Friday, July 17, 2009

Flights of Fancy

A few weeks ago, I stopped by a favorite birding spot to see what was going on at the old elm tree by the lake, where I’ve seen so many good birds (read about it HERE). Things were pretty quiet, but before I left, I stopped to watch the swallows winging over the athletic fields, catching insects on the fly. Their graceful, agile flight is so lovely!

One bird – a young tree swallow – caught my eye. There seemed to be something odd on its head, something large and white. The bird flew high and low, swooping and twisting in the air. Was it trying to get rid of the white thing? What was it?

Through my binoculars, I finally was able to discern that the white thing was…a feather. A large, white fluffy feather, probably from one of the dozens of Canada Geese that graze these fields every day.

A goose feather?? On a swallow’s head? How?

Ah, there it went…it finally fell off and began drifting down, first this way, then that way, zigzagging slowly to the clipped grass below.

What? There was the swallow, flying ‘round and ‘round the feather in circles, following it down, down, down, then snatching it out of the air just before it touched the grass.

The swallow flew around the field two or three times with the feather in its bill, swooping and swerving, and swishing that feather as it went. Up, up, up…then down came the feather again, with the swallow chasing it as before, catching it just at the last moment.

This whole routine was repeated a half dozen times before the bird dropped the feather and didn’t retrieve it, then flew off and out of sight.

There is no doubt in my mind that the swallow was playing. What else could it possibly be? I had heard about swallows playing drop-the-feather, but this was the first time I had seen it, and I will never forget the enchanting sight.

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