Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Adventures of Bird Woman

If I was a super-hero, I would be called Bird Woman - at least based on what happened Saturday.

First, I awoke to loud and frantic bird noises coming from my chimney. I thought initially that the noises were coming from the fireplace flue itself. I sincerely hoped the chirping was from a chimney swift nest so I could leave the birds alone and not worry about them, since that is a chimney swift's "natural habitat," such as it is. However, close scrutiny through the open damper showed nothing -- no nest, no bird, just a sooty chimney. Plus, oddly enough, the bird chirps were louder in the utility room, the location of the furnace. It almost sounded like there was a bird in the furnace. Either that, or my furnace had developed a sudden talent for emitting bird calls.

My fireplace and chimney are quite large, and the chimney actually has three flue segments, the middle segment being that to the fireplace. The top of the fireplace segment is screened off, so I didn't see how a critter could possibly get in there, chimney swift or otherwise. So, I climbed up on the roof to see what was going on. Not any easy task for a person who's afraid of heights, lemme tell ya. Thank goodness my house has only one story.

Oddly enough, before climbing up, I saw two adult robins hanging around the rooftop and hopping around the chimney. I then had a sinking feeling that the robins had something to do with the sounds in the chimney. Sure enough, down the terra-cotta chimney segment that allows the gas furnace and water heater to vent, there was a young robin. It didn't look hurt -- it just sat there and looked up at me (actually, it glared up at me), and stopped chirping. Poor thing was obviously just old enough to be learning how to fly. It had probably fallen down the gas flue during a trial flight. Talk about a lousy way to end a flying lesson.

The flue was too long to send anything down to fish out the bird. It looked like the only way to get the poor thing out of the flue was to disconnect the furnace from the chimney. NOT something I'm qualified to do.

I called various animal rescue services, with no luck. It's June, and all of the services are booked solid by people complaining about raccoons shacking up in house attics, or opossums taking over garages, or coyotes hassling neighborhood cats. No one had time to rescue a baby bird trapped in a gas flue.

I knew enough about birds to know that Peep (I took to calling the baby robin Peep) could survive quite a while without food and water. However, I also knew that being exposed to gas fumes (though the furnace wasn't on and I was being careful not to run hot water) couldn't be good for poor Peep.

Finally, I called my regular furnace guy, who promised to come out and disconnect the furnace from the wall so I could reach my hand up the exhaust pipe and grab Peep. I know some people are scared of birds (which I don't understand, for the life of me), but really, to me, grabbing and holding a small bird is not a big deal. You just gotta grab em' around the body in such a way that (A) they're facing away from you, and (B) their legs and wings remain free, so they can flap, kick, scratch, and peck all they want without hurting themselves or you. I had enough pet birds growing up that, now, grabbing a bird this way is really second nature to me.

Anyhoo, the weirdest thing then happened. After calling Furnace Man, I went back into the utility room and said, "Hang on, Peep! Furnace Man will be here soon to rescue you."

Well, maybe Peep got a brilliant idea from hearing the location of my voice, or maybe Peep just wasn't keen on meeting Furnace Man. Whatever the case, I suddenly heard loud scrambling, scratching, and thumping coming from the furnace. Then, from out of an entry panel came a baby robin, tumbling and fluttering. It landed very unceremoniously on the floor, picked itself up, looked up at me, and said, "CHEEP!"

I was ecstatic. I yelled, "Peep! You figured a way out! You smart little birdy, you!"

I reached out and grabbed Peep (upon which Peep uttered a noise that sounded suspiciously like, "HELP-I'm-being-attacked-by-a-crazy-woman!"), and carried the little birdy outside. I swear, the adult robins that I'd seen hanging around the chimney must have known what was going on, because the minute I put Peep on the ground (Peep appeared to be perfectly fine, by the way), the adults immediately swooped down and started feeding Peep -- in that gross way that adult birds feed baby birds. Peep then fluttered off, none the worse for the adventure. I called Furnace Guy back to let him know all was well and he didn't have to come out after all. Furnace Guy seemed to think the whole thing was pretty funny.

So, that was my morning. Then came the afternoon.

George, a good friend of mine and my husband's, came over that afternoon to use the garage to change some spark plug wires. Why he needed our garage to accomplish this task, I'll never know, but afterward we decided to take the car for a test drive.

While driving down a four-lane road, we spotted a family of mallard ducks in trouble. The mother, in true Make Way for Ducklings style, had obviously marched her brood of eight ducklings across the road for greener pastures (and, remarkably, without getting run over). However, the poor ducklings were still so small that they couldn't get up and over the curb. They were effectively trapped in the street, frantically hopping and climbing over one another, trying to reach Mom Duck standing on the curb above them and looking completely at a loss. Cars were zooming by, and it looked like the poor little ducklings were doomed to be stuck there and eventually run over.

I like all birds, but ducks are my favorite, and I couldn't stand seeing the poor little things in danger. So, once we were past the ducks, I had George pull the car over. I had never done anything like this in my life, but I knew I could help the ducklings. I walked down the road back to where the ducks were. I came up behind them so if they were scared, they'd try to run toward the curb rather than toward traffic. Then, without thinking, I started grabbing ducklings and putting them up on the curb.

The ducklings felt entirely different from Peep. Peep had been a nice, solid baby bird, but the little duckies seemed to consist only of fuzz. Very wiggly fuzz. It was almost like grabbing nothing.

I managed to grab all eight ducklings, one in each hand, in only four tries. All eight of them were soon over the curb and shooed over to Mom Duck. Mom Duck just stood there the whole time without protest, as if she knew I was helping. Actually, from her demeanor, she almost seemed to be thinking, "Why didn't you get here sooner? Stupid human."

Meanwhile, the cars on the road behind me had ALL stopped, and everyone was watching what I was doing. There was no honking, though, and no yells -- no noises at all, in fact. The people just seemed content to sit there and watch a crazy woman help duckies. Better than TV, I suppose. I sincerely hope no one was taking video.

When I was done, Mom Duck herded the babies together, and the whole family went on its merry way without looking back. The cars on the road started driving again, and I headed back to where George's car was parked.

"That is by far the most nurturing thing I've ever seen you do," George said. "I can't tell you how disturbing that is." Gosh, thanks, George.

All I know is I don't wanna see any more birds for a long time. Rescuing nine baby birds in one day is quite enough for me, thanks.

Funny thing is, I'd always wanted to hold a baby duck. I just wish the circumstances had been more pleasant!