I carved a couple of these last weekend, while staffing the Ontario Wood Carvers Association’s display table at the Leslieville Tree Festival in Toronto.
Pennsylvania carver Frank Foust is credited with creating the original comfort bird in 1982. According to this article (with pattern!) from Woodcarving Illustrated in 2011, comfort birds “are often given to those in need, such as the ill, blind, homeless, or elderly, or people in disaster areas … as a token of support and an act of kindness.”
More broadly, they make great stress toys. The rounded shape fits naturally in the hand, and the smooth finish invites stroking.
The pattern I followed is slightly different from the one in Woodcarving Illustrated — and the instructions there are for power carving, whereas I whittled my little guys with hand tools — but key to the success of any comfort bird is the sanding and finishing. Their tactile appeal comes from an absolutely glasslike finish. I sanded through the grits to 320, then buffed my birds with a sanding pad followed by brown paper. I finished with Danish oil, top coated with wax, though polyurethane would work well too.