Throughout the Alien franchise, the image of the drinking bird has been a recurring motif. Is it a simple throwaway visual gag? or can we draw a deeper meaning to its inclusion in the films? I connect it with the flute, water, wheat, the sun, and insects, plus mythological creatures found in Native American cultures, the work of Lovecraft, as well as the use of the flute in the Engineer culture and by David in Alien: Covenant.
Fertility and Flutes
Our investigation begins with the fertility deity Kokopelli, he is usually depicted as a humpbacked figure playing the flute, and sometimes with feathers or antenna-like protrusions on their head. Cave paintings and cultural stories have been found in Native American mythology, and he presides over two things: Agriculture and Childbirth( ChamanAra, 2010, p. 99). Agriculture is a subtle theme within the prequels, wheat fields can be seen behind Vickers in the Prometheus film and the Covenant crew discover the wheat shortly after arriving on Planet 4.
Fields of wheat have also has been mentioned in numerous drafts of movies, namely Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection.
Childbirth, of course, is tied to the nature of the Xenomorph cycle. In fact, young women of the Native American villages often feared Kokopelli because the belief was coming into contact with him would get them pregnant. Which indeed parallels David’s character in relation to Elizabeth Shaw, as he had inadvertently made her pregnant in the Prometheus film and later used her reproductive organs to create the Ovomorph in Alien: Covenant. Going with the theme of reproduction Kokopelli is often depicted with Ram or Deer as it is said he also presides over game animal reproduction. Snakes (sun-bathing animal), lizards and insects (water-loving creatures).( Slifer, 2007, p. 23)
Further linking the Kokopelli, he has also been associated with being a trickster and represents the spirit of music. It was believed that Kokopelli’s flute-playing chased away the winter, bringing about spring. Many tribes, such as the Zuni, also associate Kokopelli with the rains. Which really explains the rainy stormy atmosphere of Planet 4, even the rain stops after David plays the flute.
Kokopelli frequently appears with another flutist, Paiyatamu. Which in the case of Alien: Covenant, Paiyatamu is represented by Walter. Both often present in depictions of maize-grinding ceremonies, some tribes ascribe fertility to the seeds or babies he carries his back. Early depictions of Kokopelli (Kookopolo) touted an erect fake phallus( Malotki, 2004, p. 35) with its association to fertility after the missionaries and Governments influenced tribal art the Kokopelli no longer was pictured with a phallus, instead lost any indication of gender in his imagery. Similarly, David and Walter, appendageless androids are given fertility roles of childbirth and nurture. Although David’s sexual predatory aspect does also parallel with the Kokopelli’s reputation of impregnating young maidens. ( Malotki, 2004, p. 89)
David’s character bears resemblance to the trickster god, he plays the flute with Walter, and presided over the birth of the Xenomorph with Oram, he inadvertently got Shaw pregnant and used Shaw’s reproductive system to create the Ovomorph, and during his time on Planet 4 he studied the flora and fauna, and even tricked Daniels, Lope and Tennessee into thinking he was Walter to get on the USCSS Covenant.But as seen in Prometheus the Engineers also played the flute and were the first to wield the power of the Black Ooze which could give life and the wheat on the planet hints to their influence on human agriculture.Their ties to this god before David are clear, going back even further to the original inception of Alien gives us the greater scope of what parallels can be drawn.
The Mountains of Madness is where the idea of the Engineer pyramid came from, this idea from one of many texts Dan O’Bannon had drawn inspiration from when writing the story for Alien (1979).
“[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath( Lovecraft, 2016, p. 308)
Azathoth, “the blind idiot god” is a mindless entity which rules all time and space, H.P Lovecraft makes life as we know it a passing dream in its mind, once it awakens all will cease to exist. He can never be seen or met or known but the only thing that could tell you that you have been close to him is the infernal whistling of his flutes( Matthews, 2016, p. 317). To me, it seems very natural and organic to think the creator of the Engineers could be a Lovecraftian beast such as this, something so unknowable that no human could comprehend it.
In the opening of Prometheus, we see the Sacrificial Engineer fall into the water and the beginnings of what is thought to be new life on a planet. There we see the Black Ooze as life-giving, just like another deity worshipped in Mississippian culture. Similar in its depiction to the Kokopelli, water vessels found dated between 1200-1400AD represented a humpbacked woman, which may represent a founding ancestor of Kokopelli. The Mississippians also had the re-occurring motif of the severed human head in the artefacts pointing to the prehistoric custom of headhunting, which was widespread throughout the Southeast. Many instances in the prequels feature head motifs or decapitation, its themes contrasting with life and death. The ritual taking and preserving of heads (like the later practice of scalping) also relates to concepts that reflect life-giving blessings of water and fertility( Feest, 2000, p. 155).
Kokopelli translated means “Kachina Hump”( Malotki, 2004, p. 27). The central theme of the Kachina beliefs is that there’s a presence of life in all objects that fill the universe. Everything has an essence or a life force, and humans must interact with these or fail to survive. In this case, the drinking bird is a very strong symbol of this, without it, there would not be life and without it, we cannot survive.Symbolically in all the movies water is present whenever the Xenomorph is near, in Alien, Kane is thirsty after the Facehugger leaves, when Brett is attacked he is drinking the dripping moisture from the chains above him, in Aliens Newt (also the name of a small lizard) is taken while in water, in Alien 3 Ripley crashes into the ocean and is impregnated by the Facehugger, in Alien Resurrection the remaining survivors surface on the other side of the water to be met by the Ovomorphs.
Appearances of the drinking bird in movies and games:
**Fun fact, apparently they bought that drinking bird from the Beatles merchandise store which was just across the road from where they were filming Alien. Though that may be Apocrypha. – @traviandesigns
From Left to Right: Alien (1979), Alien 3 (1992), Alien: Covenant (2017) and Alien: Isolation (2014)
Kokopelli and Insects
Another theory is that the Kokopelli is an anthropomorphic insect, many early depictions are very insect-like in appearance. The name “Kokopelli” originates from the combination of “Koko”, (another Hopi and Zuni deity), and “pelli”, (the Hopi and Zuni word for the desert robber fly), an insect with a prominent proboscis and a rounded back, which is also noted for its zealous sexual proclivities( Malotki, 2004, p. 86).
The origin of the lifecylce of the Xenomorph also came from the lifecyle of an insect which Dan O’Bannon used to strike fear into the viewers:
“Works of fiction weren’t my only sources, I also patterned the Alien’s life cycle on real-life parasites … Parasitic wasps treat caterpillars in an altogether revolting manner, the study of which I commend to anyone who is tired of having good dreams.” – Something Perfectly Disgusting by Dan O’Bannon
Ridley also mentions this in the DVD commentary:
“The whole notion of this [creature] was taken off a certain kind of insect that will find a host, lay its eggs, and then in that host it will bury its eggs, and then of course the eggs will grow and consume the host. So that’s the logic of it all. Probably what makes a lot of nature go around.” – Ridley Scott 1999 DVD Commentary
Unintentional or not, we can see the recurring symbolism in the Alien Universe as well as ours, from human culture to science fiction, the drinking bird is symbolic of life-giving water. Its a simplified icon of the flute god which also holds symbolic meaning in the unending cycle of the xenomorph, which is closely tied with the entomological name Koko and Pelli. The different aspects of Kokopelli can be related to both David and Walter, the absence of sexual appendage, yet the inferred outcome of contact is pregnancy or fertility like David, and the maternal and childbirth of the Xenomorph with David, the association with agriculture like Walter and of course the erotic allusions with music and flutes.
 ChamanAra, S. (2010). p. 99. In Ancient Pueblo peoples: Anasazi. Place of publication not identified: Xlibris.
 Malotki, E. (2004). p. 89, p. 27, p. 35, p. 86. In Kokopelli: The making of an icon. Lincoln [Neb., NE: University of Nebraska Press.
 Lovecraft, H. P. (2016). p. 308. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Ballantyne Books.
 Matthews, D. M. (2016). p. 317. In Asylum of the Ancient Ones. A Black Bed Sheet / Diverse Media Book.
 Feest, C. F. (2000). p. 155. In The Cultures of Native North Americans.
 Slifer, D. (2007). p, 23. In Kokopelli: The magic, mirth, and mischief of an ancient symbol. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.