Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back To The Barred & MODO # 1000 - Barred Owl And Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves are plentiful in Maine. I saw fifty of them in these trees above a Phippsburg bird feeder.

    Sadly, and sometimes annoyingly, we have a lot of bird strikes on our windows. At peak fall migration, it's not uncommon to have an average of six hits an hour. This is a lot to me, especially as my heart quickens each time I hear that dreadful thunk against the glass. Every time, I rush from whatever I'm doing to see who was claimed by a pane and what I can do for them if they weren't killed instantly on impact.
     This year, there were so many strikes and so often that I kept a cardboard box in the living room, ready to receive the latest victim. I had it lined with soft, fluffy, comforting fabric. I'll admit, I'm not sure who the material comforted, me or the dazed birds.  Strikes have included the smallest - hummingbirds and kinglets, to the largest - a Sharp-shinned hawk and every kind of bird in between. I have tried all of the solutions to stop this. I have moved bird feeders away, put decals on the windows, hung things on the insides and outsides of the windows, all to no avail. The only thing I haven't done is put up net barricades, nor have I moved out. Would the birds still hit the windows if I moved out of the house? If they hit the window anyway and no one was here to hear it, would it make a sound? That simpleton's philosophical question leaves me wondering.
     Though I haven't managed to stop birds intent on suicide, I have become pretty adept at saving the ones whose plans didn't come together. My save rate is about 90%. This is my recipe:
(this is not medical, veterinary nor avian rehabilitation advice nor endorsement, just my recipe)
1. Act quickly. Snatch the bird up the minute it hits the deck. This prevents predators from getting it before it sobers up enough to take off on its own. This also prevents hypothermia. Birds get cold quickly even if it seems warm out to you.
2. Do not hesitate. Move with a firm, sure hand. Usually, I put a towel over the bird then scoop it up in the towel. I think this reduces the bird's stress because it can't see me. I may only be fooling myself, however. This isn't science. It also stops the bird from struggling. I'm used to it, but bird's have sharp, pointed little claws and feet and it can startle the rescuer when they dig into the hand. It's not productive for the rescuer to drop the victim when this happens. A towel prevents that.
3. Keep the bird straight, so that if there is bone or joint damage, the rescuer doesn't worsen the damage.
4. Be prepared. Have a cardboard box at the ready, lined with something like a towel to keep the bird warm. Don't wait to build the emergency room after the victim has arrived. Be ready.
5. Close the box and secure the top. The bird may become active and ready to depart before you realize it. It WILL try to get out and WILL be able to open the box like a monkey from a cage. You would be surprised how a little crack of light will inspire them to escape. I have a lot of experience with birds flying around my living room. So, believe me.
6. Leave the victim alone. Do not look in the box. It's tempting. You want to see how the patient is doing, get a peak at it, coo a little to it. Don't. Your big, gruesome grinning face leering down into the box only terrifies the stressed bird more. Think back - a primal memory from before you had speech: You, helpless in your crib.....your wart faced, Aunt Esther hovering above you like the flaming Hindenburg. That's what you're doing to the bird by looking into the box. Resist the urge to give that gift.
     When the bird comes around, it will start to make scratching noises in the box. When it begins to make enough of a ruckus, proceed to step seven.
7. DO NOT OPEN THE BOX! Take the box out of the house. Choose a location free of predators, make sure your dog is in the house. Make sure that you are in a place where the bird can fly to a safe branch if it's ready. Do not open the box while at the top of the Empire State Building or other high structure from which the possibly flightless bird will certainly fall to its death. A wounded bird can't fly any better than you can. Set the box on a table, the hood of your car or other stable platform. Open the box and step away. If the bird is ready to fly, it will zoom out of that box so fast you may barely even see it go. Rejoice and be thankful; you have done a glorious thing. Saving that life may balance out some of the really crappy, regrettable stuff you've done and will probably do another day.
8. If the bird doesn't take off, close the box and start over.

Note: Don't try to feed the bird. Don't put food or water in the box. It will just make a damp mess. A freaked-out injured bird isn't going to eat or drink your offering of love. The plan is that it will be well enough soon to go fend for itself in its natural environment.

     A few weeks ago, a Mourning Dove hit the window. I sprung into action like a well oiled machine, jump starting my M.A.S.H unit into high gear. However, after faithfully completing the emergency protocol enumerated above, the bird did not fly. Nor did it die, so I called Avian Haven, the nearest wild bird rescue and rehabilitation facility. They told me to bring the bird to them forthwith and without further delay which I did. I was eager to rush my wounded bird to freedom.
     Freedom, as it turns out, is a long ways away. Avian Haven is located in Freedom, Maine ninety-nine miles from my doorstep. I didn't hesitate to go, but it did take all day. Most working folks couldn't take the time. I pondered the gasoline cost. According to AAA, it costs about a dollar a mile to run a car. On the way, I stopped to use a restroom at a fast food establishment, using water and chemicals, paper towels and electricity. I got a cup of coffee in a paper cup. Most assuredly, the coffee beans were not shade grown. My expensive rescue mission prompted me to mourn more than my ailing Mourning dove; it had left a hefty carbon foot print and was expensive.
     Mourning doves are plentiful in Maine. In other states,  regarded as a nuisance and as game birds, they are shot for sport and out of irritation. Even the Avian Haven people weren't too choked up, though they did their jobs swiftly and caringly. Upon arrival, they whisked her away to intensive bird care, burning up more energy and resources to save her. They gave her a patient ID, "MoDo # 1000." They get lots of them there.
     On the long, birdless trip home, I had time to think. Was it worth all of that to save a bird so common, a bird that wouldn't live more than a couple of years anyway - a bird that after release would get snatched by a cat or strike a window and die? What was the value of that life? Did I have a cosmic debt to the bird to save it because it's problems were caused by man, or woman's window? In a moment of enthusiasm, I had volunteered to be a future transporter to the facility for injured birds  from far flung places. After all, Freedom is a long ways away. I decided that if I received the call, I would honor the commitment I had made, but I had doubts.
     Only a few days passed before I was called to transport the Barred owl seen here. It had been ensnared in a driving range net at a country club, left to dangle in the dark over night. The golf pro knew only that it was an owl, though not the species. When I met him for the pick up, the bird was in a cardboard box with a towel over the top. Following my own protocol, I didn't look into the box. I put it behind me on the seat and headed north.
     Tooling up the highway, listening to the radio, I sang along loudly to Aretha Franklin singing "Freedom"
while feeling pretty righteous about my part in saving this owl. I had nearly forgotten about the Mourning dove and my questioning of the reasonableness and sanity of these missions. It just seemed like such a great thing to be saving an owl!
    Over the radio and my own voice, I started to hear the owl scratching in the box behind me. "Oh dear," I thought. "It wants to be free already." Suddenly, I realized that I had not checked to see if the box was firmly secured. What if it got loose in the car while I was driving at seventy-five miles an hour? That could be really ugly! Quickly, my imagination spun out of control. I could see myself in handcuffs splayed out across the hood of my car screaming at a cop,"Officer! I crossed the median when an owl was loose in my car! I swear!" Of course, the owl, being a wise soul, would have escaped the vehicle and left for the Great North Woods by then. "Don't crack wise with me, lady!" The gruff and burly officer would command. I pulled the car onto the break-down lane and jumped out to check. Of course, my camera was in the passenger's seat. It only took a second to grab it, just in case.
     And that's when I did it, I broke my own rules violating article number six. I looked in the box just for a second. Well, maybe more than a second. Long enough to take a couple of hasty shots of its dear, little face and soulful, bottomless eyes. I felt like a bum, too. It was clear exploitation on my part. I couldn't control myself and had to see it, at its peril perhaps and I regret that.
    In the end, "MoDo # 1000" and the Barred owl lived and were released. They are both out there somewhere being free, maybe even being stupid on a golf course or flying into a window, but they are alive and they are free. And, I helped. If the phone rings again with a call to carry a busted up bird to Freedom, I'll go and not question the comparative value of the life. Because, if I had done nothing, had I not moved out of my "house" or off from my position about the value of the Mourning dove, I would not have had the opportunity to experience the Barred owl. They might simply have died, each of them, without a sound.


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34 comments:

  1. Dear Robin....Nice to meet you and thanks for following my blog.....we had the same problem when we lived out in the woods....someone said the reason the Grouse were always flying into our windows was their reflection....so we had to try and avoid the birds from seeing themselves....we ended up buying the finest toil material( like a super fine sheer material they use for curtains) we could find....so that we could still see out but the birds could no longer pick up there reflection...it worked great! hope it will help to keep those poor little things from dying.....Great images so clear...what equipment do you use??????

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  2. Thanks for that YCNTTMP (Great 'stage' name!),
    I'll see about the toil. Did you put it inside or out? My windows are 5x7 and there are 8 of them in just one of the rooms of my house. I don't have window treatments in any of them. That's a lot of tu-tu material!
    I shoot with a Canon 50D DSLR and usually am usiing a 100-400 L series image stabilized lens. That's the set up I carry around all the time, just in case...........

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  3. Nice writing,Robin. It was intriguing to follow your thought process as to why you acted as you did. In the end it is not"logical" but simply a another manifestation of love-in this case of the natural world. Without it,the rest-"green movement" etc. would not be possible...Happy Thanksgiving in all ways! Sharon in West K.

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  4. Robin, a compassionate and compelling story, well told, that fills me with warm thoughts. Now I'm convinced that when I return to Maine to visit with my sister, I'll make every effort to meet you!! Well done. You, my dear, may stand up and take a bow! ~karen

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  5. Awesome writing Robin! You are so gifted in your story-telling, and the ability to hold the reader right to the end of the article. So happy the birds made it- and the pix of the owl is really great, so I'm glad you skipped one of your rules!
    Love,
    Ms. Boo

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  6. Karen, Thank you and I too look forward to meeting you one day. I can't imagine myself taking a bow for anything. I'm just a slob that lacks self control and sometimes gets lucky with what crosses my path. Besides, bowing in front of someone would probably require that I get out of my bathrobe.

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  7. Ms. Boo,
    Thanks so much for reading and your glowing commentary. That people read the work and are moved in some way helps to mitigate my often grossly, self serving behavior. And what a thrill as a writer to be told that the reader is absorbed by the story and to the very end! It doesn't get better. Thank you.

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  8. Okay, NOW I understand. You drew a wonderful mental picture for me Robin. Reminded me of my husband calling at work summer '09 saying we had blue birds in the yard, we live in the woods. I asked him to look in bird book and they were indigo buntings, I so looked forward to getting home to see for myself and there 1 of the little guys lay, dead on my doormat, window got him I'd say, I cried. As for saving what we can, I say yes. I think of the lengths we have gone to save Pelicans & Turtles etc in the Gulf, of course I'd rather see them shut down the wells but if we create the damage we must try to make the repairs. Absolutely loved your tale, waiting on the nest one.

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  9. AnnieO, Thank you. Finding an Indigo Bunting on my door step would make me cry, too. At the end of your wonderful comment, you said "waiting on the NEST one." I'm figuring that was a typo and that you meant NEXT one. Either way, it works great for the things I write. Waiting on the next nest one......I'll get crackin'!

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  10. Great story telling Robin.I loved the photo of the barred owl.So cunning,I would have been tempted to put it in a cage and bring it inside.(they do that at chewonki,you know?)bmc

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  11. Loved this story..so glad you were able to save a few lives. I know i would have peeked at both birds.:)

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  12. Thanks, Dawn and thanks for confessing that you would have peeked!

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  13. bmc, Thank you. Glad you are reading and glad you're liking it! The owl wasn't as adorable as it looks in the photo simply because it was full grown. They've got HUGE talons!And by the way, Chewonki doesn't do bird rescue and rehab. any more.

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  14. Another great post, Robin. Thanks for sharing your thought processes and scruples. In the end you did the right thing in my opinion. When in doubt do what your heart tells you. The world would be heartless place if we didn't. Nice pics!

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  15. Thanks, Hilke. I didn't think it sounded like I had too many scruples, actually. I'm glad you thought I did. Scruples or no, I do have heart.

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  16. I'm wondering if you put an anti glare film on that window if it would help lessen the amount of hits.....worth checking into I imagine.

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  17. Thanks, Valerie. We did try that stuff once. It didn't stop the birds nor was it pleasant to look through. We had it professionally installed too at great expense. Sigh.

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  18. I think the best compliment we can pay you is I wish I would have taken that Owl picture and the Maine scene photo. Good job!!! Boomer, Me & The Vermilon River.

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  19. Grand compliments indeed, Gary. Thanks for becomming a follower, too. Give Boomer a scratch for me.

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  20. What a Great samaritan you are...the little creatures are fortunate to bang into your window rather than someone elses. Did you ever consider just letting your windows get dirty during this migration period? I know this would be difficult for an OC person. Enjoyed reading your blog while Aretha belted out "Freedom!"
    HG

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  21. Really! The light, the groupings, the intimate owl face shot.......You are most assuredly in the big leagues now. The HOW TO CARE FOR BIRDS was excellent except for the part where you blatantly lie not looking in the box

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  22. Wow! What a phenomenal blog post. I too will occasionally hear that "dull thud" and your rules are now taped on my refrigerator and my bird ambulance is ready. As useful as this information will be and is cute as the owl pictures are your philosophical jaunt through the ethics of a "good deed" will stay posted in my memory a good long time! Happy World Bird Wednesday!

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  23. Geez, thank you Springman. I'm honored. I don't put anything on my refridgerator so that's quite an honor, indeed. And, if I can get anyone to hold onto some ethics, any of 'em, until spring, I've done well!

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  24. That is quite a tale you tell! And your birds are wonderful, both cute and common!

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  25. Not a lot of posts make me laugh out loud and get a bit misty eyed! I was dying at the vision of the owl loose in the car and the cop questioning you. And happy to know you've come to terms with your costly ventures to Freedom! Seriously, awesome story.

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  26. Nice story, fun to read! Nice photos also, you sure have a great heart for our feathered friends in the skies. And for those grounded ones :)

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  27. Thanks much you folks for reading and taking the time to make thoughtful comments. I get a thrill with every single one I read. You all make me very happy. Thanks also for becomming followers. I'm tickled that you had fun!

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  28. Hi Robin! Great story. I have ferried a couple birds for Avian Haven as well and they are terrific. First I understand your dilemma about whether or not to save one "common" life, but I think we really need to try and not be human-centric in this regard. Each little life is VERY important to that creature (obviously!). I do squirrel rehab and people ask me why I do it when they are such a common species. My reply is that they are all special individuals, and they have lives and families just like we all do. I guess you have to be very empathetic (or sappy as some would say) to see it like that. But I am sure you feel that way too. :-)

    The other comment was on the loud music...I was told when transporting injured mammals to keep them in a quiet dark place (hence the covered box), and that loud music etc. could upset them. I wonder if this is true for birds as well?

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  29. I enjoyed your story and post. And I was happy to hear both birds are free. I lvoe the last shot of the owl, very cute!

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  30. Modesto, Stacie and eileeninmd, thanks for the read and comments, compliments, too! the birds are out there living wild and free somehwere, presumably.

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  31. Wonderful to read again, and yes, it's still on my refrigerator!

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  32. Beautifully written, I enjoyed every word of it and hats off to your for caring and acting as wounded bird transport officer.

    I rather liked your rule breaking reward too.

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