From my office in another part of the house I heard a great thump. Maybe it didn’t shake the house, but my wife gasped and I heard that well enough. The thump must have sounded much louder where she sat on the sofa facing our big picture window because Mr. Red-bellied Woodpecker had just slammed into the glass.
My wife immediately ran to the window and stood peering down at a rumpled mass of beak and feathers.
“Oh Dick,” she cried, “it’s our beautiful red-bellied woodpecker. Is he dead?”
Her anguish propelled me from my computer where I had been doing something really important. At the window beside her I leaned over and looked at the disheveled bird, its feathers askew. It looked quite dead.
Probably broke it’s neck, I thought, but said nothing. My wife is sensitive to my insensitivity. It’s a bird, right? Lots more out there. My brain spanned a few decades back to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds.” I remember one knowledgeable actor who played the part of an expert ornithologist or something saying that if all the birds in the world decided to attack us, it’d be a hundred to one, their favor.
We’d be doomed. Fortunately, it’s not likely they will get their act together, so we’re safe for the time being.
We focused and stared for a couple of minutes. Nothing.
“Are you going to do something?” she asked.
When my wife, whom I love dearly and recognize as being emphatic to the lesser creatures of the world—she considers me only pathetic in these matters—asks a question, I interpret it as a request and dutifully deal with it.
“I’ll get a coat and shoes on and go outside.”
What a man will do for his woman.
Bitter cold! Snow covered the ground except where the broad overhang from our ranch style roof kept it away from the foundation. There Mr. Red-Belly lay in the mulch, a miserable looking feathery mass.
One nice thing about a bird-slam is that the thing doesn’t move, which makes it available for closer inspection. I bent down and picked it up. Holly stood inside in the warmth, the double thick insulated panes of quarter inch of plate glass separating her from my and the bird’s external, ah…“situation.” Furrows of worry etched her brow, the empathy thing. She can’t help it.
I cupped the bird in my hands. I found it soft and slightly warm, but could detect no movement. Moments later, while holding the limp object loosely in my hands, it stirred.
A bright smile flashed through the window, which I surmised embodied a reflection of my wife's mother instinct.
I felt more movement. The "sudden stop" glass knocked Red-Belly out. Hopefully he wouldn’t end up addled. I get a crack on the head like that and I’d be down for the count.
She mouthed, “Will he be all right?”
I mentally shrugged, like who cares, but gave her a hopeful nod. I gently stroked the bird’s head with an index finger and gained quite a few points with the watcher over my conversion to Mr. Caring Man.
Points are good.
We’d looked up the stats on the Red-bellied woodpecker in Petersen’s Field Guide in the past. We knew Red-Belly was male because our zebra-backed woodpecker had a red cap that extended from the nape over the top of its head, ending at the long beak. The female of the species also had a red nape, but no over the top.
I’m guessing that males are generally more over the top than females in all species, so I had no trouble relating. At least I could identify this species. I did have a problem, though.
To belie the actual naming of this bird—could it have been Roger Tory Petersen himself—I reviewed the picture and compared it against what I saw. Red-bellied? The book clearly showed no red belly on any variation of this woodpecker, nor did the bird in the hand. Red-headed woodpecker? A case could be made for that, but such oddball naming will remain an unsolved mystery in this dissertation.
My normally active brain unkindly thought about some people’s allusions to others as being bird-brained, reflecting a head containing no sense at all. Birds aren’t high in the cognition department. Why would they be? Birds are descended from dinosaurs, and we know what pea-brains they had.
I must digress. The term bird-brained as applied to humans hasn’t come about for no good reason. We like to think of ourselves as smart where, were we to give it sufficient thought, we would realize that most people aren’t so smart a lot of the time. Of course, those who give deep thoughts like these no thought at all are perceptibly closer to the dinosaurs I spoke of. A reasonable case could be made.
To be fair, many flying creatures had smacked our window in the past, some leaving dusty spread-winged body prints so artistically neat that we left them on the window for as long as nature would allow. It appears that for the bird population, glass is magically invisible or nearly so. Historically, they don’t all smack the window.
I suspect the interior of our house attracts birds. It is a pleasant place, after all.
Red-Belly moved a bit more, but didn’t try and escape. Against his natural need for flight in a situation where he might be gobbled in an instant by some huge and ravenous monster, he had no fear, ergo; I had a dazed bird not up to doing anything but to sit around. I’d bet he nursed a wicked headache about then, too.
I motioned my wife that I wanted to come in. I gently placed Red-Belly on the cement step, skirted him carefully and left him there. It’s an age old adage, like separation of church and state, people go in; birds stay out.
He sat still and it appeared touch and go for quite a while. The agony of defeat apparent and the thrill of victory nowhere to be found, we got re-involved in household stuff. When we left him, he hadn’t fallen over.
After perhaps fifteen minutes Holly looked out at the step and Red-Belly had flown. This redheaded bird I have deliberately misnamed Red-Belly disappeared for several days, but with the cognitive powers of a dinosaur, he did return, the food supply evidently more attractive than any memory of past trauma. On the other hand; what memory?
We were pleased, of course, that his headache was gone.