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January 14, 2006

Thursday

I was writing. A noise came from the living room. Becky was at work. Dog and rabbit were in the office with me. Who was it? I got up to check.

I leave the back door open for the dog, and to make sure the spiders in our house have enough flies to eat. A female English sparrow had come in through the open door and found her way into the kitchen. She had obviously tried to get out throught the closed windows in the corner of the kitchen. She sat on the window sash looking dazed. "Honey, honey," I said, and walked toward her to open the window, trying to appear as guileless, as nonaviphagous as possible.

It's not my fault my ancestors' lives depended on catching that branch every single time. Not all of us use depth perception to hunt. But birds still interpret my binocular staring as a prelude to snacking. I've often thought of inventing wildlife observation glasses that obscure our scary, forward facing eyes to reassure the birds that we're not out to eat them. I imagine a headset with mirrors, prismatic lenses, and large, painted, side-mounted eye spots. No one at the wildlife refuge would laugh at me, I'm sure of it.

The sparrow panicked and flew to the adjacent window, battering herself a little on the glass as she tried to fly through it.

I got the first window open and tried to shoo her toward it. She outsmarted me and flew over to the window above the sink.

"Honey, honey, honey." I walked to the sink. There came more mild bashing against the pane. I reached up to her and she jumped down into the sink. Fair enough, I thought, and opened the window wide. She saw her chance. In half a second she was outside again.

I went back to work at the computer. Five minutes later — perhaps ten — I heard another noise. "Oh, lord, she found her way back in," I thought, but it was a male this time, another English sparrow, and he was on the bedroom window sash.

I'm going to have to carry you," I told him uselessly. "I can't take off that screen." He tried to fly through the glass for a moment. I grabbed one of Becky's tank tops, a soft gray knit, and advanced. I really should know more about sparrow psychology, I thought. Would leaping for him upset him more than a slow stalk, or less? I worry, catching small birds, about causing infarctions.

He flew over my shoulder and through the hall into the office, landed on the corner window sash.

A benefit of having a geriatric dog: when a sparrow flies past his head in a panic, he does not wake up and complicate matters. I hung the shirt from my outstretched hands like a sheet, hiding my upsetting eyes from his field of vision. He let me catch him without putting up a fight.

I swaddled the little guy, firm but not too firm, and walked to the back door. He was so still. Had I killed him? I reached the porch and carefully unwrapped him.

He was still alive, and sat in my hands for a good five seconds cocking his head this way and that, regarding me. Then I felt my cupped hands pushed lightly toward the ground, and with a whir he flew in the straightest possible line to the shelter of the live oak.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 14, 2006 10:25 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

There was a robin sitting in the middle of my driveway. I pulled the car up short, because he didn't move. He still didn't move when I got out and approached him, only looked at me dazedly, resignedly. If I was his death, well, he wasn't going to do anything about it. I wondered what I could, should do for him. I was afraid that someone would come home and run him over; that a predator would eat him when he was too dazed or injured to run away. I picked him up. He didn't fight me; he sat quiescent in my hand, looking up at me. I carried him to the bench under the maple tree and put him down. I moved back and watched him. After a while, I went into the house to get him water and nuts. When I came out he had gone.

Feathers are soft and warmer than I'd thought, and that little heart beats so fast. I never thought I'd hold such a wild creature in the palm of my hand.

Posted by: Stephanie at January 14, 2006 11:43 PM
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I have sparrows that like to nest in the Xmas wreath on my door. It's a shock when I open the door to leave, but I love looking into their little eyes.

Posted by: Lauren at January 15, 2006 12:35 AM
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"nonaviphagous"? is that a word?

what a sweet story, chris .. a great way to wake up on a cold snowy day in minnesota. thanks!

Posted by: GrrlScientist at January 15, 2006 06:24 AM
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thanks for the info about our eyes scaring birds. they will come in our house or greenhouse sometimes. i'll try the shirt thing next time i need to catch a bird inside. sometimes one will get so tired it will just sit and let me pick it up. they never seem to understand that we're trying to help them escape. can't say i blame them.

Posted by: dread pirate roberts at January 15, 2006 09:12 AM
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It was February of 2002. I was painting the walls of my living room a bright sunny yellow, which I was scrubbing over a base coat of a warm cream. My friend was standing on a ladder, painting a mural of my family over the fireplace. Gospel music was blasting, had us cooking in companionable silence.

Two sparrows dropped down the chimney into the firebox (cold and ashy), and beat frantically against the glass doors. I opened them, and we spent the next hour comically blocking doorways with sheets (we are both short, so we weren't doing that very well) and trying to shoo the birds towards the open door. The confounding factor in all of this was the siren call of my cockatiels, all seven of them, chirping encouragingly, trying to lure the new guys into the basement, where the 'tiels were temporarily escaping paint fumes.

The sparrows finally headed towards the light (which in this case was the open door, not God), and I got the chimney capped.

The 'tiels will occasionally smack into windows in an atavistic bid to be FREE. They are very dusty birds, and leave dusty wing prints on the glass. I told a child one time that they were angel prints, and then felt bad 'fessing up to the truth.

Posted by: Vicki at January 15, 2006 10:01 AM
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Nice. You bird whisperer you.

Posted by: KathyF at January 15, 2006 11:58 AM
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I was just talking about trapping parakeets today to my daughter, who wants to get a pair. She asked if they're smart. I told her that my childhood parakeet pal, Candy, certainly was because after the first two times she escaped her cage only to be confronted with three hysterical humans trouncing around after her with the Parakeet Care book-prescribed scarf-nets, she figured out very quickly that hanging out on the open door of her cage and only flying when the dopey humans looked ready to handle it was her best bet for getting the time in the air she wanted.

Posted by: eRobin at January 15, 2006 11:59 AM
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In Boston I once stepped out of my bedroom door in my apartment... and walked straight into a startled little brown bat. It did a pirouette in mid-air and flew away down the hall into the living room. I turned to follow when my room mate called out from the kitchen, asking me to help her with something. But I wasn't going to miss a bat for anything in the world and continued down the hall. The bat winged back toward me, recognized me (I didn't hear a thing), and fled again. I followed it right into the living room, where all the windows were covered with huge, heavy curtains. The bat was no where in sight and no amount of digging through the curtains and pulling back sofas and chairs revealed its location. I never saw it again. I guess bats are smarter than birds when it comes to dark hallways and shuttered rooms...

Posted by: butuki at January 15, 2006 01:49 PM
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as nonaviphagous as possible

Gesundheit!

Posted by: Your Arch Enemy at January 15, 2006 02:00 PM
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in the mid-'80's, i worked for a nonprofit in the south. my building dated from before the revolutionary war -- a stunning workplace for a native californian. the only buildings i'd seen in california that came close to that age were a bare few of the better-kept missions. in my southern city, the nonprofit got that space because it was old and run-down, but convenient to the courthouse. lots of fireplaces, and birds found their way in, or fell in, every so often -- they liked to nest in the dormant fireplaces, some of which were not sealed well.

can't say that we ever managed an eviction so carefully. usually, our klutzy methods involved brooms and open windows, then giving up and waiting to see what happened. the ceilings were high, maybe 13 feet. a few of our visitors stayed overnight, then found their way out. so funny, i have not thought of that for a long time.

Posted by: kathy a at January 15, 2006 09:22 PM
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lovely, thankyou :)

Posted by: fiona robyn at January 16, 2006 01:15 AM
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Wonderful little story.

Some years ago we lived in a small house in Minneapolis. We didn't know it at the time -- we didn't know any better -- but the chimney was uncapped. I returned home from work one day to find our two dogs and a cat in a state of high excitement. They desperately wanted to tell me something. I looked around and saw that something had happened. Some plants were knocked over, knickknacks that had been on shelves were scattered around. Then I noticed little scuff marks on the mirrors. Finally, I saw the sparrow's perfect little body. It's odd: I can't remember exactly where I found it, but I can remember that it was weightless in my hands. A couple of months later we found a second little body behind the sofa. By then we had gotten the chimney capped.

Posted by: Charles at January 16, 2006 07:04 AM
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I remember once reading a book (from around the 1920s, I believe) that talked about taming wild birds to take food from your hand. I remember that it mentioned the importance of not looking directly at the bird, and also that one should not _swallow_ while looking at the bird -- because both would make it seem like you were looking at prey, hungrily.

I don't know about the swallowing thing, but I did manage to get nuthatches at my parents' to eat seeds from my hand after only a few days of trying.

Posted by: Rana at January 16, 2006 09:17 AM
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