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Friday, January 14, 2011
The Leadership of Ducks
I call him Mr. Bill, short for William Morgan Hooded Merganser, XXII.
Or, it might well be Pete, or Larry, Byron or Maurice.
These days, there are as many as three dozen of these Hooded Mergansers who swim in the water in front of my house. They and their mates and brood of chicks.
You'll forgive me. It's hard to tell them apart.
Or, it could be Yvette, Loraine, Muriel or Gwen.
She keeps herself rather dowdy, like the other girls, but rather unlike their mates with their magnificent white heads.
I love the red tinge to the tuft of hair on her head. I wonder who does her hair. It's a wonderful, creative flourish of independence to an otherwise drab appearance - necessary, of course, when survival depends on your ability to "blend in".
They and their neighbors, the Wood Ducks, take regular early morning swims by the house. We've become acquainted enough over the past weeks and months that they no longer run from me when I appear on my deck to toss them some bread.
On your left is Mr. Frederick Barton Wood Duck, XXIV - "Fred" for short. On your right is his mate, Ms. Ethel.
The Wood Ducks and the Hooded Mergansers share the waterways and marshes here at Llangollen, swimming along with the chicks in their brood, searching in long dives under the cold, icy water for fish, or insects or any other aquatic life form.
While they've come to recognize me - I'm the odd, tall bird, bundled up but shivering in my bright red winter coat on the deck, who brings them something to eat - they are still very skittish about noises. They hate the sound of the door opening but are especially nervous about the "click" of the lock on the door.
I imagine it sounds to them like a rifle being cocked, which strikes immediate terror into their little hearts. They fly off in a great flurry and flutter of wings and water dripping off their webbed feet.
Can't say as I blame them. I don't know when hunting season is around here, exactly. It seems to me that I think it's over and then one morning, out of the blue, I will awaken at 5:30 AM to the sounds of gun fire ringing over the marsh.
The gulls, on the other hand, look at the ducks with utter and complete disdain, aloof and barely moving from their perch on the poles at the end of my dock.
What's fascinating to me about these two particular kinds of duck is that the babies swim with absolute abandon, disappearing in occasional long dives under the water in search of food.
The mama and papa ducks, however, are ever watchful. Especially the papa ducks. They turn their heads constantly - to the left, to the right - in constant surveillance for predators. They do take occasional long dives under the water in search of food, but as soon as they surface, they return to their vigilance.
What I find most endearing, however, is when they look back over their brood. Every now and again, when the chicks are taking too much time, or papa gets a little anxious about my red-coated presence, mama will continue to lead while papa swims around and back behind the chicks, closing in the circle and moving them along.
It doesn't matter whether one of the Wood Duck chicks has wandered into the Hooded Merganser clan or vise versa. If papa says it's time to scurry, it's time to put a move on, no matter who or what you are.
I know. It's instinct. Ducks aren't able to reason, much less think strategically, the way humans do.
Even so, I love the egalitarian quality of this duck life, at least as I've observed it in these two species. No one fetches any food for the leaders. They take care of themselves, right along with everyone else.
There don't seem to be any particular "perks" that come with the job of leadership. They simply do what they do because that's their job.
They aren't tribal - only caring for 'their kind'. While they are in the water, the elder Hooded Mergansers take care of the younger Wood Ducks and vise versa. That's what you do when someone is more vulnerable than you.
They aren't afraid to let someone else "take the wheel" so they can go back and check on the rest of the flock, keeping them all in the relative safety of a wide circle while giving them the illusion of absolute freedom.
Every now and again, you have to go back with your flock, checking in on them, in order to keep moving forward.
There's a lesson or two to be learned, with these wonderful creatures of the waterway and marshes, about leadership in community.
I find it ironic that those who speak loudest about the "natural order" of things are the very ones who define leadership as having power over, rather than serving and sharing power.
That's the way Jesus led. It's the way he taught his disciples to lead.
Why is it so hard for humans - especially those of the flock who call themselves "Christians" - to figure this out?
I think, perhaps, we need to be more "bird brained" in our leadership.
If we can't listen to The One we call "Rabbi", perhaps we might listen to others of God's creatures, who often lead and teach by simply living their lives, serving others as best they can.
Then again, there will always be gulls among us.