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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

My brother, Colin, returned to the house empty-handed.

“What have you been doing? Where’s the firewood?”

“There’s something in the woodpile.”

“What do you mean? What’s in the woodpile?”

“Well, if I knew, I would have said there’s a snake in the woodpile, or there’s a chipmunk in the woodpile, or there’s a vicious, snarling wolverine in the woodpile, or there’s…”

“Okay, stop!” He’s so annoying. Trying to shut him up is like plugging a bathtub with a straw.

“I only see I should have been more precise and said, there is an unidentified creature of indefinable size with a questionable temperament in the woodpile.”

“For the love of God, will you please shut up. We need wood. Do you want me to go back out with you?”

Clasping his hands together in solemn, mock prayer, he said, “Yes, plleeeaaaasssse. I need my little sister to protect me and eradicate this vile interloper.” He finally grew tired of his performance. “Seriously, I need you to come out and hold a light while I dig around in there.”

“Well, that sounds like a dumb idea. What if you get bitten? You’ve exceeded your quota of trips to the ER for the year.” This garnered me a look of incredulity I may have deserved.

“When I said dig around, I didn’t mean with my bare hands.”

I grabbed my coat and the biggest flashlight we had before following him out to the garage. There I found him eyeing garden tools. “Maybe we should wait until Mom and Dad get home?”

Scrutinizing our collection and ignoring me, he asked, “What implement do you recommend?”

I thought a few seconds. “Maybe a crowbar?”

“Excellent idea, Chloe…strong ― perfect for flipping logs and beating things.”

“I would prefer not to see any bloodletting if you can restrain yourself.”

With a significant amount of trepidation, I followed him to the woodpile in our backyard. “What exactly happened when you were out here before?”

“Howling. Shrieking. Rustling noises. Loud!” he added for emphasis.

I whispered, “I don’t hear anything now. Maybe whatever it was is gone.” I didn’t want to see anything that was capable of howling.

Colin began using the crowbar to pull logs from the top of the front section. The wood was double stacked and the entire pile rested alongside our small barn. It was early in the season and we had about two cords. On a cold or rainy night, it was a perfect spot for small critters to take refuge. We’d had our share of mice, small snakes and occasional opossums on a regular basis. None of these visitors had the vocal chords to howl or shriek. Colin had rolled about seven or eight logs on the ground and I was focusing the light on the area he was working. I had begun to relax and stop worrying.

“Waaw. Hoo hoo to hoo oo, hoo hoo to wha-aaa waww ooooow!” This sudden, hideous screeching and hellish sounds of movement sent us scrambling backward in unison in a mad attempt to escape whatever was possibly about to throw itself upon us. We both fell over the logs on the ground as they rolled beneath our feet, sending us helter-skelter and finally landing, bruised, in a heap among them. The flashlight fell from my hand. Unfortunately Colin had a terrified iron grip on the crowbar and, in the melee, he had managed to conk me on the head with it.

He was yelling. “Grab the light. Get it up there.”

When I did, we caught our breath. Above us were two enormous, round eyes reflecting a fiery, black-as-the-Devil, shine. The thing had risen from between the stacks like Vesuvius exploding over Pompeii.

Colin said, “Don’t move.”

“I’m not even breathing.”

While it swayed slowly from side to side and appraised us, we sat there, motionless, attempting to look nonthreatening. I was aware of the sound of the talons scraping over the logs. I wondered how long they were.

Five minutes passed as we watched him rotate his head like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The only other noticeable movement was me shivering. “I’m cold,” I whispered.

“Yeah, we seem to be at an impasse here. On the bright side, I think he’s scouting around the yard for smaller prey.”

“What kind is it?”

“A barred owl.”

“He’s really big and doesn’t seem interested in leaving. You still have the crowbar. You could whack him.”

“Now you’re okay with bloodshed? I’m going to report you to the Audubon Society.” A minute later, he said, “I think we need to make a break for it.”

“I’m not excited about your idea. But, I don’t have a better one.”

“On the count of three we get up and run for the back porch. Deal?”

I uttered a squeaky little ‘yes’ that brought the bird’s focus sharply back to us.

Colin said, “Could you try a little harder not to sound like a mouse?”

“Sorry.”

“Now we’re going to have to wait until he looks the other way again.”

When he renewed his demonic head twists, Colin whispered, “One… two… three.” Then we discovered our legs had stiffened into inflexible appendages. In those seconds we couldn’t spare, I watched, stunned, as the wings unfurled in a shocking display of dreadful, predatory intent. It was a four foot killing machine, eight feet from my face.

Colin pulled me up as it lifted into flight. We limped, stumbled and ran hard. There was no need to look back. I could hear the muffled wing sounds, then felt displaced air hitting me. I could feel it coming. My brother yelled, “Dive,” and pulled me to the ground, as it swooped two feet over our heads. We lay there, breathing fast, assuring ourselves it wasn’t going to return.

Patting my back, Colin smiled. “This might be a good time to get that wood.”

“Yeah, that’s a brilliant idea. Go do it. My work here is done.”

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All my life as I have had run-ins, run-overs and near-misses with wildlife, I always thought – “Oh, they’re so dumb, oh, maybe they’re deaf and didn’t hear me, oh, maybe they were young and inexperienced in the ways of automobiles.”  Yesterday, I had another near miss with a wild turkey.  The circumstances made me wonder if, like us, some critters are simply depressed and suicidal.  What can they do?  They have no hotlines to call for help.  The mountain road I was traveling has maybe one car on it every half hour, if that.  She had twenty-nine other minutes to leisurely cross, but she chose the instant I was coming by.  Inexplicable stupidity or death wish?  I braked and missed her.  Was she relieved to have a second chance at her birdy little life or angry to have to await another vehicle?  She ruffled her tail feathers at me.

I suppose we’ll never know for sure, but I believe the evidence is stacking up.  My daughter called me one Easter night in an uncustomary, semi-hysterical state.  She had been driving home when, according to her, the largest rabbit she had ever seen hopped in front of her car and, well, then he was the flattest rabbit she had ever seen.  She kept telling me she had killed the Easter Bunny.  She was certain.  So, was he just bummed out about delivering all those eggs?  It was his busiest day of the year.  Had he just had enough and snapped?  It was a four-lane highway; not exactly bunny territory.

I myself performed an assisted suicide on two mourning doves.  This pair must have had a pact.  Maybe their moms and dads were opposed to their relationship.  I only know they placed themselves just below a rise in the road, beyond my field of visibility.  I came over that rise, and they saw me when I saw them.  Have you ever watched doves take off?  It’s not exactly speedy.  I caught them both in my front grill.  It was gruesome.  I laid them off the road and went on my way to my appointment thinking I’d never be caught.  Luck was not with me.  When I pulled up in front of my client’s business, he was standing outside.  I got out of the car, and he said, “So how many birds did you slaughter this morning?”  The evidentiary feathers were still stuck in my grill.

I was playing golf once on a beautiful summer day, when one of my golf partners hit a lovely arcing second shot on a par five.  She brought down a robin,  about fifteen feet off the ground, in mid flight…a fairway fatality.  Coincidence?  Hmmmm.

Squirrels are the worst at getting in your way, but I contend they are just stupid and believe they simply like to play chicken with cars.  The other flat little squirrel bodies regularly scattered about don’t seem to deter them from their games.  Ergo, my conclusion of stupid.  I think they’d need a bigger brain to have feelings of low self-esteem and depression so I don’t believe squirrels are suicidal.  As to everything else, I’m open to the possibility.

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If that sounds familiar, you’re thinking of that lovely song, Red Sails in the Sunset.  I am, in fact, talking of tails.  My hospitality was tested the past few months by a family of red-tailed hawks.  It all began last December when a pair began scouting my backyard.  My daughter saw them over Christmas, came inside and said “I think you have eagles out back.”  I said, “I know they’re big, but they’re red-tailed hawks.”  Astonished, she told me, “They’re the biggest freaking birds I’ve ever seen.  I was feeling a little threatened out there with them swooping around.”  She was right.  They were huge.

I live in the suburbs so I was astonished when they began building a nest in January, high up in a tree that was only ten feet from my patio.  There are miles and miles of countryside around, yet they seemed comfortable and unconcerned with living in the burbs.  At first I thought it was pretty awesome, and my neighbor loved the fact that rabbits weren’t devouring her garden this spring and summer.  I did some research to learn about my uninvited guests.  Like many birds, they choose a permanent mate.  The female is actually the larger…a full twenty-five percent bigger than the male.  She was the one who frightened my daughter.  Her wingspan was in excess of five feet.  I learned they can lift and carry twice their weight, which I believe explains the adult opossum I found dead on the bricks out back.  I think he was a bit too much and she dropped him…splat.

Well, this loving couple had three babies, if you can call birds that size babies.  I quickly learned that they screech like banshees, and non-stop.   The youngsters hung around my yard for about two months after fledging, as the parents hunted and returned to feed them.  I’m unsure how long it took them to learn to hunt for themselves, because watching them practice flying was pretty hysterical.  There was nothing graceful about the process.  They flapped awkwardly and at various practice speeds.  There was no elegant soaring, no diving at all.  I think they were afraid of crashing like kamikazes.

They didn’t bother my songbirds.  The Audubon Society assured me they rarely do, and primarily concentrate on rodents and other four-footed critters.  They were rather delightful company except for the incessant screeching.   It was as annoying as someone running their fingernails over a chalkboard – seriously.  When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I would go outside, look up at them and yell, “For God’s sake, shut up.”  The three of them would stop, cock their heads and stare at me, like cute little pet birds.  They would listen as long as I stood there giving them a piece of my mind.  As soon as I came back inside, “Scrreeecchhh, screeechhh, screeeeccchhh!”  They’re gone now, and I do kind of miss them.  When I hear that infernal noise again this winter, I will welcome them back.

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