This Side Up

Snowbird at the backyard feeder


Carol spotted it and immediately looked at me.

There was a duck at our birdfeeder. No, it wasn’t perched on the feeder like many of its feathered cousins. Rather, it was in the snow under the feeder, quite comfortably nestled in a drift.

It was obviously on its winter vacation (Dare I say a “snowbird”) from the far north because it was not like the other ducks that frequent the bay.

Carol’s expression was incredulous yet carried a hint of suspicion. I knew she was thinking that I had something to do with the duck. She knows me too well. Was this a trick?

I looked out, my expression unchanged, as she was trying to read my face.

“What do you suppose we should feed it?” I asked.

The duck looked content, with its head tilted to one side. Falling sunflower seeds specked the snow and the squirrels snapped them up. The duck didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it had had its fill. Besides, I don’t believe ducks eat sunflower seeds.

Carol pondered the question.

She deliberately bought birdseed without corn because corn attracts pigeons and, once one pigeon arrived, we’d have dozens more. You think the Piazza of San Marco is full of pigeons? You ought to have seen our backyard when corn was in the daily spread.

Bread might be an answer, but Dave’s Marketplace seeded rye didn’t seem what our Canadian visitor came all this way to get but, of course, I could be wrong.

I edged to the porch door to get a closer look. Carol hung back. She was afraid I might scare it. She pulled on my shoulder and offered a skeptical smile. Her suspicion was right. I knew something.

I hadn’t told her about my morning row to Conimicut Point and there was really no reason for her to ask, since I try to get out on the bay whenever it isn’t too windy, too choppy or too cold. This winter has been exceptionally good for sculling, not that I ever find anyone else taking advantage of the smooth waters other than the waterfowl.

A flotilla of swans greeted me, or more accurately, ignored me, that morning. They’re accustomed to my forays and, unless they are directly in my path, pay no attention to me. The black ducks, the bigger of the ducks, are usually close to shore in smaller groups while the Bryant geese swim in long lines. They, too, know my routine and chatter a welcome when I come within sight. It’s the newcomers that are alarmed by my scull and its 10-foot oars outstretched like anemic wings beating the waters.

True Canadian geese, not the expatriates living on golf courses, take to the air in large flocks as I approach. Their honking echoes across the water, often sending companions in distant corners of the bay into the air.

On Thursday morning, there was lots of activity. A spring feel was in the air and it seemed the birds on the water and the sparrows that nest in our porch eves all rejoiced at the sun’s arrival.

I headed toward the point, staying parallel to the shore. A raft of ducks farther off shore bobbed on the gentle swell. They were a tight-knit group, except for a single duck. It looked like same species, but at that distance it was impossible to tell. I wondered why it was the outcast and whether it had been injured; possibly by the hunters at Gaspee Point.

I made a mental note of the duck’s location to check it out on my return. That would present problems, since one faces backward while rowing. But that was a technicality compared to the dilemma I would face if the bird were injured. What would I do for it? There would be no way of transporting it to shore. Maybe I could herd it in that direction. And then I thought maybe I was imagining things but I wasn’t. The duck was where I remembered it. Its companions were gone. I altered course and headed toward it. That didn’t trouble the duck at all. Soon it was along side, its yellow eyes staring steadily from either side of a blue bill. This was crazy.

I reached over to grab it and that was a mistake. The boat wobbled and I was loosing my balance. A vision of capsizing flashed into my head, of my boots filling with water, pulling me down as a chill began running through my body. I dropped the duck and reached for the oars. The boat steadied. I wasn’t going to go for a swim after all. But I determined I wasn’t going to leave the duck and now it is very much at home at our bird feeder.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised if the decoy brings in other ducks. If it does, we’re going to need some corn.


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