One thing that brings us together in a time we’re all supposed to stay apart is we have something in common. We all look like shit. I had finally figured out exactly what length hair I should have, after all these years, and now it’s galloping away again and I’m on track for being one of those old stringy-haired hippie ladies. That’s okay. I’ve had decades of practice looking like shit and this sort of thing doesn’t ruffle my feathers much anymore. And nothing is going to be done about Dave’s hair until we fix the string in the weed-whacker. Also, we need to wait until we’re sure nobody’s nesting in there.
For a number of people who are not accustomed to looking unkempt (or, gasp, gray) it’s an eye-opener. But we’re not alone in this. You should see the birds.
Lots of folks are seeing the birds now, and wondering where they all came from. They’ve been here all along, of course, but only now got your attention. So take a good look: because a whole lot of them are in a state of major disrepair. Which makes them even easier to relate to. The scrub jays aren’t used to humility and seem to have lost a little of their verve. Their screeches of menace have gotten a sour lilt to them, more bad attitude than triumph. It used to be Tremble before me! Prepare for thy doom! and now it’s more Oh yeah? Something-something your mother, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer. The chickadees are too busy to get worked up about how they look. But let me break it to you gently. They look bad.
Feathers are super important for a bird. Most of what they’re good at would never happen if they were naked. Flying, staying warm, looking hot for the ladies, it’s all about the feathers. Your feathers go to shit, you will soon follow. And feathers wear out. So once a year, or twice for some species, they have to swap out the whole outfit for fresh.
Ducks make a clean sweep of it. Waterfowl in general just drop everything at once and head into quarantine in the middle of the pond until they resprout. Ornithologists like to say they do this to stay safe since they’re not able to fly for, like, a whole month. But shame and humiliation could explain it just as well.
The rest of the birds re-up their feather complement more methodically, a few at a time, so they can stay in the air. From the hummingbirds to the crows, everyone’s a mess. They’re rumpled and linty. If the same thing happened to my sweater, it would skip right past the Goodwill pile and go under the sink with the Lemon Pledge.
I thought I was prepared for Studley’s molt. Last year he had a bald spot and patchy cheeks. But this year I was shocked. That vulnerability of baby birds in their pink-goobery stage has always frightened me, until they grow up and develop spark and substance. But it turns out that the right bird outfits, just like ours, can hide plenty. And Studley, poking his head up and around, has revealed that there’s not a lot of bird there. He’s still a goober with fluff, until the fluff falls out. Please, please, Studdles, feather out! I need the illusion of solidity. I need to imagine you can’t be clotheslined by a strand of spider silk. Lordy, dude.