If I was the sort of person to engage in rampant anthropomorphism, and sometimes I am, I would say that late summer is the time of year when Mother Nature gets bored and likes to mess with us. Molt happens, bringing us the wonder of bald birds; confusing fall warblers start to get confusing; waders wander. And then, of course, there are the unruly gangs of teen birds.

Maybe “gangs” is a bit harsh. Also, “unruly”. They’re just hungry, and “flocks” is the conventional term. But they look ridiculous. They should pull up their feathers. They don’t know to stay out of the rain (neither do hummingbirds of any age, but hummingbirds seem to be able to get between the raindrops) so you see them matted and ruffled. They have pink or yellow at the corners of their beaks where the juvenile gape still shows, like makeup smeared on in the minutes before homeroom. They’re half in adult plumage and half in protective fluff still, and sometimes they’re as big as the the parents that they follow around, begging for food. They might lack a tail appropriate to the occasion. Teen birds are a mess.

Teen birds are a disaster. They get caught inside the feeder, somehow, and have to be rescued. They don’t understand cars and roads. They sit on the ground like chumps until well-meaning people pick them up to no good end. Their clumsy failures to adapt introduce reminders of sadness into our landscapes, force us to see our pets as murderers and our children as kidnappers, upend what we would like to think of as the natural order of things, where childhood leads to adulthood leads to age and only then does death intervene. The most unnatural natural order anyone could dream up, a pyramid scheme even more unbalanced than the one that actually exists.

In the existing order, teen birds are pretty low down the pyramid. The messy disaster of teen birds is what feeds the world.

Barn Swallow fledgling by Sara Hollerich, courtesy of USFWS

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at DaysAtDunrovin.com.