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Lots of folks wonder how it’s possible to write a weekly outdoor column for 22 years (that’s over 1,144 columns at 1,000 words each – 1,144,000 words!). Well, certainly enthusiasm about the topic is handy, and an ingrained fascination about the wild world is also useful.
I don’t know where I get my ideas sometimes, but at times they literally come knocking on my window. I was actually sitting by the picture window musing about this week’s column when, for whatever reason, the birds in the yard decided to try one more time to make it into the house through the window. One by one I had three chickadees, finches, a blue jay, several juncos and a (rare by back yard standards) bluebird slam themselves up against the glass just inches from my chair. This window is relatively new (been there about a year) so they should be used to it by now. Heck, I don’t even run into it anymore!
There are a variety of reasons why birds run into the windows, chief among them panic (being attacked by a cat or a hawk), disorientation (forgetting which way is up) and, I suspect, bravado during the mating season when a lusty male will be in the middle of his mating display and plow into the forgotten window. We’ve all done something similarly silly at one point or another (and probably for the same reasons!), but this particular day was a banner one for bird-glass collisions. By the time the sun set I’d birds had thumped into every window in the place (11 all told, plus two doors). A couple of them bounced off and hit the ground dazed and confused, but by the time I got out there they had recovered and flown away – in the right direction for a change!
I’m sure every reader of the Rolling Thunder has had issues with birds hitting the windows, some fatally. In fact, these days one of the biggest causes of songbird deaths is high-rise buildings; glass-enclosed skyscrapers that kill thousands of resident and migrating birds each year. One issue of The National Geographic showed a pile of dead birds (several hundred of them, all sizes and species) that had been killed by hitting the glass on a single building in (I think it was) Quebec, Toronto or something like that. If you think about the number of multi-level buildings the average migrating sparrow must pass enroute to its summer or winter range, you can imagine what the annual death toll must be each year.
In my long hunting career I have brought home at least two ruffed grouse, a pheasant and a couple of woodcock that I had flushed and retrieved but never officially shot at. All took to the air and sailed off toward nearby houses. I held my fire and watched as they slammed straight into the side of the buildings, falling dead on the lawn. One grouse cracked the living room window in a double-wide home and then fell with a bang on the steel basement doors. In all four cases the landowners came out and wondered what was going on, but I assured them I hadn’t fired a shot. When we checked the birds there was no sign of damage other that a broken neck, which one might expect from hitting a five-room house head on at 40 miles per hour!
While I’m sorry to see these smaller birds falling dead due to collisions with human habitation, I am glad (and somewhat surprised) that we don’t often hear much about similar accidents involving wild turkeys, geese, ducks and other larger game birds. Not that I want to see a 20-pound gobbler trying to fly into a closed window – I’m sure he’d get in, but not without serious damage to the window and himself!
Years ago I hunted swans (legally) in Delaware and noticed that at dawn flocks of these huge waterfowl were zooming around the marshes and cornfields just 10 yards off the ground. I have seen the damage a falling swan can do to a duck blind when some over-eager hunter shoots a straight incomer (which wise guides constantly remind them not to!). In fact, on the very first day of that long-ago hunt I saw three hunters knocked out of their blind by a tumbling swan one of them had just shot, and the shooter actually had to go to the emergency room for stitches! He also had to pay for repairs to the blind, and the stock of his shotgun was split in the process – all in all a very expensive mistake.
Of course, birds are not the only critters that take a beating during the course of their busy, hectic lives. I’ve shot two deer in my career that had 8-inch pieces of spruce limb stuck in their bodies. Neither whitetail seemed to be bothered by the injuries, which had healed completely by the time we met.
Last season, in fact, I shot a 10-point buck whose left rear ham was nothing but flat gristle – no meat at all in a place that should have provided several nice, thick steaks. His tail had also been broken in several places but that was healed over as well. A veterinarian I know guessed that the buck had been hit by a vehicle when it was a fawn and had managed to survive into adulthood. Everyone’s luck runs out at some point, I guess!
One of the more common mishaps among deer is to have a leg (or two) severed by a mowing machine during the haying season. I have seen several three-legged fawns in my travels during early fall that almost certainly had a run-in with a bush hog or mower.
Back in the early 70s I was living on a farm and one day a big cock pheasant came staggering into the yard with both wings and both legs shattered. Somehow he had survived being run over by a mower. He was able to walk but couldn’t fly. I picked him up and placed him in an old dog pen and fed him cracked corn and water for a few months. He recovered from his injuries but had a gimpy leg and one twisted foot.
One day the door to the pen was left open and he walked back into the brush from whence he came, never to be seen again. I don’t know what became of him but I heard pheasants crowing around the farm every spring after that. I like to think he was one of them!
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