This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Amazing Bird Story-- The Will toLive

(This came in this morning from one of my birding groups.)

Apologies to all for the long post, but I had to share this.

In the last few months I’ve had absolutely no time for birding. However, this past Monday morning I decided to take a few minutes to stop by the dam and see if there was anything interesting. There was nothing at the dam, so I started walking back along the shore, in the direction of the Mystic Valley Parkway.

About 200 feet from shore I saw something splashing in the water. It was a small, bright yellow bird. It looked like a gold finch or maybe a warbler. I couldn’t imagine why a non-aquatic bird would be so far from shore. It would splash around for about 5 seconds, then float for about the same amount of time, and then start splashing again. It looked like a bird playing in a bird bath, except that it was in the middle of a lake.

As I watched, I realized that the bird was not playing, but struggling. It didn’t float like a water bird would, with head and neck out of the water, rather it looked like it was lying on its stomach with its head barely above the water. It looked quite helpless.

I decided it must be a fledgling that either fell out of an over the water nest, or else thought that it could safely land on the water and then got in trouble when its wings got wet.

I realized it was either going to drown, or else get eaten by a big fish(there are a few species of fish who are very attracted to things that splash on the surface, in fact many fishing lures for bass and pickerel/pike are designed to mimic this behavior) or a predator bird.

Like everyone on this list, I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, so I thought it would be worth it to wade in and try to rescue the bird. This part of the lake is very shallow, so my only reservation was about having to spend the rest of day in wet work boots. As I was trying to decide, the bird stopped splashing aimlessly, and started moving towards the shore. It seemed to have now figured out a way to propel itself forward in the water. The bird would flap its wings, which pushed down on the water, and caused the bird to rise out of the water and move forward. It looked like it was doing the breast stroke. I had never seen anything like it, but for a non-water bird trying to adapt, it was quite impressive. It must have been exhausting, as the bird would stop every few seconds and rest.

The bird steadily moved towards the shore. In fact, for a brief second I thought I might have been mistaken, and this was in fact a top water fishing lure, and there was someone fishing further down the shore, hidden in the woods(the trees go right up to the shore here).

I realize that sounds pretty dumb, but the whole thing happened so fast(exactly two minutes from the first sighting until the bird got to shore according to the data from my camera), and was so foreign to anything I had ever seen before, that it was hard to draw any definite conclusions about what I was seeing.

The bird safely make it to shore, about 20 feet away from where I was, and disappeared into the grasses and bushes that grew right up to the shoreline. I debated going over to see the bird up close, and then decided that it was probably exhausted and that if I disturbed it, the bird might go back into the water. Plus I needed to get back to work, so I decided to leave.

Before I left, I took a quick look at the photos I had been taking to see if I got any good shots. The photos were not good(more on that later), but as I looked closely at the photos, I noticed some green and black patches on the bird, and I realized that it wasn’t a gold finch or a warbler. Now this was getting really weird, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to very slowly try to move forward and try to spot the bird again and get a better look.

I saw the bird, and it was still in the water with its eyes closed. The water level is high right now, so the waters edge is at a slightly undercut bank of about 6 inches. The poor bird was so exhausted it was just sitting in about 3 inches of water, either too wet and heavy or just too weak to get out of the water. I doubted that sitting in the water was going to help matters any, and decided to try to pick the bird up and set it down on dry land.

I carefully picked up the bird, who did not try to resist. As I examined the bird up close, I realized what it was- a parakeet! The bird also had a band on its leg. Figuring this must be someone’s pet, I decided to hold onto the bird(literally, as I had no place to put it), and got into my truck still holding the bird.

I called Renee to ask her for advice. I left a message on her answering machine, and then remembered that my cousin and his wife have a 25 year old pet cockatiel, and live within walking distance of the dam. Even better, they had both taken the day off from work, were home when I called, and had an extra bird cage. I drove to their house, still holding the bird, (who by now had pooped on my hand). By the time I got to their house, they had the cage all ready, with fresh water and seed. The parakeet, who still looked quite frazzled(and I might add, smelled like the lake), went right over to the seeds and started eating.

By now Renee had called me back and suggested I call the Mass Audubon help line, which I did. According to Linda, who answered the phone(and works with Marj!) they keep track of both lost and found birds, and have successfully reunited several birds with their owners over the years.

By the end of the day, according to my cousin, the parakeet had recovered nicely, was eating, drinking, preening, playing with the mirror in the cage, and chattering with the nearby cockatiel.

When I got home that night I checked the lost and found section on Craigslist(I can’t remember who suggested I check there, it was either Renee or Linda from MassAudubon), and there was a post about a lost yellow and green parakeet from Washington Street in Winchester, that had gotten out of its cage two days earlier.

I emailed the poster, who responded with a photo of the lost bird, and sure enough, it was the same bird. The bird belonged to the poster’s 12 year old daughter, who was overjoyed to get her pet back.

I have posted some photos, which are worth looking at only because the sight of a bird doing the breaststroke is so unusual. I apologize for the poor quality, the sun was at an angle where the water appears very dark, but the light colored bird is getting a great deal of sunlight. The cameras’ exposure meter read the majority of the scene, which is dark, and ended up horribly overexposing the bird. To add insult to injury, the overexposure is achieved by using a very slow shutter speed, which makes the photo blurry. Not that I should make excuses.

I’m just happy I made time to go birding on Monday.


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