We watched in the rain – the pouring rain – we few, we band of sister-brothers – the young couple with their baby protected by the carriage and Mama holding the umbrella while brave he took off shoes, found a box, jumped in the swirling channel of water and tried oh so hard to capture the wee bird in such need of rescue she could not imagine . . . they, a family of three . . . and the couple – boy-girl-friend (there needs to be a better adjective for those not-yet partnered) – she the brave and dedicated one of us all, hoisting herself over the legal fence into the land where the birds cavorted and perpetrated their murder, right before our eyes . . . and we – Rae Rae Rachel and I with umbrellas brandishing them like brooms more than swords in our efforts to swoop away the attackers.
What, oh what, was happening?
A duck – youngish – perhaps a teenager, its gender unclear to us but we call her her – for her lack of aggression, her acceptance of her fate without counter-attack – is attacked. The young police officer, a knowing smile on his face later tells me (not unkindly) that this is what duck sex looks like. What I think but do not say is that this is not the look of duck sex – this is the look of duck lynching . . . the feel of dark southern nights in decades gone by when the rich and the poor, trash all, gather in their collective whiteness and do away with one who is of their tribe if they had but eyes to see it.
Ducks and perhaps geese and definitely swans all gathered, sometimes allowing a little one-on-one and other times moving as one – like a mob unleashed, attacking this one young duck.
They ripped the feathers from her head, leaving a red blister of scalp from top to neck shining forth. They tore feathers from her back, leaving a stripe of pink flesh down its back. They pinned her to the ground and when she escaped in to the water, they pursued and tried to drown her.
The one of our number who braved the city’s fence tried in vain to catch her to bring her to a vet’s care, all to no avail, although the effort was Herculian. The young man tried in vain a similar move – but she, our tiny would-be rescue, could not envision that we meant help rather than harm to her.
I know in my knower this wasn’t about sex, not even rape sex. This was about shunning . . . outcasting . . . marginalizing . . . perhaps she is sick and the others sensed it and cast her from their midst.
After all, they attacked when she kept coming back, again and again, in to them – the heart of them. When she withdrew finally at the last, going off a good distance, swimming away alone and upstream to waddle and limp her way under a tree – then and only then did the rest leave her to her own.
It was one of the loneliest . . . rending . . . things I have ever seen.
To be cast from the herd, the flock, the tribe – to be found wanting – to be sacrificed for the good of the many – to be seen as not one of us – oh my, oh my.
No, my dear young police fellow, this isn’t about sex.
This is about life.
And yes, I know they are sometimes the same thing.
But not always.
We humans, all in common cause for a time, drift dispiritedly away. No one cares for the ducks. They are on their own. Maybe that is as it should be. But this day, somehow it just seems wrong. And I cannot shake the image of our young wounded one standing alone under a tree wondering (in the way of ducks) how the water and the others have become her enemies.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I prayed. I don’t know what God’s answer is. I don’t have to. But I do know that even a duck in a city’s park can break a heart.
I am no expert on the behavior of water fowl. The surprising thing in this episode for folks seemed to be that all the species in the city's pond attacked this one bird -- with even the swans getting in on the action. The sites I've looked at this morning attribute aggressive behavior to mating. But this wasn't aggression. This bird had virtually all of its head feathers ripped out and enough from its back that there was a pink stripe of flesh down its back. One site, Viva! USA, seems to attribute this behavior to aberrant behavior in the flock brought on by such things as overcrowding when seen in farming of the birds.
And as suggested in Multiscope, captivity itself is a source of stress causing feather picking, which, per this source at least, does not occur in the wild.
I do not know to what extent living in a pond in a city's park constitutes 'captivity' -- the birds are theoretically free to come and go, but the park provides houses and other shelters and food to keep the fowl at the pond. What is free and what is captive?