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A hawk, and geese bathing

Sarah Cunningham's picture

The hawk swooped past above my head, and settled on a high branch above the path ahead of me. I couldn't tell if it was the same hawk, or even the same species of hawk, as the one I spent quite a bit of time quite close to, not far from here, a month or two ago. This one looked bigger, but maybe because the feathers were fluffed up against the rain. I find hawks hard to identify because they never look anything like the pictures in the bird book. Anyway this one was too high up to have eye contact with today -- but the feeling I got was of an individual, a particular hawk personage, coping with this rainy day, rather than an emblematic hawk. This seems to be what interests me lately: the uniqueness of each individual, of species other than our own. They are just as different from each other as people are. (I read in the Scientific American about some research into the personalities of individual fruit flies! Some are more aggressive, some more cooperative. The researchers mark each one with a different colored dot of paint in order to tell them apart.)

Also I'm interested in the uniqueness of each moment, of each series of moments, of each story...

For instance, the Canada geese on the duck pond today were exhibiting a behavior I'd not seen before. At first I thought they were doing some kind of calisthenics, first beating one wing, then the other, then rising up almost out of the water and strenuously beating both wings at once -- very strong wings geese have. But in fact they were having a collective bathing or grooming session, all together but each in their own separate rhythm. About 40 of them spread out over the pond. First they would duck their head under water quickly to scoop the water up over their back. Then execute the wing-beating maneuver just described. Repeat this several times. Also wiggle the tail very fast from side to side. (I've often wished I could do this myself. The ducks and geese all do it each time they land on the water from the air.) Then they lay their long snaky necks down along their back and rub them around from side to side, and scratch with their beaks down the spine, along both sides of the chest, under each wing. All done with great energy and concentration.

The ducks seemed inspired by this display to do a bit of their own grooming, but I only saw one duck try the rising up and beating both wings trick. They all looked cold, with their heads pulled down near their shoulders.