Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hitting the Glass


I hear the thunk from two rooms away and my heart jumps to my throat. “This window here,” Mary calls from the bathtub. “He hit pretty hard.” I worry that it was too hard.

Sitting here, high on the ridge with lots of birdfeeders and lots of glass, window-rattling collisions are not uncommon. They’re mostly glancing blows, but occasionally the contact is solid and we fear the worst. In this new year I have surrendered a winter-tarnished goldfinch and a dipped-in-grape-juice house finch to their final nests, carrying them gently to the top of our ridge where they're forever surrounded by blue sky, placing their humbled husks in the depression left by a fallen oak. Back to the roots.

I seldom return dry-eyed.


The past few days we’ve been host to a swarm of pine siskins (my naturalist friend calls them an eruptive species; the term, perfect) and the envelope around the thistle feeders has been an air-traffic controller’s vision of hell. It was only a matter of time before bird met glass, at pace, and I’d be walking around outside, once again. Checking the ground.

This window here. He hit pretty hard.

Sure enough, under the large bathroom window, a small, unkempt wad of feathers lies in the leaves, blending into the woodland floor, but visible, nonetheless, for its awkward angles. With a sigh, I resign myself to another solemn procession up the ridge, but then feel the slightest of movements as I pick up the crumpled bundle. There's a flicker of life in the eyes, but no comprehension. Maybe there's hope.

I place the small siskin on the back woodpile, on some freshly split pieces so that I can see it easily from my desk, its tiny brown body more evident on the fresh, yellow grain than on more weathered wood, and leave it alone to recover, if it will. An hour later it's still there. Two hours, unmoved. With a heavy heart, I step outside once again and prepare for the somber climb.

It’s just a bird, you might say. Why the funk?

It’s not just the creature, you see, though there’s that too, but also the thought of being young and vibrant, riding the winds, gliding, soaring, to be dropped to the earth in the blink of an eye, by the unseen, the unexpected, the unfathomable. That strikes a little too close to home. That stabs a little too deep. For I’ve hit the glass in the past, a glancing blow, and survived. But there are those I have loved who have struck it full on. They've returned to the roots much too soon.

I reach for the bird, to carry it to its final rest, only to have it spring to life and take wing as my hand draws near.

And my heart takes wing with it.

17 comments:

Ken G said...

I moved all our feeders a good eight feet from any of the windows years ago when I got tired of feeling bummed out by picking up dead birds. Seems to be a good enough distance so they don't mistake the reflection for the feeder or the way out. Can't remember the last time I've had to ceremoniously dispose of a bird.

Mike Sepelak said...

Oddly, it's not the windows next to feeders that are the problem. It's the few through which you can see another window - an apparent passage through the house. I can reach and touch the most egregious of them from where I sit at this computer, and I am startled regularly.

Jay said...

Although I haven't made this terribly public in blogoshpere until now, I actually work at an avian rehabilitation facility. Glass collision is one of the top reasons that injured birds arrive here- the other being cats, cars, fencing, and other human generated hazards. Glass collisions are one of the easiest those problems to remedy, but you have to be willing to give a little. It's hard to have a huge plate glass picture window and have the birds too. There are many ways to solve the problem, but all invlove taking away the open visual space (or tunnel) that the birds think they can fly through. One type of solution is some sort of decal on the window- the bigger the better in general. I would recommend looking at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/Page.aspx?pid=1184 for info on how you could prevent some of the mortality, and www.collidescape.org if you want to get real serious about window decals.
The birds will thank you.

Mike Sepelak said...

Thank you, Jay, for that information. And for the confirmation that my "tunnel" windows are indeed the most threatening. Our house is designed with passive solar concepts at its core so our large south-facing windows are expansive. They are not, however, the problem for there is no "outs" visible through them. It's a couple of east/west portals that create the most, and hardest, collisions. I will definitely look into remediation.

And I sincerely applaud your work.

CathyB said...

I don't have any "tunnel" windows, and my feeders are at least 50 feet from my house. However, when a hawk dives at the feeding birds, they fly first and look later, sometimes too much later.

I've had good success with stunned birds in cold weather by keeping a small cardboard box handy for their recovery. I nestle them inside with an old towel, leaving the top open. When they are ready, they leave.

I tried the decals on our windows, but they didn't help in my case. I think my window victims are too intent on fleeing predators to see much of anything.

Mike Sepelak said...

Escape is imperative. Absolutely. And thanks for the box tip, Cathy. I'll put one aside.

Ken G said...

I forgot about the tunnel effect. My parents had that problem with their house and it was breaking my mothers heart to have the birds crashing and dying. The only solution I could come up with was for them to keep this one door closed that cut off the front to back. Now if you go to her house and leave that door open, there's hell to pay.

Tom Chandler said...

Our house is all windows, and we finally started slapping those UV decals (highly visible outside, not so much inside) on the key windows, and cut the birdpocalypse by 2/3 (at least).

Also afforded an excellent, "green" reason to never drag out the stepladder and wash the outside of the windows...

e.m.b. said...

Beautiful piece, Mike. As always. Curious how these little feathered ones so capture our hearts...

Mike Sepelak said...

Now there's an argument worth considering, Tom. Ditch the squeegee. Thanks!

They find a way, don't they, Erin? I can waste hours watching them come and go.

cofisher said...

I don't normally give much thought to birds around the house until my wife hears that thump and scoops up the casualty. Since she's a birder I can only watch as she cradles the bird and works to bring it back. Great post.

Brk Trt said...

Doing the right things Mike.

Kevin Frank said...

Great post, we've been lucky to not have this happen. Our neighbor had a cardinal hit the glass. We think it was when they were mating and maybe it thought it was another male. We have a white sheet along our sliding glass window. It seems to deter them enough. I don't think I've ever seen siskins.

Mike Sepelak said...

Your wife is a saint, Howard. But then we already knew that. She's married to you, after all.

Thanks, BT. I try.

Oh, you've probably seen pine siskins, Kevin, just thought they were winter-darkened goldfinches. They often run together and are often confused with one another.

River Mud said...

Even for a goose killer like myself, there is something awful about dealing with a "thing" that did not serve any purpose in its death. We put the vinyl decals up after a rare (to our area) northern parula broke its neck hitting our glass kitchen door.

Mike Sepelak said...

Kirk, therin lies one of the many dichotomies of being an outdoorsman. I have no issue with the hunt when it fills a table or protects a natural ecosystem. I realize, of course, that the later puts man firmly in the crosshairs - another contradiction to ponder. Thank you VERY much for your comment. It's meaty food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Mike we don't clean our veranda windows very often...a bird(a turtledove I think) bumped into it...its silhouette was clearly printed in the dirt on the glass...that was weird.Think the bird could fly away after a little knock out(:
JP