Jill Pertler

Jill Pertler

I never used to consider myself a birdwatcher. But this summer, I’ve had various species of birds cross my path. And while they all fly (I haven’t seen any ostriches or penguins) the manner in which they fly differs greatly from bird-type to bird-type.

Ducks are great swimmers; the same can’t be said about flying. Oh, sure, they do fly, but they work very hard at it. The effort required is great. They stick their necks out (literally) and flap their wings with rapid voracity in order to stay air-bound. Watching them fly — and expend such great energy — requires energy. When they land on the water and re-enter their element of swimming, I nearly breathe a sigh of relief.

Like ducks, loons do quite a bit of swimming — and diving at depths up to 200 feet in order to secure supper (fish). They fly at speeds up to 80 miles per hour, but taking off is difficult, in part because their bones are not hollow, like most other birds.

Hummingbirds, on average, flap their wings about 50 times per second. You read that right. They work hard to stay in-flight, but you wouldn’t know it. They make it look effortless. They hover more than fly.

Ostriches (which I haven’t seen this summer) don’t fly, but they can run. Oh boy, can they run — at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour. That’s faster than a camel, but who’s counting?

Penguins don’t run and they don’t fly. I’ve never seen a penguin in the wild, but find them fascinating. Their strengths (as I see it) are loyalty and steadfastness. A daddy penguin goes months without eating in order to protect and keep the egg holding his baby warm.

Eagles don’t swim, but they also don’t fly — not exactly. They mostly soar, which is an upgraded version of flying. They flap their wings occasionally, but they are situated so high in the sky the wind currents aid their airborne existence.

Ducks flap-fly, loons are good flyers once airborne, hummingbirds hover, ostriches and penguins never leave the ground and eagles soar. We all can see the analogy here.

Some people are like ducks. They expend great amounts of energy in order to do something they weren’t really meant to do, while ignoring the skill set they were born with — in the case of ducks, swimming. They can fly, but they’ll never be great at it. It will always require great flapping, great energy and great sticking out of one’s neck.

Some people are like loons. They have difficulty taking off, but when they do, they can move forward at great speeds. In addition, they shouldn’t ignore their real skills (in the case of the loon — diving) because that’s where the food comes from.

Some people, like hummingbirds, may appear small but in reality they are capable of great things — like making flight look as effortless as hovering. Hummingbirds think outside the box. I admire this creativity. Hummingbirds could see themselves as tiny and relatively powerless; instead they maximize their potential.

Ostriches can’t fly and they could choose to see the world through this lens, much like people who wish to do something that they can’t. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, ostriches nurture their running potential. They are like people who are faced with overcoming an overwhelming roadblock and take a left turn only to discover another skill set and another option in life.

Some people are like penguins. They don’t move as fast as those around them. They don’t fly like hummingbirds or loons. But they are faithful and dedicated. Their resolute nature bodes respect. They face conditions that seem unlivable and insurmountable. Yet, they survive.

Some people are like eagles. They aren’t satisfied with merely flying. They soar. They are blessed with spot-on eyesight that helps propel them into their next meal and the future. They are at the top of the food chain, but it isn’t always an easy place to be.

Birds are grouped together as beings with wings and feathers but they are as different as you and me. Each of them — and us — has our own set of difficulties and potentials. I admire birds because for the most part they maximize on their talents while doing their best to fly — even if they never leave the ground.

We could all learn something from that.

— Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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