Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Bad Feather Day

One thing that brings us together in a time we're all supposed to stay apart is we have something in common. We all look like shit. I had finally figured out exactly what length hair I should have, after all these years, and now it's galloping away again and I'm on track for being one of those old stringy-haired hippie ladies. That's okay. I've had decades of practice looking like shit and this sort of thing doesn't ruffle my feathers much anymore. And nothing is going to be done about Dave's hair until we fix the string in the weed-whacker. Also, we need to wait until we're sure nobody's nesting in there.

For a number of people who are not accustomed to looking unkempt (or, gasp, gray) it's an eye-opener. But we're not alone in this. You should see the birds.

Lots of folks are seeing the birds now, and wondering where they all came from. They've been here all along, of course, but only now got your attention. So take a good look: because a whole lot of them are in a state of major disrepair. Which makes them even easier to relate to. The scrub jays aren't used to humility and seem to have lost a little of their verve. Their screeches of menace have gotten a sour lilt to them, more bad attitude than triumph. It used to be Tremble before me! Prepare for thy doom! and now it's more Oh yeah? Something-something your mother, you'll be hearing from my lawyer. The chickadees are too busy to get worked up about how they look. But let me break it to you gently. They look bad.

Really bad.

Feathers are super important for a bird. Most of what they're good at would never happen if they were naked. Flying, staying warm, looking hot for the ladies, it's all about the feathers. Your feathers go to shit, you will soon follow. And feathers wear out. So once a year, or twice for some species, they have to swap out the whole outfit for fresh.

Ducks make a clean sweep of it. Waterfowl in general just drop everything at once and head into quarantine in the middle of the pond until they resprout. Ornithologists like to say they do this to stay safe since they're not able to fly for, like, a whole month. But shame and humiliation could explain it just as well.

The rest of the birds re-up their feather complement more methodically, a few at a time, so they can stay in the air. From the hummingbirds to the crows, everyone's a mess. They're rumpled and linty. If the same thing happened to my sweater, it would skip right past the Goodwill pile and go under the sink with the Lemon Pledge.

I thought I was prepared for Studley's molt. Last year he had a bald spot and patchy cheeks. But this year I was shocked. That vulnerability of baby birds in their pink-goobery stage has always frightened me, until they grow up and develop spark and substance. But it turns out that the right bird outfits, just like ours, can hide plenty. And Studley, poking his head up and around, has revealed that there's not a lot of bird there. He's still a goober with fluff, until the fluff falls out. Please, please, Studdles, feather out! I need the illusion of solidity. I need to imagine you can't be clotheslined by a strand of spider silk. Lordy, dude.


28 comments:

  1. I know! Our birds are looking mighty scruffy as well. Adorable, but scruffy. They have stubble. Their crests have cowlicks. They DO bathe a lot, but they still look as if they've been "sleeping rough." When you see a bird without feathers somewhere, you realize just how little bird there is to a bird. It's mostly song, personality, and feathers. Even its skin is so thin that you wonder how a gust of air doesn't break it open. You can see veins and organs through the skin! It's macabre! Grow your feathers, guys! Now! Please.

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    1. Swear the little dude's head is about to snap off.

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  2. Looks a little like Nearly-Headless Nick, the Gryffindor house ghost.

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    1. Izzat Harry Potter? I've never read it. But I love Nearly-Headless Nick. What a great name.

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    2. A House Ghost who was decapitated... but badly, so that his head was only partially severed. Played by John Cleese in the movie, which was great casting, even if it was a very small part.

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  3. Oh poor little Studly. He looks like he needs a little bitty birdy scarf. There are a lot of birds out around here right now, that I can barely tell what type of bird they are. This morning it is pretty cool and wet out there after weeks of super hot weather. I hope all of the little half naked birds will be able to stay warm enough.

    I finally cut my bangs back the other day. They were down to my lips. The problem was, I couldn't see to cut because they were down over my eyes. I cut them up past my eyes just barely enough to get an idea of where I was, and then I snipped and snipped. Thank goodness I stopped just in time before I had Mamie Eisenhower length bangs. But they still turned out a bit nerdy short.

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    1. YouTube videos are really helpful there, as I have bangs, too. REALLY helpful!

      I think that Murr could have a cottage industry (or birdhouse industry, if you will), making birdie toupees. Getting them on the actual bird (outside of Studley) may be a wee problem, however.

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    2. Well, even Studley won't let me pet him outright. I can get my finger THIS CLOSE but then he flies away.

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  4. I chuckled all the way through (especially at the scrub jay "Oh yeah?" attitude), but literally said, out loud, "Good Lord!" when the final picture scrolled into view. Stuff of nightmares, that one!

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    1. It took me about a hundred shots to get those last two. It's just a fraction of a second that he sticks it out there. But it's chilling.

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  5. I forget the cause, but I worked with an eagle whose feathers had been destroyed. We gave him thyroxine which made him/her lose all the feathers. We had to keep it in a warm room, but if you can imagine a very large plucked chicken with a big beak and enormous feet that was it. Keeping it in solitary made it feel less embarrassed. My head molted once and never grew back. I got over it.

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    1. Do you have pictures? Oh please?

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    2. I probably did have them, but it was long ago in the days of film. Still have the mental picture, though.

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  6. Oh yes. And it is another area where I am supremely jealous of birds. If only a complete moult (probably including my brain) could bring me up to spiffiness again...

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    1. Just my luck my hair would fall out and be replaced by a herd of moles. Oh wait, that's already happening.

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  7. Here in the highly respected South, our brilliant red Cardinals seem to molt first from just the neck, up, and it’s the stuff of gothic horror to see. I don’t remember ever seeing this in my childhood here, so it shocked me when I moved back. What’s weirder is that their bald neck and head is usually blue. So there’s this fat, fluffy scarlet body with a tiny, blue head that sports their seed-eater’s big, orange grosbeak. Gave me the willy frizzikins first time I saw it. I named them the Chernobyl Cardinals, figuring it was just one more shameful outcome of our region’s decades of willful decay. Bless their hearts.

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  8. I'm googling images right now. Holy shit.

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    1. Shoot, I took that as a suggestion, went to Google, and holy shit is right.

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    2. You're SO right! One of our resident males has more of a charcoal-gray look from the neck up, and we've christened him Skexis, as in The Dark Crystal.

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    3. I grew up with cardinals (and nearsightedness) and never noticed this before. That is absolutely appalling.

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  9. This is a good one! I love Studly, revealed. Poor little thing. If it's any comfort, all our Ohio birds look like poo right now, and so do I. Dave's mane and beard though, whooo! I think it's kinda cool! xoxo jz

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    1. We've decided he's gone past disheveled and has been elevated to eccentric.

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  10. It's so easy to forget just how thin birds really are, until you see them looking like Studley does right now. Even the heftier birds, like eagles, would probably look scrawny at molting time.
    Dave has fabulous hair.

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    1. He always did. You've seen the Young Dave photos?

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  11. Oh my! That is a frightening molt! I remember how shocked I was one year I saw a cardinal with no head feathers! Their skin is black under all that beautiful crimson...it was a sight! But it was also the first time I've ever seen their "ears!"

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  12. When I started handling and banding birds (including chickadees) I was shocked when I figured out how skinny their necks really are. Those feathers hide a lot of pencil-necks!

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    1. I realized something else about him during this molt, but maybe I'll save that for another post.

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