21 April 2015

Such Fragile Little Lives

Last summer we were treated to two downy woodpecker chicks that were not long out of the nest. They followed their mama to our bird feeders and we laughed as they struggled to land, to hang onto the slippery metal pole, and to take off again. They had all the basic techniques, but nothing was graceful yet.

Over the fall and winter, these two babies matured and became flying experts - to no one's surprise. After that, they sort of blended in and found their place with all the other little birdies that come to our yard to feast at our feeders.

Like the chickadees, the cardinals, and several other types of birds here near the coast of Maine, the woodpeckers stayed all winter. We kept the feeders full and they showed up many times throughout the course of each day.

Now that Spring has arrived, and with it some of the migratory birds that left us in the fall, our feeders have been busier than ever. Just this morning I spotted FIVE bright yellow goldfinches all on one set of bird feeders, dining together.

After a rainy morning, the sun began to come out this afternoon. Not enough to dry things out, but it brightened up the yard and the birds were active as always. I sat at the kitchen table writing, ironically, about lost pets, when something slammed against the kitchen window, startling me and the cats. I'm surprised the window didn't break - it sounded like someone threw a baseball at the glass.

I figured what must have happened. I opened the window and leaned out, and there on the wet grass was one of our little woodpecker babies. And no, they're no longer babies, but they're OUR babies from last summer. I ran outside to see if it was ok. It wasn't. It was the little female - the one without the red spot on the back of her head.

I knew the drill. She looked dead but she might just be stunned, so I picked her up in a towel, put her little body in a box, closed it up (with air holes) and brought her inside to keep her warm. I hoped she would wake up, blink, and fly off with her brother within the hour.

But when I picked her up, her head flopped to one side. I'm pretty sure her neck was broken and she was killed instantly, which is a little comforting. Still, I brought the box in, hoping for a miracle.

While I waited, I glanced out the window and saw the male on a low tree branch nearby. It broke my heart that he was out there looking, waiting for her.

An hour later, not only was she not awake, she was beginning to stiffen, so I knew.

Sadly, my daughter and I took her outside and put her body below the same tree, so the male might see her and know to stop looking. I don't know if birds are aware of such things, but we felt like it was the right thing to do.

Now it's getting dark and I can't help but think of that tiny body out there, that black and white, feathery body that, just hours ago, was swooping around our yard. Sure, there are bigger, sadder, more tragic things in life, but I will miss that tiny girl. I'm just glad she didn't suffer.

Copyright © 2015 - Paulla Estes