Birds of a Different Feather (What happens when you fowl out?)

By Mike Plumb

( I first published this article in a national magazine a few months after I was diagnosed with a crippling spinal disease…by Mike Plumb)

An artist looks at a blank canvas with a draft, but also with a sense of possibility, hope, an expectancy for the unexpected to happen and a willingness to engage in the joy of that spontaneity (so says my wife)..Similarly, I have spent 25 years of my life looking at the church community that way. But now, after 25 years of this calling, my body can no longer handle the rigors of the ministry. God, in His creative life-interrupting abilities, has brought me from being driven by “the call,” to observing . . . bird calls.

In my forced, slowed-down pace, I have much more time to sit and observe the birds that hang around our little Oregon farmstead, in particular, four different bird groups that frequent our land. (None of which I own; their encroaching habits are merely taking advantage of my disability.)These four feathered-friend groups are: 1) Crows 2) Canadian Geese without Green Cards 3) Guinea Hens encroaching from my northern neighbors’ yuppie “world farm,” and 4) free-range Chickens from my southern hippie neighbor’s ranchette. Here are my (almost-scientific) observations about these four food groups, I mean bird families.

Corporate Crows

Most of us have some awareness about crow‘s social behavior. My own sense about crows is that some unseen power has forced them to mimic a World War II German army brigade. When they scold me for being in their visual space, I can hear the voice of the Furrier’s Fatherland. I have no doubt that crows are filled with superiority and nationalistic pride. I feel intimidated and lose my self-esteem in their presence. A Nobel prize-winning study states that these highly regimented birds always work as a team, no if’s, buts, or whys allowed and definitely no whining. When they overtake my trees, my fields, or both, they always have a scout and guard bird. These birds all must take their turns with

Au Crowe, a la carte

guarding and scouting and if either is ever caught napping on the job, it’s a capital crime and he or she must face the firing squad for irresponsible, reprehensible, disloyal, flaky behavior. In extreme cases, they literally “eat crow.” Now, the only person I know who’s ever literally eaten crow is my lovely wife. The story, according to her, is that she and a childhood friend shot a crow with a BB gun, then plucked the poor thing , fried it up, and ate it. For the record, she reports that it tasted like chicken.

Speaking of chicken, let’s move on to them, another of the bird species I have been observing. Now the twenty or so hippie-chicks appear surprisingly orderly. To my eyes of observation, they seem to

picture says it all

have perfectionist tendencies. However, to keep this honest I could find no scientific studies from any noble prize winners supporting my findings. So if you are a scientist that has studied chicken perfectionism please let me know so I can add that to-my findings. The chicken social structure is like the Darwinians of these farm groups. Survival of the fittest. I have watched one bossy hen rise to the top of the order and begin barking off orders to everyone and all, clucking and nagging them into submission. Not sure if this dominant hen is on a power trip or just wants her way, but pity the poor hen who is weak,non-conforming or simply having a bad feather day. She is literally pecked to death—hen-pecked. After watching all this social hierarchy, I’ve decided to eat much more chicken. By the way, I’ve also witnessed this exact style of pecking order in the area ministerial association.

Guinnea Hen

“here, doggie, doggie, Nice doggie”

The third exciting bird social group is a very interesting society indeed. The International Society of Guinea Hens. I guess the Guinea HIMS are still called Guinea Hens–one group of males definitely in touch with their feminine side. Anyway, these birds do their training in tight-knot confusion and when they get going, the noise they make rivals any heavy metal band around. Rumor has it that Metallica, outdone and demoralized after hearing these hens, retired in shame. Guinea society is in a constant state of noise, plus every emotional expression known to bird. If I give them the evil eye, immediate anguish comes over their faces. By the way, if you have never been up-close and personal to a Guineas face, it looks like a cross between a turkey, a buzzard, and a parakeet. Needless to say, their anguished faces get no sympathy from me. Their community reminds me of the old California joke: How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb…seven, one to screw in the bulb and six to share the experience. So when dangers comes after Guineas, these birds of a feather react with a cacophony of noise — dissonance that sends shudders down your spine, makes fingernails on a chalk-board sound like a lullaby. It’s like 40 semi truck horns simultaneously in no harmony whatsoever . If that noise doesn’t work to avert danger, then it’s every bird for itself–feathers flying from collisions, mass confusions, birds running every which way but loose. Sure scares me enough to run for my house.

The last group of birds are my heroes, and no, they’re not the Oregon Ducks. They are Canadian Geese. Well they are almost my heroes except for one major flaw. It’s a big one, the stuff I end up stepping into in my back yard, and lots of it. I’d say these Canadians have little or no regard for the U.S. DEQ, They are environmentally incorrect and the have no shame about it. On the wondrous side of things– which more than makes up for their flaws– is how graciously geese work together and actually like each other. (Not like some human beings I know.) Another thing I am amazed at is how they are always vacationing together. When they travel together they fly in V-formation as if saying, “We are victors one and all.”

The out-front goose not only leads but helps to create a draft that gives more air to all those in the wake. Then they actually take turns being the leader and navigator. Think of the responsibility they entrust in each other.

Geese also shy away from being over-achievers or, the arrogant-leader-syndrome. But no one in the goose community could ever complain or gripe that some guy isn’t caring his weight of responsibility. When the front visionary goose gets tired, he or she pulls off the lead and takes his or her place at the end of the line. At the rear of the V the ex leader can relax and refuel by just floating and coasting along behind the tail wind being produced by the new leaders.

Something even more remarkable and very much counter-Darwinian, is when any brother or sister goose gets sick, injured or can’t go any further, he or she is never left behind, never hen-pecked to death for not measuring up, never left in a state of confusion because everyone is out of control, never sentenced to the firing squad for a major moral failure. Actually when any single goose has to drop out, there will always be one or two other geese that will stay behind until said goose recovers or dies. Not sure about funeral arrangements, but I bet they have those covered as well.

 I relate to these bird groups from my own life and groups I’ve been associated with or thought I had some association with. The various bird groups can represent some churches I’ve known but also many other groups that make up our social world. So why would I write lessons from the animal kingdom? Perhaps because I have faith in humans, that we can be as honorable as the geese.

In most groups that gather socially for important or powerful sounding purposes, people like me wouldn’t have a chance. Most organizations/churches require high performance, an outstanding showing of loyalty and proof that weakness will neither cause embarrassment to the major core of the society, or to the leaders/ visionaries.

“What do you mean leave by the back door ASAP? I got rid of all back doors!”

I am privileged to be in community with a group of folks that are much like these Geese and allow me to float in the back of the victory formation or take the lead when I am strong enough, even though my sickness may not allow me to create a big draft. God, give us the desire to treat one another in the same way geese do. God help us to follow the example of the geese.

Leave a comment


  1. I wonder what metaphor the hummingbirds that frequent your yard for a month and then seemingly disappear, could be? Maybe youthful leaders who have unlimited burst of energy but burn out easily?


  2. serena swenson

     /  November 19, 2012

    It had been a priveledge to have been an under study with my husband with your geese group. Your words in love, prayer & leadership have changed us & moved us in the prayers your family has said for us.
    Most of the time we are hens or Guineas however teachers like you in our lives have inspired our walk along the path towards spiritual health. I relate to this very much as a former dancer and artist always seeking
    another creative way to worship. Thank you from Serena & Charlee. P. S. baby quail run in groups across the roads, when I have seen them they remind me of wild teEvangelists who yell on TV at night!



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