Picking up a Duck

Well, I’m probably the only person you know who’s picked up and carried a live surf scoter.

Yesterday it was brilliantly sunny.  We gave up trying to think or work inside and headed out for a long walk on the Clallam Bay beach. 

Dan spotted a black thing rolling around in surf.  It was a fat, healthy-looking sleek black male surf-scoter, in full breeding plumage, but very limp.

Alive or dead, we pick up floating animals and get them away from the surf.  If they’re dying, at least they won’t have drowning to deal with.  Then we go away, because nobody wants a predator hanging over them as they die.  If they’re dead, it’s just a dignity thing.  If we do it for animals, maybe somebody will do it for us.  What goes around comes around; the only heaven we’ve got (and the only hell — make nice to get nice).

I reached down and closed my fingers around the bird — and it startled awake.  Now I had a live surf-scoter in my hands, but still very limp, head dangling.

Heavy, sleek, soft, warm — reminded me more of a mammal than a bird.  I turned him over and carried him up the beach, and settled him under the end of a log, in the sun.  The wind was cold, but any sun would quickly heat up those black feathers.

As we walked away, we looked back with binoculars and saw the bird woozily raising his head.  When we’d walked a little farther, we saw that he’d settled his feet more comfortably under him, and was more in control of his neck.

We were gone for about an hour, but when we came back, he was gone.  No blood, no feathers, no sign of a struggle.  No bird floating in the water.

Scoters feed on shellfish by diving hard and swimming in the roughest water.  We think he’d stunned himself on one of the old piling butts in the surf.  When I put my long gripping claw-like split paws around him, we think I set off a response to a predator, and it was like a shot of adrenalin to his heart, waking him up.  At least that’s what it looked like. 

And it was neat, picking up a wild wet bird.


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