Sandy Priddy, who lives in Chattanooga's Mountain Creek Trails neighborhood, has been watching for months now as two, snow-white Pekin ducks have guarded an injured mallard in her backyard.
Neighborhood children have named the birds. The brown-colored mallard is Mallory, and the two white ducks are Hewey and Dewey.
Priddy wonders if people with different skin tones could learn a lesson from these birds. They show up in her backyard every day and seem to have formed a little family of three, she says.
With racial tension over police actions and political polarization about COVID-19 dominating the news this summer, Priddy believes the close-knit birds — who live in a pond that was part of the former Quarry Golf Course off Mountain Creek Road — tell a timely story.
"In this day and time, with so much violence and hate, why do humans act like that?" Priddy muses, while watching the birds from her deck.
Of course, it can be misguided to attribute human emotions to animals. There's a name for that, anthropomorphism, and animal experts tell us that comparing animals to people is dicey.
Still, it couldn't hurt to watch and learn.
If nothing else, a person who sits and watches birds instead of constantly scrolling their Twitter feed probably has an improved outlook on life.
Priddy suspects that Mallory's leg was injured by a snapping turtle in a nearby pond. The three birds were always tight, she said, but they really closed ranks after the injury to Mallory, which left her hopping around on one foot. (She's much better now, but still hobbled.)
"After she was injured, it was like the others thought, 'OK, we need to take care of this friend here,"' Priddy said.
Immediately, the two white ducks became Mallory's protective pals — call them her "wingmen." When rabbits came around the white ducks would chase them off, and they also shielded Mallory when a harassing heron wandered too close.
The three birds have lots of friends and protectors in the neighborhood. Signs that read "Warning: Duck Crossing" can be seen in high-traffic areas.
"All the neighbors are very solicitous of the ducks," says Priddy, a former school nurse who lives with her husband, Louis. Sandy and Louis used to own the Front Runner athletic shoe store on Hixson Pike.
Sandy feeds the ducks cracked corn every day. She has also provided them a bathing station, a washpan filled with water. Sometimes they venture into the pond, but are wary of the turtles.
Mostly, Sandy and Louis just sit on their back deck listening to songbirds and watching the tight friendship that Mallory, Hewey and Dewey have forged.
Mallards and Pekins are known to breed, so it's not a big surprise that the three would hang out. But it's their protective instincts toward one another that stand out.
The metaphor, if there is one, is that there's strength in numbers and helping someone who is hurt or needy can actually benefit the group.
After all, happiness experts tell us that helping others is one of the triggers to human satisfaction.
And if you think that's for the birds, then you just aren't paying attention.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.