Friday, June 23, 2006

Look Out! They're Flying Low

A friend of mine reports having been hit by a bird while she was driving along minding her own business. And I don't mean the bird was doing its business and hit the car. The bird flew into the car =donk= as if it didn't realize there were huge amounts of air real estate above for it to traverse the countryside.

"I felt awful," she said. "I almost killed a bird. But maybe it was despondent and wanted to end it all."

My thinking is less a bad love affair than just the atmospheric conditions that day. From having lived on the water a long time, I noticed that birds --seagulls, anyway-- tend to fly lower before a storm and actually will stay on the ground if possible. On our way home, we had to pass an airport and our bad-weather report would be, "Seagulls on the runway." If a plane landed and they scattered, it was still a ways off; if they stayed put at the end even when the plane passed over them on its landing pattern, we knew it was going to be a really good storm and it would hit soon.

Sometimes, at a baseball game, a bird will get pinged by a ball in play. I don't watch games, so I never think to ask what the weather conditions were like when it happened. Perhaps there was an approaching storm and the feathered biped thought it was keeping a low profile when it suddenly occupied the same space & time as the round stitched object of interest.

Seagulls fly amazingly low when they are going somewhere and the sea is calm. Their wingtips barely miss the surface of the water as they move to wherever it's important to be. When the sea is breaking onshore, it's a bit different; they hang in the air, pushing into the wind just enough to hold steady over an interesting spot, then swoop down to pick up lunch. If they want to work a piece of shoreline, they will fly into the wind, then fly at less than wind speed so it pushes them slowly backwards, then fly into it again. If you are inside and don't feel the wind, it appears they are flying backwards -- and that's what I tell the outsiders at the shore diner. "Did you know that seagulls can fly backwards? Yeah, really. Look at that one out there."

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