When is a bird not a bird? I suspect when the Democratic frontrunner flips it. Barack Obama campaigned among friendly crowds yesterday in North Carolina, one state he’s expected to win easily in the next few weeks. Perhaps he let his guard down, or maybe he didn’t even realize he made the gesture — but despite its subtlety, the crowd certainly recognized it. Watch the video and decide for yourself:

He’s talking critically about his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, and the kind of distasteful gotcha politics that occur in Washington. And he says, “That’s all right. Sen. Clinton looked in her element.”

Watch the video right then. The presidential candidate raises his right hand to seemingly scratch his cheek.

He doesn’t use his whole hand though. Just one finger. Briefly. A couple of strokes.

Obama has a pretty satisfied look on his face afterwards, which makes it look a little more purposeful than not. It’s subtle enough to have deniability for anyone who might get offended, but clear enough for his followers to enjoy the moment of disrespect towards Hillary. And who hasn’t wanted to flip off a Clinton at some time in their lives?

Is this a damaging moment for Obama? Probably not, although it’s not exactly classy. In fact, it might have a charm all its own, a warmth and humanity that certainly doesn’t come out when Obama debates.

Update: Redstate says it’s definitely the salute; Jim Geraghty needs a little more convincing.