Flight and fancy

As I emerged from the woodland a Stellers Jay started a raucous complaint about my intrusion into his territory. Thoroughly annoyed, he took flight. These birds have the most economical flight pattern. They give a few fast wing beats and then coast for a long distance, a few more wing beats and more coasting, its large wing plumes spread out like fingers. Quite a lot of distance covered and not a lot of energy expended. Smart bird.

Compare that to the crow, who has steady wing beats about every second. Plod, plod plod across the sky. You can tell it’s a crow as soon as you see the plodding. The Great Blue heron has a steady wing beat too, but much slower, his huge drooping wings bearing him ponderously from nest to food source. He seems so huge that it is a miracle his pterodactyl body gets off the ground at all.

The swallows zoom and dart with great speed as they catch insects in flight. If there’s a group of them try to follow the flight of just one bird – impossible. In spring I scan the sky for the first swallow (or swift – I don’t care. I just want to see that graceful, swooping flight. It’s my confirmation that spring is really here.)

Another fast flyer is the hummingbird; if you are close enough you will hear its humming flight before you see it. Its sudden darting and hovering reminds me of the erratic pattern of a wind up toy under the direction of a very small child. When one visits my garden and nourishes itself from one of my flowers I immediately promise myself I will plant ten times more of that next year.

The bushtit is a purposeful flyer. It gets together in large flocks and, en masse, they dash from tree to tree in urgent search for food. While each individual bird can weigh only a couple of ounces, together they create what I think of as a thundering herd. They signal their arrival by their fussy, hissy conversation, each one appearing to add a disapproving comment on its neighbours – ‘Tsk, tsk”.

When I was a student I was told that anthropomorphizing was BAD. A sin in religious terms and unscientific to boot. Which makes it all the more fun.


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