Monday, June 8, 2020

The House Finch

I’ve grown attached to the little guy, a regular at the feeder for the past month or so. You might wonder how I can tell this particular house finch from the swarms of others that come and go from this station, but he’s not hard to pick out. There’s something not right with him.

At first glance I thought him a fledgling, small, just out of the nest and not entirely into his wings. But as he’s come and gone over the ensuing weeks his movement has never improved. There’s no glide in his flight. He struggles to stay in the air, moving in short, frenetic bursts, forward and upward a foot or two, falling back half of it, and repeating until he slowly works his way to his next uncertain perch. More butterfly than bird. I walk faster than he can fly. But he gets there, usually. It’s not clear whether his impairment is physical or neurological but staying airborne seems terribly hard work and it breaks my heart to watch. For him, it’s supposed to be effortless.

He must roost close by, somewhere at the edge of the woods that surround our house, for he’s clearly incapable of long distances. And he’s always alone as the other finches shun him, even chase him away from the feeder which is hard to watch. Surprisingly, he’s not intimidated by the bigger birds – the doves, the cardinals, the woodpeckers of various sizes - that come and go as he sits at his meal. He’s even tolerant of my presence as he's the last to flee when I approach to replenish the seed. He takes to the air only when I get within arm’s length. I interpret this as courage, but it may be that flight is so difficult that, despite the fear, he avoids it until there’s no other option. I suppose there’s a fine line between the two, if one at all.

He seems happy enough, though, sitting for long stretches at the limitless flow of safflower. He’s a sympathetic little fellow and for him I’m careful to keep the hopper full. I worry that he won’t be around for long.

At first, I assumed that my attachment was purely compassionate, that I felt sorry for this poor little creature and his handicap. But as these difficult Covid weeks have passed, I’ve come to realize that there’s more to it than that; that we’re birds of a feather, this finch and I. My flight, like his, is impaired; my range also limited by circumstance. We now both stay close to our feeders, leaving them only when absolutely necessary, invoking that odd mix of courage and fear. We are each removed from our breed. And, at the end of the day, I’m concerned for both of our futures.

Poor little house finch. I wonder if he dreams of soaring. I know that I do.