Angry birds in a time of twits

A Vermont Field Manual for Flatlanders


by Aaron Warner

There are two ways to enter the field of ornithology.  One is to be born into it by God-given love for creatures of flight.  The other is to be thrust into it by the same as they assault your property in any number of ways.  

Growing up on the city streets of Portland, Oregon I was under the impression the variety of birds was the following: Crows, Robins, Blue Jays, Seagulls, Starlings.  That’s it.  Cardinals and Orioles were, to me, fantasy birds that lived on baseball hats.  Never mind the Red Breasted Gross Beak or Golden Finches, which are the stuff of legend to those born in the concrete jungle.  If we wanted to see those we’d go to the zoo where they were trapped and caged like any civilized animals should be. 

Crows would line themselves in a murder, appropriately named for my type of neighborhood, and talk smack to passersby, dogs, cats, other birds and likely each other as they waited opportunistically to abscond with whatever they could, like perhaps the leftover sandwich from your sack lunch.  Though they seemed a supercilious bunch up on the wires they weren’t too proud to condescend and let everyone know they were one of us as they gobbled up some possum or other urban road kill. 

Blue Jays, despite being named after one of those horrible Canadian baseball teams, were the most lively and aggressive of the pretty birds, of which there was precisely one type, them.  They seemed to mostly eat berries and the occasional yard worm then dash off and sit proudly on a tree branch letting all of the other birds have a good long look at true beauty.  

Seagulls could be found scavenging any number of school yards or restaurant neighborhoods were the dumpsters were carelessly left open and nobody cared.  Not the brightest of birds, they were often the target of human cruelty that involved Alka-Seltzer tablets and patience.  Nobody should be proud of this behavior, however the creativity of the prank is hard not to appreciate when you’re a bored teen who has nothing better to do to escape their dysfunction by finding less depressing forms of dysfunction that offered real world meaning to your bio-chemistry class. 

Starlings were the gangsters of birds. I will never forget the day I was sitting outside of a grocery store in Eugene after rubbing elbows with Ken Kesey, when a Starling no bigger than a couple of my toes hopped down on the bench next to me and began to let me know I was eating his sandwich and if I wanted to see my family again I’d shut up and leave it there to be eaten.  Unintimidated due to his size and ridiculously shaped nose I shoed him away until he made it clear he wasn’t kidding.  I had met the Joe Pesci of birds and that’s how I left it, along with enough of my sandwich to walk home safely.  

My respect for these creatures was now compulsory.  

Visits to my mom’s house in Warren, Oregon, a bedroom community west of the city, where she maintained a garden that aspired to one day hang in Babylon, were punctuated by the not infrequent thudding sound of kamikaze birds who mistook her movie theatre sized kitchen bay-window for a point of entry.  After some time on the ground rethinking their poor decision it was never clear if they left of their own volition or the help of another animal.  

My move to New England revealed that Cardinals and Orioles are actual living things that can be admired from afar. Though I’m a Cubs fan, and therefore despise all Cardinals out of obligation, it’s hard not to admire the lovely red as it splashes across the verdant landscape of the Upper Valley.  My first home in Lyme, NH enjoyed several bird feeders and the relationship with the birds was more like the Sound Of Music than the Sound Of Madness I’d experienced in Southeast Portland.  Flits, flutters and flights of fancy had replace flippant feathers and the foul f-you’s of the cocky city avian. Suddenly the stuff of movies was right outside my window, that is, until my now ex-wife decided to shirk the local ordinance and have her $60 bird feeder feed some bears.  Yes, more than once. 

Then there is the Robin, which, until this spring, had been the most banal and also-ran bird of the bunch.  That is until last week when I was visited by the most thuggish Robin I have ever met.  Hearing the familiar thud sound at my side door I went over to have a look.  There he was poised and ready for attack standing next to his latest pile of bird graffiti on my railing.  My cat Roxy was uninterested in the opportunity, however my dog Ryno was not.  Sadly Ryno, a Doberman, is not built for chasing birds, and also has a terrible and undiagnosed case of canine ADD so he proved useless after the first few minutes. 

From my garage window where I was training clients we could see this angry bird assaulting either my window or his reflection over, and over, and over….and over.  A conservative estimate would be in the few hundreds of times he crashed his face into my door window after the first two days.  Indefatigable doesn’t even enter into it.  This thing was a juggernaut.  

Monday morning: Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Monday afternoon: Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! 

Tuesday morning: Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Tuesday afternoon: Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Now it wasn’t clear if it was looking to fight or fornicate since neither I nor my clients are actual ornithologists, so I called our friends at Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences to explain my dilemma.  The sweet sounding young lady on the other end offered several empathic sighs and I don’t knows resulting in a “call back if he’s still there later” decision.  I said “You don’t understand this thing is like the Terminator and thinks I’m hiding Sarah Connor in my house.” This reference was clearly before her time. We said our goodbyes to the sound of Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Maybe Roxy had killed his brother?  It was a possibility.

“There is probably a nest inside your house, you should let it in”, suggested another client.  

“I would know if there was a nest inside my house.  Besides, if I let that thing in my house Roxy will kill it.” Assuming we’re all on the same page that this little maniac deserves to live. My cat Roxy has a body count that would make most politicians from Arkansas blush. It wouldn’t be sporting to trap the thing in the house.  

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! 

So I did was any reasonable person would do and dialed up my uncle Google after hanging a blanket over the door with the image of my grandson on it under the word “LOVE” in large, bright lettering.  Perhaps this little guy would be moved by such a sweet and peaceful message? 

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! 

Or not. 

Now the wind was conspiring against me so I had to brace the blanket in place with a chair and figured a couple of brooms might look like a makeshift scarecrow.  Unfortunately there was still enough window for him to keep beating the ever living crap out of himself.  It’s hard to stop when you think you’re winning I suppose.  

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

My online family offered several workable solutions with the GUARANTEE they would work instantly.  So I got my hi-lighter pen, a three-foot level and drew four-inch spaced vertical lines per the instructions. 

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Time for plan C or maybe it’s D at this point, who knows.  What is this thing’s head made out of anyway?  

A quick trip down to Wal-mart then the feed and supply and I came back armed with a curtain and some lovely leaf shaped reflective decals that are designed for this very purpose.  Ordering them neatly and properly spaced on my window I was relieved this little psycho might live to have a chance at a better life. 

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Are.  You.  Kidding me!?!  What in the Holy Mary Mother of God is wrong with you!?! It is now Friday and, if I had to bet my now frazzled life on it, you have smashed your head into the side of my house approaching a thousand times.  

Speaking of Mother Mary it just so happened I still had up in my house from Christmas a papier mache Virgin Mary I’d made in third grade out of a Blue Nun wine bottle.  Surely the fear of the God’s mom would be enough to keep this tyrant from careening into my life.  

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Soooo…he’s not Catholic.  Good to know.  

Three curtains, a chair, two brooms, a set of decals, some neatly penned high-lighter lines, and the Mother of God later and this bird has got to be working on hemorrhaging.  Surely he’s going to tap out any moment now. 

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

In a moment of clarity I begin to realize this entire ordeal is symbolic of our culture.  This angry little narcissist can’t stop himself from trying to destroy what he thinks is mortal enemy only failing to realize it’s a reflection of himself.  Try as we might to point this out or save one another in any number of ways it won’t stop until we do.  

Luckily, about a week and half later it did.  

Thank God and peace be with you – ALL of you. 

(This story is shared in loving memory of my cat Roxy who passed away on April 23rd of this year.)

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2 replies »

  1. Sorry, but after reading this article, the part that makes me happiest is that Roxy won’t be adding to his body count any longer. Those who own cats and truly love birds keep their cats indoors.

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