The Wickenburg Sun: Snowbirds of A Feather

Guest Column by Lorraine Brodeck

November 30, 2022

Webster’s Dictionary defines snowbird as:

1. Any of several birds (such as a junco or fieldfare) seen chiefly in winter.

2. One who travels to warm climates for the winter.

Undoubtedly, we’ve heard a few of the jokes “flying around” about snowbirds: including how they drive 60 mph on the #60 because they think that’s the speed limit. And they maintain this speed (or lower) in the “fast” lane (that’s the left-hand lane; also known as the “passing” lane) for those from “Can-uh-duh” (yet another snowbird joke).

But a recent news’ story featured a record set by a feathered snowbird—a young bar-tailed godwit. I’ve seen a few of those during my lifetime and some are driving on the #60. Seems this migratory godwit flew at least 8,435 miles from Alaska to the Australian state of Tasmania: non-stop, average 50 mph, over the ocean and they can’t swim! Ornithologists know this because the bird was tagged as a hatchling in Alaska with a little GPS chip and a teeny-weeny solar panel that enabled them to track its non-stop flight.

A sort of distant cousin to the godwit, named the American golden plover, uses Wickenburg as a rest stop on its way to South America. This bird is so similar to the Pacific golden plover that I believe I can speak about its behavior. The scientific name for this species is Pluvialus fulva which sounds very gynecological to me. In Hawaiian-speak, it’s klea, which translates to “one who takes and leaves”—just like our kids do when they head off to college or when our distant visitors come for a winter’s stay.

At our home on Maui, we had a klea who arrived year after year. Originally, we named her Katie. She would usually come screeching onto our lawn around September and stay until April. During her stay with us, she’d start refueling and fattening up on creepy crawlies while some of her kinfolk would touch down on golf courses—sometimes interrupting play on the back nine.

Typically, when a plover is on the ground, it will walk or run a few steps, stop suddenly and stare, then walk a few steps forward again. Just like aging human snowbirds do. A few weeks prior to its departure, the male plover grows what looks like little Nike swoosh logos on his head and neck with a black sleeveless shirt. Kinda like a tuxedo. But when Katie started growing what looked like a bowtie, we immediately renamed her Karl.

The same day that Karl decided to depart, a bunch of kleas were spotted gathering on the first runway near the Alaska Airlines terminal. Think about this: what if those handlers let them hop on the moving cargo ramp & fly baggage all the way back to Alaska? That would seem like first class to those plovers while the human snowbirds would be seated above in the cabin flying coach.

Brodek is a Wickenburg resident and author of the award-winning book, “A Nobody in a Somebody World; My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills,” which can be found on Amazon.