Faith Gong: The birds… and the bees

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

The three events all began with a scrabbling, scuffling, fluttering noise in the corner of our living room. This type of noise can be shrugged off once or twice, but after subsequent repetitions the message is clear: There is another living thing somewhere in this room.

The first time, it was a House Sparrow. The second time, it was an Eastern Bluebird. Now it was a European Starling.

The next time our chimney sweeps make a house call, we’ll ask them if there’s a way to prevent future occurrences. Somehow, these birds have been able to fly down into our chimney pipe, eventually coming to rest in the cold ashes of our (unlit) woodstove.

Once the bird is inside the belly of the stove, it’s a delicate business to extract the trapped avian. Our woodstove has two doors, one of which swings out, and the other of which folds down; neither allows for easy and targeted access to a frightened bird sitting amid piles of ashes. We definitely want to avoid releasing a terrified bird into our house.

We rescued the sparrow by opening the door that folds down and duct taping a baited garbage bag around the opening. This method took patience, but as with most things that require great patience, it was the best solution. The next morning, as I was preparing breakfast, I heard the sparrow flapping around inside the garbage bag. I gathered the bag up and neatly released the happy sparrow out our sliding door into the backyard.

We were less patient when it came to the bluebird — perhaps because our family is fonder of bluebirds than we are of non-native and invasive sparrows. When it came time to free the bluebird, my daughters and I huddled around the stove trying to coax the bird towards the garbage bag that we held over the door’s opening. It was a slow and frustrating process. Finally, one of my daughters opened the stove’s front door a crack and nudged the bluebird into the bag. Another happy bird was released out the back door, accompanied by my daughters’ victorious cheers.

So last week, when — after repeated fluttering and scuffling from the woodstove — we shone a flashlight inside and saw a scared starling staring back at us, we had two options to choose from: the patient and neat solution, or the rescue involving yelling, poking, and flying ashes.

Guess which one we chose?

I waited until the daughter who’d successfully coaxed the bluebird into the bag was home from school, assuming she would bring good fortune to our efforts. Did I mention that we also had out-of-town grandparents visiting us? We did, so my father-in-law was a witness to our entire process.

Three of my daughters and I got into position: one daughter and I held garbage bags over both stove doors, which we cracked open slightly, another daughter held the flashlight, and the third daughter prepared to nudge the starling, which was huddled into a corner.

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

I met Cheryl at our front door. She seemed rushed.

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

I gave her my blessing and went back inside to see about our bird.

My daughters and I resumed our positions around the stove. Like most of us, this bird did not particularly want to do what was in its best interest. It flapped and ran and did everything except allow us to guide it into the plastic bag that would take it to blue skies and freedom.

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

Our worst-case scenario had become reality. Chased by the panicked screams of my daughters and my father-in-law (okay — and maybe myself), the bird fluttered first to one window, then to another. That’s when our dog noticed it. Our dog is ten years old and a little creaky, but she’s also half Labrador retriever and therefore genetically programmed to catch birds. The dog made a leap and caught the bird in her mouth. Everyone screamed in anguish, but the bird somehow got free and made its way toward the sliding glass door. Our geriatric dog made another flying leap at the bird, but my 12-year-old daughter made a flying leap onto the dog. In the midst of this brouhaha, I somehow managed to open the sliding glass door, and the starling flew outside — where we sincerely hope it didn’t drop dead of a 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 stood on the edge of our field for a long time, doing something to the lower branches of some trees. Later, when I met them walking down our driveway, they told me that their rescue effort had been successful as well: The bees had gathered around the low branches of one of our poplar trees, where they were able to knock and scoop them back into the hive.

In a single afternoon, we’d had a case of the birds and the bees: one needing to be rescued back into the wild, the other needing to be brought back within the confines of home. I shared this thought with my neighbors, and Cheryl laughed.

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

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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