Just before the leaves fell I heard chipping from the living room. I had been in the habit of leaving the patio screen door open for Chet to come and go on those mild Indian summer days of late fall. He likes to lie in the sun out on the deck, baking his liver and lights, then come back in and cool off in the living room. Here is a gratuitous puppeh picture of Chet, worshipping the golden orb. I do not apologize for inserting a dose of Baker into most posts. He's essential Vitamin B, soaking up his Vitamin D.
photo by Bill Thompson III
A young male cardinal, his bill still black with youth, blundered into the living room and went straight for the high clerestory windows where he tried to make an escape through the glass. That's our bird tower you can see through the window.
There was nothing for me to do about it but go fetch the huge extension ladder from the garage. I don't much like carrying it and setting it up by myself inside the house, because I am 5'5" and it is 12'8". CLANK!I especially dislike setting it up right next to my 40-gallon freshwater Amazon tank, which is full of my little home-bred Emperor tetra friends (35 at last count) who are freaking out and praying that I won't screw up and smash their world. While I'm setting the ladder up I'm thinking, OK. If it tips and hits the tank, the first thing I will do is go get a muck bucket from the garage, and I'll fill it with one of the rainwater jugs from the orchid room, and then I'll scoop up all the wriggling fish from the living room carpet and put them in there, and then I'll put their heater in there, and then I'll go get that bowfront tank I have always wanted. But what if I have to drive to Columbus to get it? Better put the filter in, too. My Emperor tetras, who don't know when to quit mating and are all brothers and sisters and kissin' cousins. They're their own grandpas.
Thoughts like that run through my mind. Contingency planning for the worst. They are likely not all that dissimilar from the panicked thoughts that run through a trapped cardinal's mind as I clank around beneath him.
I have to set the ladder up under the window that the cardinal has chosen, and climb it as quietly and unscarily as possible so the cardinal (or whatever bird is trapped; I've had everything from hummingbirds to brown creepers up there) won't freak out and switch windows, making me climb down and move the blinkin' ladder again.Cardinal, check. Ladder, check. Tank, check. OK. We're ready to climb. Gloves on?
I usually don't use gloves when handling birds, as there's no problem with leaving your smell on them (they don't mind and can't smell anyway.) With gloves you run a greater risk of hurting a bird through clumsiness. And most birds can't hurt you, more than maybe a pinch. So gloves are definitely overkill for handling 99% of the songbirds that you encounter. But cardinals are another matter. This little guy was too young to know how, but usually a cardinal who is caught in the hand will take the crushing power of that conical bill and turn it toward the webs between your fingers to excruciating effect. They'll grab those tender bits of skin and twist and wrench while biting down and OWWWWW it's all you can do to hold on. This guy was much more polite than most cardinals. Titmice and chickadees can open a good hole in you, too. They hammer your knuckle like it was a nut.
Before I released the little shaver, I took a good look at him, and noticed an anomalous patch of white feathers on his chin. I'm going to look at our winter flock and see if he retained it after the postjuvenal molt, see if there's a bright red boy with a white chin out there somewhere.
You're free to go, pretty one. See you at the feeders!