Rhymes, Rants & Accolades from North Central BC

WATERFOWL HEIRARCHY

Autumn (circa 1980) Sense and Nonsense

During the past few months there have been some dramatic goings-on down at the lake. Large numbers of migratory birds interrupted their southbound journeys to browse and dine in the exposed weed beds in the water. It quickly became obvious to the observing human eye that these birds practice discrimination in a way that the Ku Klux Klan would envy.

The ducks are the first to arrive. They immediately segregate themselves into various racial groups. No self-respecting duck ever leaves his group to pass the time of day with a duck of a different colour. He adheres to an unwritten duck rule that there must be plenty of water between his and all other duck groups.

Last year one group stayed on in an ever-narrowing pool of open water in the lake until at least mid-December. They squawked and quacked incessantly, probably arguing over travel plans or some other trifle. When the last duck finally left I could almost hear the snap as the ice closed in behind him in the 40 below temperature,

The ducks’ social problems are alleviated somewhat after the geese arrive. No duck likes a goose. Geese are larger and they are definitely snobbish. Besides, there is the language gap.

The duck groupings uniformly withdraw from the watery territory claimed by the larger birds.

The Canada goose is my favorite bird. I have heard it said that geese mate for life and I suppose that accounts for my admiration of them. I would be terribly disillusioned to hear of a case of goose infidelity!

One sunny Fall day, I noticed six or seven large Canadas floating just off-shore in the mirror-like water. Nearby, half-a-dozen more appeared to be sitting placidly on nothing but air. Before I raced off to the nearest optometrist, I realised that the lake was partially frozen and that some of the geese were actually sitting on a sheet of totally transparent ice. I never have a camera handy when I need one!

The geese too, seem to discriminate against members of their own species. The greater Canadas swim sedately and aloofly apart from their lesser cousins. They seem to know they are the elite of the waterfowl world. That is, until the arrival of the swans.

The swans radiate the aura of quiet contempt that even a part-time resident sometimes has for a transient. After all the lake and the nearby river are home to these beautiful birds; at least until the water warms up in the spring.

The knowledge of their superiority allows the swans the freedom to be tolerant to one and all. They are the only waterfowl to swim the cool distances set by all groups of other birds on the lake. They are never quite welcomed into any particular group but they don’t really seem to care.

My husband could have used a camera recently after the ice flooded on the lake. There were only a few inches of water on top but some overjoyed swans did not know that. They planned on a leisurely swim in the waters that had miraculously opened up just for them.

Their consternation and confusion were very evident when they tried to swim. There was not enough water to float a duck, let alone a swan!

One thing I have learned from watching our feathered friends. Birds are not one bit smarter than most people!

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