s pretty unrelated in my opinion since they could be an item regardless of either one’s gender, but it was of course seen as “proof” that Birdo is female by a lot of people).
The Japanese website for Mario Kart Double Dash confirms Yoshi and Birdo are a couple… but seems baffled about Birdo’s gender. According to the Super Mario Wiki (because I can’t read Japanese), the description for Catherine says she “appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend, but is actually his boyfriend!?”
In Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, Birdo starts out by helping our good guys—imitating Princess Peach to foil the big baddie’s evil plan—and develops a crush on a random character on the good side. Later she switches to the bad guys’ team and even battles Mario and Luigi, all because she’s fallen in love with a character named Popple, a crook who turns up repeatedly trying to steal things that the Mario Bros need, and thus they have to battle. Birdo fights on his side as his apprentice, despite Popple not returning her feelings. Poor Birdo just wants to be loved!
In Super Smash Bros Melee for the GameCube, Birdo was one of the trophies, and definitively “she/her.”
Then in Super Smash Bros Brawl for the Wii, Nintendo went all waffley again and left it up in the air: “a pink creature of indeterminate gender.” But, here we have the only other mention I know of that Birdo would rather be called Birdetta. So why doesn’t Nintendo ever do that? Why is it always “Birdo” in every game, every manual, every website? For that matter, why do they use masculine pronouns in the SMB2 manual even after telling us Birdo identifies as female? Nintendo, you’re just rude.
The latest Super Mario Party, for the Nintendo Switch, is a disaster as far as translations go. Birdo (*sigh* Sorry, girl, it seems that’s your name. Maybe we can crowdfund a lawyer for you to get it changed?) hangs out in the plaza and will help you get stickers; if you go to the “Advice” section in the Party Pad, Toad explains this. The issue is that in Toad’s explanation, Birdo’s pronouns change depending on what region you’re in.
You see, in Japan and Spain, apparently they avoid the topic, “skirting around using any gendered pronouns at all.” In the US and Canada, Birdo is referred to as she/her—in my opinion, correctly. For some reason, though, in the UK and the Netherlands, she’s given male pronouns! What the heck! Check out screen shots of all this here.
Another cool thing I learned while reading a million websites for this post, though, is that there is a game for the Wii that was released only in Japan called Captain Rainbow. In this game, Birdo is arrested coming out of a public restroom—apparently saying as she exits, “Wow, that was huge. That was like giving birth.”
She’s arrested because the officer believes she is a man using the women’s restroom. Birdo asks you, the player/Captain Rainbow, to go to her house and find evidence that she is a woman so she can be released.
You go, and when you get there, you discover something is buzzing under her pillow. Apparently, what you find is blurred out, but text pops up stating that the device is “proof that the owner is a woman.”
Well. That game will very likely never be released outside of Japan, but I was personally amazed and downright tickled that it exists at all.
At the end of the day, between originally being named Catherine, and the game Captain Rainbow, it’s clear Birdo is female and should be referred to as Birdetta in any games outside of Japan by now. While it’s awesome to have transgender representation in video games, Nintendo is doing it all wrong by repeatedly misgendering this poor girl. Translation excuses aside, “he thinks he is a girl” and “is actually his boyfriend” are blatantly horrible statements and Birdetta, we stand by you.