Thursday, December 26, 2013

When peck comes to shove...

There are three dozen or so coots foraging for their breakfast this morning about 50 feet beyond the edge of our backyard---I'm guessing the water's around 4 or 5 feet deep. I noticed something this morning for the first time: While all of these funny little waterfowl are after a meal, they don't all employ the same tactics, at least not all at the same time.

At any given moment, one out of maybe four takes it upon himself to hold his breath and get his head wet. He disappears under the surface for about 5 seconds then emerges with a clump of vegetation hanging from his beak. Upon breaking the surface he's greeted immediately by the nearest two or three of his dry-head-feathered brethren hoping to yank away his harvest before he has a chance to chew. I'd say roughly half the time he forfeits a good chunk of his produce to those who, at least at that moment, would prefer not to extend the effort it takes to feed themselves. After a while the working coot, either out of discouragement or sheer exhaustion, stops diving. Moments pass while the fidgety thieves stare at the spent producer, then, finally, one of the ambushers from earlier realizes that if he's going to eat he's going to have to get to work. So he dives, he emerges, he gets the crap pecked out of him (I'm thinking serves you right you little bastard). Even, alas, the bird who was previously doing all the work has now joined in on the plunder.

So these birds have a system. At any given time, there are a few doing the work and, by force, feeding the many. After a while the producer becomes so discouraged that he gives up and joins the many. There never comes a point, however, where any of them go hungry; for when peck comes to shove, if they want to eat and nobody's around to feed them, they go to work. Hmm...

No comments:

Post a Comment