Chronicle of a Bird Encounter: Part Four: The Finale

Part 1 described how I took an injured fledgling in.
Part 2 ended with me debating about whether to release the bird before talking to an expert.
Part 3 described the release and recapture of the bird.

And now the finale…

After talking with the local volunteer, I offered to drive the bird to her home. I grabbed my purse and the carrier box and walked out to the car. Once there I put the box carefully on the front seat, talking to the bird all the while.

“It’s okay. You’re probably not going to like this, but it won’t last too long.”

I climbed in, started the car, turned on my audiobook and headed out. I deliberately chose to take the back roads, thinking that might be better than moving at high speed, especially since my AC is defunct and I’m driving with windows open. As the heat increased, I lowered the window further and turned up the audiobook a bit so I could hear it over the noise.  Suddenly, I heard a rattling, vibrating sound.

Is that my phone? I checked. No.

The noise got louder. What is that? Is that my car? The audiobook? What?!? …

Oh, no! OMG, the sound is coming from the box! It’s the bird! In a sudden horrifying burst of insight, I realized I was bombarding the bird with stimulus–car ride, wind streaming through windows and loud audio book chatter. Quickly, I turned off the audiobook, and rolled up the windows.

“Oh, no! I’m so sorry!!!” I said. “I just didn’t think! That must have been horrible for you. So many noises and voices.  I’m sorry!! I’m so sorry!”

“Shhhhh….shhhhhh….” I continued, awkwardly patting the cardboard container. Then, realizing that was probably stressing the bird out as well, I reluctantly moved my hand away and stopped talking.

The terrible noise continued for about a minute. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Then suddenly, it stopped. The car was silent.

I looked at the box.


After a few minutes of continued silence, I began to fret.

OMG. Is it dead? Was that noise its death call? It sounded awful. 

I glanced over at the box again.

“Are you okay in there?” I whispered.

No response.

Oh, no. I killed it. I totally stressed it out and now its dead. It probably had a bird heart attack. (Do birds even have heart attacks?) I’m going to arrive at the volunteer’s house with a dead bird in a box. I’m going to start crying on her doorstep. Poor bird. Poor volunteer. 

I drove on, fingers gripping the steering wheel tightly, casting anxious side-long glances at the ominously silent box.

Finally, I arrived at the volunteer’s house. I pulled in the driveway and parked. I turned and looked at the box. I wanted to open it and check, but also didn’t. I sat for a minute. Staring at the box. Working up my courage. Taking a deep breath, I slowly reached over and moved the cardboard flaps, gently parting them so I could peek inside.

The bird sat, just where I had placed it, looking up at me. Clearly alive. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Oh, thank goodness, you’re okay.”

I gathered up the shreds of my composure and the cat carrier, wiped the sweat off my brow, and headed up the path to the house.

The volunteer opened the door and invited me in. I set the carrier on the floor.

“Great,” she said. “Thanks. I’ll be taking it up to the center today with another bird. I’ll just set it up now with some food and water.”

This was clearly a cue for me to depart, but I hesitated, reluctant to leave.

“I know they take in lots of birds,” I said. “I guess they can’t let everyone know what happens…” I trailed off suggestively, hopefully.

“They’ve already cared for almost 1500 birds this year,” she replied matter-of-factly, not picking up on my hint, or ignoring it.

“Oh, well, um, can you at least tell if it’s a woodpecker?”

She pulled back the cardboard flaps and peeked in the box. “I’m pretty sure it is, but I’m not sure what kind,” she replied. “It’s hard to tell with fledglings. I’ll let you know if I find out when I drop it off.”

“Oh, thanks!”

I stood in her foyer for a moment longer. Finally, after saying goodbye out loud to the volunteer (and in my head to the bird), I slowly walked out the door. This felt so weird. After all the worry and wondering, it was now out of my hands. I got in my car and slowly drove away. It was odd knowing that I would probably never know what happened to the bird. After fully occupying my brain for the past 15  hours or so, now it was ….gone.

I never did hear from the volunteer again. I’ve considered calling the center to ask about the bird’s welfare, but I keep hearing the volunteer say “They’ve already cared for more than 1500 birds this year.” Clearly, they don’t need to spend their time answering curious, superfluous phone calls.

I still think about the bird a lot and about the whole experience, replaying it from the initial choice to intervene, to the moment I handed the bird over to the experts. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, we never know the outcome of our actions. Over the course of this saga, I was plagued with indecision, operating well out of my areas of expertise. I could probably have made better choices along the way, but ultimately, with this one bird, on this one day, I tried to help and make a positive difference. I guess knowing that will have to be enough.


Chronicle of a Bird Encounter: Part Three

Part 1 describes how I took an injured fledgling in.
Part 2 ended with me debating about whether to release the bird before talking to an expert.

Now the story continues…

Hoping for a happy-ending story, but feeling a bit guilty for proceeding without expert advice, I picked up the box and carried it outside. (By the way, I have a hard time explaining why I didn’t wait. I’m kind of embarrassed. I think I convinced myself the bird was suffering in the box and ready to soar into the sky.  If I were reading this scene in a book, I’d be yelling at the protagonist–“Don’t do it! Just wait!” But somehow I managed to drown out that little voice in my own mind.)

Kneeling beneath the birch tree, I opened the box and tilted it slightly toward the grass. In an instant the bird had hopped out. It flapped its wings.

“Come on, little guy! You can do it!” I said, stepping back to give it a bit of space.

Instead of flying though, the bird hop-flapped across the driveway and the yard until it reached the shelter of the trees.


DSC_0290.jpgIt then hopped on to a tree and started climbing. OkYes! This might work. I was feeling cautiously optimistic. Until… a few inches up the tree, the bird stopped moving.
“Come on!” I encouraged the bird. “You can do it! Just keep on climbing!” After a few minutes it was the clear that the bird was not going to climb higher.  I decided to give it some space and check back in a few minutes. I walked back inside and checked my phone. Sure enough, there were not one, but two messages on my phone from Avian Haven.

Ugh. I should have waited.

Feeling guilty, I called back. Again, I got the recorded message. This time as I left my message, a call beeped in. Avian Haven! I answered, relieved to finally speak with an expert. In a garbled gush, I confessed to releasing the bird and asked for advice. The volunteer was kind and reassuring, but based on what I described, she wondered if the bird might have a fractured wing. Apparently birds can still flap with a fractured wing, but aren’t able to fly.

While talking to her, I walked back out to check on the bird. It was still a few inches up from the base of a tree. After discussing options, we agreed that I would try to capture it. Then if I could recapture the bird, she would get me in touch with a nearby volunteer who was already planning to drive it up to the center later that day.

I lined the cat carrier with an old towel (No, birds can’t smell. I’d asked.) and per her instructions, grabbed a soft, old T-shirt. This was going to be interesting. I approached the edge of the yard and put down the carrier. The bird was right where I’d left it. I slowly stepped toward the tree and the bird scrabbled around the trunk and out of sight.

“Hey, buddy, don’t worry! It’s okay. I’m going to get you some help.”

I continued a run of reassuring comments, but each time I approached, the bird scuttled to the opposite side of the tree trunk. It peeked around the edge of the trunk, eyeing me with suspicion. We moved back and forth. Back and forth. Eventually I had to laugh–that eye!

But even though I saw the humor in the situation, I was increasingly worried. How am I going to catch this guy?  Along with that worry came the weight of responsibility. I should have waited to let him go.


After a bit of thought, I carefully gathered the T-shirt in one hand and reached my other hand high around the tree trunk to grasp it. I couldn’t see the bird now, but I slowly lowered the shirt toward where I hoped the bird was. With a loud shriek the bird dropped off the trunk and started hopping away in the dense underbrush. Great! I pursued, maintaining a flow of one-sided conversation with the bird (“Come on! I’m trying to help!”) and ultimately, after some creative underbrush maneuvering, low-level cursing, and good luck, within a few minutes I managed to capture it.

When I lifted it up, holding it within my T-shirt, it immediately started shrieking again. Oh, no! Am I hurting it?  I held my hands cupped around the bird, careful not to exert any pressure, but determined to keep it within my grasp. Wow! What a racket! I looked overhead warily, expecting irate bird parents to dive bomb me in response to their offspring’s clear distress. Then, quickly and gently, I deposited the bird in the carrier.

Success! Now to get the bird to Avian Haven!

to be continued…

Chronicle of a Bird Encounter…Part Two

In Part One (here) I shared my discovery of a fledgling out of its nest and my decision to take it in overnight. I ended with the line: “I closed up the box and set it in the mudroom, crossing my fingers that I was doing the right thing and that the bird would make it until morning.”

Part Two: the story continues…

In the middle of the night I woke. How’s the bird? That box is really small. Maybe it’s too small. But I didn’t have another box. Oh…wait…I could have used the cardboard cat box we got from the shelter.

I thought about this for a few minutes. Should I go downstairs and move the bird to that box or would that be more stressful?

But…wait! Can birds smell? And shouldn’t I know that? If I put the bird in a cat carrier, would I be surrounding the bird with dense cat scent? A feline miasma? Ugh…that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

I tossed and turned. At around 5 am I crept downstairs. After pushing start on the coffee machine, I walked into the mudroom. The box sat on the counter. What would I find inside? Please let it be alive! Please let it be alive! I took a deep breath and carefully started opening the box, trying to move the cardboard flaps without too much jostling. Immediately, the box shook and the happy sound of flapping wings hitting cardboard filled my ears.

Oh, thank goodness! It’s alive! And active!
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The beating wing sounds subsided and I peeked into the box. There was the bird, dry now, and definitely looking like a fledgling woodpecker…maybe a red-bellied

“Hey, little guy,” I whispered, “How ya doin?”

It sat in the box, unmoving now. Its beak was open, but it was silent. Why is its beak open like that? Is it thirsty? How long can it go without food and water? After a moment, I carefully closed the box up again, not wanting to stress the bird with my presence.

The clock dragged until 8 am when Avian Haven opened. Exerting extreme will power, I resisted peeking into the box again. At 8:01 I called AH and much to my dismay, no one answered. I listened through the long answering machine recording and left a message explaining the situation. Then I waited for a response. And waited. And waited. It felt like an eternity.

At 8:40, I still hadn’t heard back. I was increasingly concerned that the bird must be thirsty and hungry. I had checked again, and its beak was still open. That just didn’t seem right. And the darned box was small. Really small. The bird was clearly in better condition than it had been last night, but it had already been in the box for over 12 hours.

That’s when I started arguing with myself.

Me #1: Maybe I should let it go… It’s definitely improved. It can flap its wings …
Me #2: Just be patient and wait for the call.
Me #1: But it’s taking so long!
Me #2: You should have left a message last night. They’re probably working through the backlog of calls. They’ll call soon.
Me #1: It’s been 45 minutes! Maybe I can just try to release it…see what happens when I open the box…
Me #2: For goodness sake, just wait until they call back!
Me #1: But…it might just fly off! Wouldn’t that be great?

Back and forth. Back and forth. The phone remained silent.

What should I do?

to be continued…

Chronicle of a Bird Encounter…Part One

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hKurt walked into the family room, wiping rain from his glasses.

“There’s a fledgling out there. I think it fell out of a nest during the storm.”

“What? Where!?” I asked.

“Right out under the birch tree,”  he replied.

“Where’s Juniper?” I asked, immediately worried about our ferocious beast of a cat.

“She’s out there, too,” he said.

“What!?!” I squawked. Quickly I threw on shoes and ran outside, barely listening to Kurt’s continued comments.

“I don’t think she’s touched her…the bird was upside down under the tree…I doubt it will make it…”

Sure enough under the birch, through the dark and rain, I saw a bedraggled mound of feathers. Nearby was Juniper, our beast of a cat. Luckily, as far as I could tell, she had not yet pounced. I raced over and quickly scooped her up with, I confess, some fear for my continued health and well-being, and dumped her inside. Quickly shutting the door, I walked back out to take a look at the bird. I crouched down in the grass speaking softly to it.

bird.jpg“Hey, baby bird, what’s up? Did you take a spill? Where’s your nest?”

The bird was upright, but still looked pretty pathetic, sitting in the grass with damp, black wings semi-splayed to each side. It was hard to see colors on the rain-darkened feathers, but it looked like there were some spots of white. What kind of bird is it? White spots…big beak…I wonder if it’s a woodpecker?

Slowly I reached my hand toward it and immediately it fluttered, opened its beak and lunged toward me threateningly. I quickly pulled my hand back. (Confession: Lunge might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it definitely poked in my direction. I had a quick flashback to those raptors in Jurassic Park, expecting a loud rattling hiss to emerge from that little throat. I mean birds are related to dinosaurs, right? And that beak looked pretty large!)

Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus GIF

I regrouped and chided myself. Physical bravery has never been my forte, but this wee, soaking-wet, disheveled bird was clearly not going to injure me. Get a grip, Molly! Again, I looked down at it. The poor thing was clearly unable to move to safety and the rain continued to fall. Could its parents be waiting nearby? Should I move it into a tree?

Uncertain what to do, I went back inside and posted on a birding site that I’m a member of:

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After a few minutes of anxiously waiting for a response, I was relieved to see the advice finally start flowing. Many people immediately suggested leaving it alone. One charmer advised me to set the oven to 350 degrees. Multiple people suggested calling Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center, for help. Unfortunately, a quick call confirmed that they were closed for the evening.

One vocal poster opted to lecture me about having an outdoor cat in the first place. This led to a tangential fire storm of posts as people rebuked him for giving unsolicited, unrelated commentary and advice, and he responded by posting multiple articles about cats and how they devastate the environment. This roused the cat lovers. He then suggested that cat owners who let their cats outside were inhumane and irresponsible, just letting their vulnerable cats out to die somewhere, victims of wild animal attacks. I’m not quite clear what his point was–that cats are killers or that they will be killed. Maybe both? That thread got a little heated and out of control and by the following morning was removed by administrators. I steered clear.

Meanwhile, I focused on the sane portion of the post, trying to figure out what to do.  The bird clearly was vulnerable where it was, but so often the experts say that people tend to intervene when they shouldn’t. Finally, after a bit of research on the Avian Haven site and the consensus on the posts, I posted the following, still uncertain this was the correct course:

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 12.23.19 PM.png

Shortly after posting that, I got a request to accept a private message. When I accepted it, I got this message.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 12.25.19 PM.png

Change of plans. I wasn’t going to argue with an expert. I scrambled around the house assembling supplies, then quickly prepped a box. Dashing back out into the rain, I gently scooped up the fledgling, careful to avoid its beak. It struggled against my hands, but when I settled it on the soft towels in the box, it sat quite still. Clearly, this bird was shaken up. Poor little thing. I closed up the box and set it in the mudroom, crossing my fingers that I was doing the right thing and that the bird would make it until morning.

To be continued…