Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Bird in the Hand

"I realized that If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
(Charles Lindbergh, interviewed shortly before his death)

I have a cold. I have a cold and some serious brain fog. Just like my little chickadee. Another one hit the window today, dang it. We live in Eden and so we have windows all over the house. We also feed the birds. Bad combination. We've tried placing white, vinyl stickers in the middle of the windows -- in the middle of our view -- so the birds don’t fly headfirst into the glass. It doesn’t always work.

My Little Chickadee (c) 2009 John AshleyI heard the familiar “thump” while working on the computer, and I looked outside to see a little Black-capped Chickadee lying on the windowsill, two little feet pointed skyward. What can you do? Here’s what I’ve learned -- don’t give up on the fellow. I gently collected him in my palm and brought him inside. Setting him in an old towel, I lowered the towel into a big, clear tub with a lid (very important), and moved him to the warmest, darkest part of our house. And then I waited. When I left him, he looked dead to the world. He didn’t look much better thirty minutes later. But an hour later, he was standing up on the towel and looking for an exit. I carried him back outside before removing the lid (very important), and gently lifted him up in my hand. He blinked twice, and then flew off to the nearest tree. His brain fog had lifted!

Birds sometimes break little bones when they collide with a window, and then there’s not much you can do. My ornithology professor taught me how to squeeze a seriously-injured songbird (broken wing or leg) in your hand until it had passed. He believed that was the most humane thing to do. Still, that’s a really hard task for a bird lover. I’ll admit, sometimes I’ve carried seriously injured birds off to a quiet location in the forest – that way at least, the last thing they see is familiar. I don’t know if it helps them, but it helps me. A little bit.

But in my experience, most birds that fly into windows just get knocked foggy. You can’t rescue them all, but you can help many. What’s most important is to keep them warm, quiet and contained – and hope they recover. If left outside, their little inferno bodies are likely to burn up too many calories to recover before the fog clears.

Our previous bird/window collision was about a month ago, a Mountain Chickadee. I didn’t have high hopes that she was still alive, so I set her on a towel in a bucket without a lid. Big mistake. I spent a good part of the afternoon watching her fly around the house -- ridding herself of excess weight along the way.

Several years ago, a Northern Flicker (a medium-sized woodpecker) flew into an upstairs window. When I collected him, both eyes rolled back, then closed, and his head flopped onto his back. I figured he’d broken his neck, but I couldn’t bring myself to squeeze him. So I placed him in a towel inside a cardboard box, and left him alone in the studio. I checked on him every hour, all morning and into the afternoon. His eyes remained closed, his head still flopped back. Six hours into the ordeal, I was trying to think of a quiet spot to bury him as I opened the cardboard lid to reach inside. Suddenly, a big blur came flying out! Looking for an exit, he flew straight into the nearest window, hitting it head-on from the inside. Fortunately, he wasn’t flying very fast this time. The collision slowed him down just enough, and I grabbed him. His eyes looked clear and focused, and he turned his head from side to side. I carried him outside and lifted him skyward. He flew off, lifting my spirits along the way.

And finally, 27 years ago I got to meet an honest-to-goodness blackbird. I was working for a central Florida newspaper and had driven into town on a Sunday to print some photographs. No one else was around, but I heard noises coming from the newsroom. Somehow, a Grackle had gotten into the press area and dipped its long tail into the thick, black, newspaper ink. It then proceeded to explore the rest of the building, smearing ink everywhere it landed. I eventually corralled it in the city editor’s office, then carried it to the back door to set it free. As I watched it fly away, the door quietly closed behind me and I realized that my keys were back inside the darkroom. There I was, smeared with ink and locked out of the building on a Sunday afternoon. I called one of the writers, and he kindly drove into town to rescue me.

The most embarrassing part? I had to be rescued earlier that same day after locking my keys inside the car. Now that’s some serious brain fog.

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