Lessons from Flapper: Listening
Flapper passed away on the morning of March 25, 2011 from old age and congestive heart failure. He was the light of my life and an amazing little fluffy personality that I miss dearly. I keep sharing this news because visitors keep coming to the site and learning this news for the first time. Thank you very much to everyone who has sent condolences. I apologize that I don’t have the energy right now to reply to everyone individually.
Flapper was a lone duck for 4-months before we adopted Georgie to be his friend. In that time, he grew very attached to me and I to him. Even after he moved outside and lived the natural life of a duck, foraging for bugs and swimming in his pool, he always remained very lovable and cuddly.
Flapper had dozens of different vocalizations and gestures that I noticed (surely there were more). Over the years I learned to notice if he was happy, sad, frightened, irritated, frustrated, bashful, hungry, tired, mischievous, territorial, jealous, peaceful and more. By spending time with him every day for nearly seven years, I also learned a lot about birds in general. Anyone who tells you birds are dumb is simply not paying attention. I often hear people who fight for animals say they are “giving a voice to the voiceless.” It is a courageous and selfless sentiment. But the reality is animals do have a voice. They are speaking very clearly, but most people just aren’t listening or choose not to hear them.
Birds are extremely emotional, much more than cats and dogs. Most people never see this because they don’t get “inside the flock.” From outside of the flock, it’s difficult to view birds as individuals, which also makes it quite easy for people to do things like eat them. Chickens are dumb and disposable, right? Cats and dogs are treasured companions but chickens and ducks are stupid food. It’s a convenient rationalization to make, but it’s based on ignorance. If you get “inside the flock,” and a bird notices that you are listening, a whole new world opens up to you.
Here’s an example of getting inside the flock. This is a female pekin duck who lives in a pet store. She is pretty happy with her feeder fish tank, but she’s also a little lonely. She had never met me before this video. You can see her do a double take at the moment she realizes that I speak duck, and that I’m talking to her. She literally does a double take.
After this, she let me pick her up and talk sweetly to her for ten minutes. She melted in my arms and cuddled like a baby. She had just met me, but she trusted me to pick her up and hold her, because she was yearning for comfort, attention and love.
Flapper taught me that although he was so very special and precious to me, he was not “special.” Every bird has just as much capacity for emotion and intelligence as he had. Every bird yearns for comfort, attention and love. And the worth of a bird doesn’t change depending on how intelligent it is, how much money it costs or how colorful its feathers are. They all, like humans, have the emotional capacity to love and the unfortunate capacity to suffer. Their suffering does not change if we label them “food” or hide them in factories in tiny cages so we don’t have to see their suffering.
Having Flapper grace my life with his wonderful, fluffy little spirit opened up my world to the intelligent, caring bird voices all around me. It taught me to listen and hear their voices. They’re talking in the trees, in my aviary and even in a pet store. They’re also talking on factory farms by the hundreds of thousands.
Listening to their voices has been a great gift that has shifted the course of my life for the better, in every day, in countless ways.