Birds of a Feather

I am not a bird. I cannot fly or sing like a bird. I do not molt or migrate. When my grown children ask to come home for a while to roost, I do not peck or drive them away, as the eagles do. On the contrary, I love having my kids come back. Maybe I’m a colony bird, like the Double-crested Cormorant? No. No feathers.

Male Mallard bathing.Do the birds know I am not one of them? That’s a bit hard to answer.  On the one hand, many of the birds at the Fill are wary of me. The Savannah Sparrows often raise their head feathers in alarm when I come too close to their favorite grass stems. The Killdeer on Shoveler’s Pond start calling the minute they see my blue hat approach. On the other hand, Savannahs and Killdeer are wary of any big bird. They keep an eye on all us jumbo-sized critters, just in case we should take the notion to eat them.

Lately, the Mallards who are flocking on Main Pond now that breeding season is ending have allowed me to join their flock. Whenever I set up my camp stool at the southern lookout point, the Mallards begin to float over from the far shore. Eventually, they come out of the water to feed on the weeds all around me. Some snuffle for food in the mud nearby or dabble for plants a little farther out in the water. They bathe or preen. A few even go to sleep.

I sit there enchanted as the ducks ebb and flow. They talk to each other, you know, keeping up a constant commentary. I talk back. “You’re looking a little scruffy today,” I’ll say to one molting male. He doesn’t seem to resent my personal  observation, but then I remember my mother’s admonition never to make personal remarks about anyone. It’s rude. So I apologize and point out a tasty weed he might enjoy. I think the ducks like the sound of my voice. It reassures them that I am settled, unlikely to leap up and grab one of them. Sometimes I’ll give a muttered quack, just to see if anyone notices. I take care to do this when I’m sure no people are around to hear me. I’m already weird enough as it is.

It’s amazingly comforting to be in a flock. Like any functional community, the members watch out for each other. They pay attention to what each one is doing. They’re interested in what everyone has to say. They don’t always get along perfectly – sometimes they give each other a peck or even chase each other. But they accept each other, too. They belong.

When was the last time you felt you belonged? For me, that happens every day. I belong at the Fill.