A recent question and answer item about whether birds are capable of having fun inspired a number of readers to write in with their own fun or piquant stories, and here are a few of them.
Are birds sometimes filled with glee? Read Arlo Darvial's story about the big woodpecker in his Burnsville backyard, and then decide:
"A pileated woodpecker came to take a shower in the sprinkler I had running for my trees. He was having a good time 'swimming' in the wet grass and being very comical. That is, until he jumped up on one of the ash trees I have treated every other year [to avoid disease]. He would revel in the sprinkler shower and then to show his joy would peck a hole in the ash tree, about 2-square inches per hole. Then he wasn't so comical after all and I had to go out and shoo Mr. Redhead away. But his visit made my day."
It's becoming widely accepted that birds may engage in activities just for the fun of them. Dot Landis, St. Paul, has fond childhood memories of playing with barn swallows:
"There was a large open field behind our house and I was interested in collecting insects, so my mother made me a large net for catching them. Sometimes when I stood in the open field, barn swallows would fly over me, coming lower and lower until I would swing the net in an attempt to catch one. They would shoot higher then, and then lower and lower again. We'd repeat this over and over, and looking back, I think the swallows were the ones that initiated this game when they saw me with my net. I had great hopes of outsmarting them and actually catching one, but I never did. It was a game that I think we all enjoyed."
[I had a similar experience during a visit to a farm several years ago where a hyper-intelligent border collie named Daisy ruled the roost. Soon after we arrived, barn swallows began swooping low over the dog's head, then flying off. Daisy shifted into game mode and when swallows came back on a sweep, she'd leap high into the air as if to catch one. Swallows and dog repeated this over and over until Daily was tuckered out, tongue lolling. The farmers said this clearly was a game, one they'd observed many times. — VC]
How about ducks finding ways to spice up their lives? Here's a tale from John Hickman, Bloomington:
"Hiking in the Grand Tetons some years ago, my wife and I came upon a group of harlequin ducks hanging out in a still pool in a roaring mountain stream. Every so often one would push out into the current and shoot the rapids for a couple hundred yards until it reached another still pool. Fortuitously, the hiking trail paralleled the stream so we were able to race alongside the cascading harlequins. They'd hang out in the lower pool for a while, then fly back to the upper pool and rest up before another ride."
Steve Kernik, White Bear Township, replied after I wrote that a Canada goose would be unlikely to poop on a person:
"Just a note to say that Canada geese most certainly do poop while flying. Once, heading to my car after work on the way to meet colleagues for a happy hour, a flock of geese flew low over me as they headed for a nearby pond. I felt something hit my head and reached up to find a poopy mess. I skipped the happy hour.
"I made the mistake of telling my co-workers why I missed the event and it became part of my permanent legacy. They thought it was so funny because I was the environmental planner for a fast-growing city, responsible for preserving wetlands, wooded areas and water quality. They thought the goose was critiquing my job performance." (At his retirement party his colleagues presented him with a Canada goose plush toy.)
What kind of creature would consider it fun to steal someone's shiny hearing aids? Warren Wildes of Arden Hills points the finger at a bird from a very smart family:
"On my way to a quick swim [in the nearby lake] I left my two tiny (and expensive!) hearing aids encircled by my watch band on a small table on my deck. When I got back, they were gone. My wife reported that she'd seen the aids a few minutes earlier, but our search was fruitless. We didn't think a squirrel took them. Then I recalled that a crow recently had been raiding the grape jelly we put out for orioles, and since they're known to raid golf carts for sandwiches, we felt a crow was the villain. My insurance covered most of the replacement cost, but it's likely that the company never really believed my true story."
Don Grussing of Minnetonka has maybe the strangest tale of all:
"I was walking into the Ridgedale shopping center one morning when a hen mallard flew off the roof, three stories up. It seemed as if the duck was diving at me as she lost altitude. Suddenly something fell from underneath the duck as she flew towards a panel truck in the parking lot. Sometimes you see things that just don't make sense, but here were two of them: Ducks don't dive bomb and they don't carry stuff.
"The plummeting object was big and hit with a splat. It was a duck egg and it smashed into the driver's side of the truck, where it smeared and ran down the window. The duck apparently was unable to control the timing of the release of the egg right after she flew off the roof. I hung around for a while, hoping to talk to the truck owner, but finally gave up. I suppose he came out, found the mess and thought someone had vandalized his vehicle."
It just goes to show that we should keep our eyes on the birds, they surprise us sometimes.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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