Picking Favorites

Despite our resolve to remain aloof and not get attached to individual birds, it is hard not to pick favorites. The scientist in us tries to be objective but just like people, birds have individual personalities and before long one of them cracks our attempts at impartiality.

For some unknown reason I am always drawn to the underdog. You might think that would be number 11-15 as the youngest bird in the group and the lone male in the cohort. I can sympathize with his plight.  I am only male in my family which includes the dog and the only male in our head office. But to be honest it’s not that bad. There are certain advantages to working and living in an all-female environment and if I can do it, so can he.

Brooke and Colleen worked with the birds every day at Patuxent this spring and got to know them better than anyone. When it was time to ship them to White River, they warned us that number 2-15 was dumb as a brick. As a chick she had a short attention span and was easily distracted by moving grass or leafs fluttering down from the trees. Keeping her focused on the trike was a challenge and training her took more time that the other birds. So when she arrived, we expected her to wander off or walk into walls, but she surprised us.

Between the wet and dry pen there is a gate with a 2×4 wooden threshold about 8 inches off the ground. Each bird that crosses it for the first time inspects it carefully and tentatively steps over. In fact number 10-15 took several hours to make that leap, but number 2 was the first over.

Since then she has become one of the group leaders. She is often first out of the gate and inevitably the first to find the sweet spot of the wing. Lately she is getting comfortable in the air and has started challenging the aircraft by speeding ahead and taking the lead. I have had leave the others behind several times to chase her and re-assert the dominance of the aircraft as leader of the flight. Once she gets tired she will tuck behind the wing again, while we wait for the others to catch up. Before long though, she is back out front. She has grown into a fine, strong bird, eager to fly and test the limits of her ability and our authority. She is no longer the underdog but she is still my favorite.

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  1. Catherine Wohlfeil September 15, 2015 9:43 pm

    Maybe following was never her goal. She explored the world and was amazed at something as simple as a falling leaf. And when others wouldn’t bridge the gulf created by a barrier she marched bravely forward to leap that threshold and discover what lies beyond it. Hopefully she will continue exploring, calling the rest to follow her, and someday take the lead as she brings them all back home.

  2. Kathie Rushlow September 15, 2015 6:44 pm

    Joe, Your comment about the underdog surging ahead in a new environment reminded me of the changes in students over the summer between their Grade 2 and Grade 3 years. Often those who had a hard time focusing came back with blossoming leadership tendencies that were a thrill to observe. My most challenging boys have turned out to be some of the most amazing leaders!

  3. Mollie Cook September 15, 2015 2:18 pm

    What a great report with some insight as we near migration. So great to hear about 2-15……….my sister & I named her “Faith” early on & she has certainly lived up to that!!

  4. Ann Manning September 15, 2015 1:14 pm

    Many great battles were fought, and won because a brilliant leader sent out his best scout to determine the terrain, the enemies weakness. Vast territories were crossed, and conquered because the best scout went in first. Perhaps dear 2-15 sees herself as your top scout.She has a job,and just wants to get er done. Love your writing,and the prayers of so many will be with you and the team when you lift off on the great migration south.

  5. Mindy September 15, 2015 11:02 am

    Love the “personality of the birds” stories. Of course as a craniac, I am attached to all of them big time. As a professional, you give a new perspective from the air and the ground, and that makes hearing about individual birds all the more special. Thank you for all you do every day for these beautiful, amazing Whoopers and for “putting up with” all the women who make your day a little easier. Females rock ya know….

  6. Sallly Swanson September 15, 2015 9:23 am

    Thank you, Joe. I really enjoyed reading the field journal. You all are amazing people! And, the birds are spectacular!


  7. Janel Novak September 15, 2015 8:18 am

    It is a pleasure to read about the antics of these wonderful birds.

  8. Jillbru September 15, 2015 7:41 am

    Nice that you admire #2’s venturing out ahead of the trike – I had thought it would irritate or worry you. Thanks for the story!

  9. Kay Huey September 15, 2015 7:34 am

    Thanks, Joe. In the previous two years I, too, had favorites, usually the underdog. This year, the cohort has seemed so unified that it’s been difficult to pick out one bird over the others. Now, I’ll be watching for #2!

    By the way, I’ve appreciated hearing a play-by-play while you’re doing a million other things. Like flying a flimsy contraption.

    Thanks again!

  10. Patricia Ewing September 15, 2015 6:57 am

    Love this story… thanks Joe…