For weeks, I've been obsessing over the American Woodcock. I finally saw one on Tuesday, my third week of performing bird rescue and recovery.
It was dead.
Whenever I approach the evil atrium, I feel a mix of excitement and foreboding. It’s a place that confuses beautiful birds of all species, and, as stated in my first post about rescuing birds, many do not make it out alive. This morning, a seemingly unscarred Hermit Thrush sat inside its confines. It flew up onto a ledge as I began climbing over the guard rail, and perched there, resting. I scanned the area to my right and in front of me: no birds. Good. None is better than severely injured or dead…oh no….I saw a feathery lump. As I approached it, I thought it was a woodpecker. It was lying on its back and all I saw was a long beak. As I got closer, though, I noticed that the bill was not shaped like a pecker’s, and it looked straight. Plus, the feet were really long. I put on my gloves and turned the corpse over and I immediately realized that I had just seen my first Woodcock, in the first stages of decomposition, with ants eating out its eyes. I sighed inwardly, placed the deceased bird into a marked bag and continued along my route.
I zigzagged in between a few buildings and became distracted by the plethora of live birds flitting about: several Hermit Thrushes and various Sparrows dug in the dirt for food. A Chickadee sang above me, and earlier I'd seen a Northern Flicker and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on the same tree.
Snapping out of my reverie—I awoke at 5:30am to rescue birds, not look at them—I turned up the next street and headed up the stairs, not thinking I would find anything at that particular spot.
I was so wrong.
A mid-size, tan-colored bird sat completely still, almost directly in front of me. Hell no! Is it really--??! I gasped--it was a Woodcock, and it was anything but dead! My heart began beating wildly. There it was, that big, browned eyed, chubby little bird I'd seen only in pictures! I seriously couldn’t have been anymore titillated if I had just bumped into Matt Dillon or Joaquin Phoenix randomly on the streets of Chicago; I literally blinked my eyes to make sure what I was seeing was real.
Right around the moment I arrived, but not necessarily precisely that moment, the Woodcock flew up, and bang! Its head made hard contact with the glass of the building in front of it. I shrieked as it made impact (I know I am supposed to be quiet, because noise further stresses birds, but I am still new at all of this, and I thought for a moment the bird would land with a bashed in dome due to the loud sound I’d just heard). The Woodcock looked okay, though. Whew. It didn’t matter, though; I knew I had to catch the bird to ensure that any resulting head trauma could be treated.
As I slowly approached it, the Woodcock flew into a corner, facing away from any glass. I walked up to it closely, quietly, from the side as I was taught. I extended my net in front of me, and gently covered the bird with it. Success!
The Woodcock jumped and thrashed within the net, even twisting its head! I quickly and gently rearranged the net so that the bird sat upright again—how I managed this, I do not know—and managed to position the little dude into a paper bag. Tears welled in my eyes, but they stemmed from joy, as I felt certain this bird would be able to be released thanks to my efforts, however awkward they may have been.
With the bag carrying the alive Woodcock firmly clutched in one hand and the dead woodcock loosely held by the other, I quickly hurried toward Michigan Avenue; I wanted to finish my route the best that I could instead of rushing back to the car.
I made the right choice, as I found another, severely injured bird right at the feet of pedestrians: a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker that was in bad shape. It was around 7:30 at that point, so many people were heading to work. One man got so close I thought he was going to step on the pecker before I got a chance to save it!
It shouldn’t be too hard to scoop up the bird, I thought. Shakily, I set down the other bags, praying that the strong wind would not blow the Woodcocks away, and gently cupped my hand around it, only to hear a loud SQUAWK! I looked down at it, its beak open, blood dripping out of its mouth. Its little claws got stuck to my gloves; it twisted and turned its little body, resisting hard! Again, not knowing how the hell I managed it, I was able to deposit the sapsucker into the bag.
At this point, it was time to get the birds to the quiet, wind-free car. Thankfully, my partner appeared soon after I placed the bags-o-birds safely in sturdy boxes, and he took them to be examined and treated, if necessary.
Today I learned that both birds were released. Two weeks of happy endings—but what will happen next?
Here is a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, my photo: