The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Learning the Birds
When Birds Drop In
Ruth Rogers Erickson, April 17, 2003, The Canadian Record, © 2003

When you live in the country, people drop in. Birds drop in, too.

Just the other day I found a Bob White trapped in my garage. It was in a panic of confusion regarding a glass window, and was hurling itself against the glass trying to get out.

As luck would have it, I knew what to do. I grabbed an empty feed sack and held it up against the glass, so I could envelope the bird with the sack and grab hold of it. When I let it go, it flew off easily enough, so I'm guessing it was fine.

Sometimes birds drop in the house. One day a Phoebe flew into the living room after being briefly blinded by a light on the porch. The next thing I knew it was "Phoebe on the lampshade," "Phoebe on the mantle," for a long while it was "Phoebe on the fridge" --- a frantic Phoebe indeed who eluded every one of my clumsy attempts to shoe her near the door.

If I'd known then about the feed-sack trick, I could have used a towel and gathered her up, but I learned that trick too late. As it was, I was making no progress catching her with my bare hands, but the cat had become interested in the proceedings. The next time the Phoebe flew into reach, the cat made a move and was heading up the stairs with the bird in his mouth when I caught up with them, and I laid down the law.

Somewhat miraculously, the cat opened his mouth and gave me the bird, which was unmarked and apparently unharmed. Its little heart was certainly beating very fast when I carried it to the door. When I put it down on the porch, it fluttered off into the gathering darkness.

Sometimes, they drop from the sky. After a furious storm one night, I found a Merlin hawk dead in the yard. I knew it for a Merlin from its small size and cryptic coloring of grayish tan and white. I felt lucky to get such a close look at the handsome little raptor, but I hated that we had to meet that way.

One day I heard a sound like gunshot, as though someone had fired at my house. Thinking this unlikely, I stepped outside and found a larger hawk than the Merlin, one who had apparently just flown directly into my downstairs window. The big bird was sprawled face down in the dirt taking rapid breaths. While I watched, it turned its head to look at me, and there was a panicky look in its yellow eye.

From head to tail, there were 18 inches of stripy sandy-brown and white. There was yellow around that hooked beak, to match the eyes and feet. I think it was a Prairie Falcon. I could see a wound over one eye that looked recent, but no blood. It was likely he had quite a headache, but was clearly alive --- perhaps he was only stunned.

I went inside and put on gloves and a leather jacket. (I didn't have a clue what to do, but whatever it was I'd need protection.) When I got back outside, the bird was gone without a trace. There wasn't even a mark in the dirt to prove he'd ever been there.

I was glad he'd gathered his wits and flown off, devastated that I hadn't stayed around to watch. It seems to prove that we'd better be on our toes when the birds drop in.

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