Flight

American White Pelican; fishing at Fishing Bridge, Pelican Creek, Yellowstone NP., WY

Slow soaring, quick flashing, short hops from branch to bush, cruising at tree top level, just going from one place to another. Birds in flight have fascinated humans (and those birds attendent predators) for longer than memory or known history. Science tells us what flight consists of, the physics, the biomechanics and any number of other “ics” but the mystery and fascination continue for those that are smitten with the feathered others that surround us, songs sometimes muted by the din of civilization, fenced in by the boundaries we demand of all things wild. But the birds don’t listen, they just fly. The issue then becomes, where?

Our human horizons, our memories are too small to truly realize the shrinking of the world we inhabit. Of course the numbers are out there, 3 billion birds have disappeared from the continent over a short span of time, a couple of generations. Did you notice? Close to home, something like 85% of pinyon jays are now gone, we have a seemingly healthy population of them where we live so the number comes as a shock, we haven’t noticed such a decline. Memory deceives, how many black birds were in the marsh last year? More than this year? Jason Mark has written an essay “Antidotes for Ecological Forgetfulness” in the November 2022 issue of High Country news. Very much worth a read on this subject.

Here are a few images of the magic, birds doing their thing, in the air.

Mountain Bluebird at take off; Fremont County, CO. Gotta’ get into the air before flight happens.
Mallard duck female taking off from water; Bosque del Apache NWR, NM
Mixed flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbird in mass flight; Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Maybe you’ve seen a flock of blackbirds blasting around a roosting or feeding area, changing direction in less than a heart beat and don’t seem to have collisions even while flying wingtip to wingtip. How do they manage that? Research tells us that Starlings, who fly in huge masses, thousands of birds, manage their mass aerobatics by eachbird keying off of the 6 birds surrounding it. These blackbirds probably do something similar.

Mixed flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds in mass flight; Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Mixed flock of Red-winged Blackbirds [Agelaius phoeniceus] and Yellow-headed Blackbirds [Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus] in mass flight, a little better idea of how close together these birds fly; Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Broad-tailed Hummingbird feeding on nectar of garden flowers Uruguayan Firecracker Plant; Fremont County, CO. Nothing can fly like a hummingbird.
Ruddy Duck male, launching attack on rival; Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, CO. OK, maybe not exactly flying but with his rich mahogany coloration, his bright blue bill and attitude, I thought he needed to be included.
Ruddy Duck male, launching attack on rival; Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, CO
Ruddy Duck male, launching attack on rival; Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, CO
Northern Harrier hunting, flying over refuge farm field; Bosque del Apache NWR., NM
Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis] adult flying; Raton Pass, Colorado

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