Faith Gong: Birds… and bees

This wasn’t the first time a bird got stuck in our woodstove; this had happened twice before.

The three events all started with a scrabbling, a scuffle, floating noise in the corner of our living room. This type of noise can be ignored once or twice, but after several repetitions, the message is clear: There is another living being somewhere in this room.

The first time was a house sparrow. The second time it was an Eastern Bluebird. Now it was a starling.

The next time our chimney sweeps make a home visit, we’ll ask them if there’s a way to prevent this from happening again. Somehow these birds were able to fly up our chimney flue, eventually resting in the cold ashes of our (unlit) wood stove.

Once the bird is inside the belly of the stove, it is tricky to extract the trapped bird. Our wood stove has two doors, one of which opens and the other folds down; neither allows easy, targeted access to a frightened bird sitting amid piles of ash. We absolutely want to avoid releasing a terrified bird into our house.

We saved the sparrow by opening the folding door and sticking a baited trash bag around the opening. This method required patience, but like most things that require a lot of patience, it was the best solution. The next morning, while I was preparing breakfast, I heard the sparrow fussing inside the garbage bag. I picked up the bag and carefully pulled the merry sparrow out of our sliding door into the garden.

We’ve been less patient with the bluebird – perhaps because our family likes bluebirds more than we do the non-native, invasive sparrows. When it came time to release the bluebird, my daughters and I huddled around the stove trying to get the bird to the trash bag we were holding over the door opening. It was a slow and frustrating process. Finally, one of my daughters opened the front door of the stove and pushed the bluebird into the bag. Another happy bird was released through the back door, accompanied by victorious cheers from my daughters.

So last week, when – after repeated thumping and thumping of the woodstove – we turned on a flashlight inside and saw a frightened starling staring at us, we had two options: the patient solution and neat, or rescue involving screaming, poking and fly ash.

Guess which one we chose?

I waited until the girl who managed to get the bluebird into the bag came home from school, assuming she would bring good fortune to our efforts. Did I mention we also had grandparents from out of town visiting us? We did, so my stepfather witnessed our whole process.

Three of my girls and I got into position: one girl and I held garbage bags over the two stove doors, which we opened slightly, another girl held the flashlight, and the third girl prepared to push the starling, which was curled up in a corner. .

Then our dog started barking, because two people were crossing our front yard. It was our neighbors: Cheryl and her daughter Amanda, who run the Christmas tree farm next door.

I met Cheryl outside our door. She seemed in a hurry.

“Hi,” she said. “So some of the bees from our hives have escaped into your garden, and we’re going to try to get them back.”

I gave him my blessing and went back inside to take care of our bird.

My daughters and I resumed our positions around the stove. Like most of us, this bird didn’t particularly want to do what was in its best interest. He beat and ran and did it all except allow us to guide him in the plastic bag that would take him to the blue sky and freedom.

And then – I’m not sure how it happened, since everything was so chaotic – the starling flew out of the woodstove and into the open air of our home.

Our worst-case scenario had come true. Chased by the panicked screams of my daughters and my stepfather (okay, and maybe myself), the bird flew first to one window, then to another. That’s when our dog noticed it. Our dog is ten years old and squeaks a little, but she is also half Labrador Retriever and therefore genetically programmed to catch birds. The dog jumped up and grabbed the bird in its mouth. Everyone screamed in anguish, but the bird somehow broke free and headed for the sliding glass door. Our geriatric dog did another air jump on the bird, but my 12 year old daughter air jumped on the dog. Amid all the hubbub, I managed to open the sliding glass door and the starling flew outside – where we sincerely hope it didn’t drop dead from cardiac arrest.

Meanwhile, Cheryl and Amanda had reappeared in our front yard, driving something that looked like a golf cart and wearing full beekeeper suits. They stayed at the edge of our field for a long time, doing something to the lower branches of some trees. Later, when I encountered them walking down our driveway, they told me that their rescue efforts had also been successful: the bees had gathered around the low branches of one of our poplar trees, where they able to knock them down and bring them back to The Hive.

In a single afternoon, we had a case of birds and bees: one had to be saved in the wild, the other had to be brought home. I shared this thought with my neighbors and Cheryl laughed.

“Well, that’s country life,” she said.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, freelance photographer, and director of a non-profit organization. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, a feisty cat and an anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “spare time”, she writes for her blog, The pickle patch.

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