Sum­mer spent bat­tling birds puts colum­nist in a fowl mood

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - CAM FULLER

I’m less a bird lover than a bird ap­pre­ci­a­tor.

I like them, more or less, but have never felt the urge to learn much about them. There­fore, when a bird mys­tery pops up, I sim­ply have no knowl­edge base to draw on for an­swers.

Like, did I kill the swal­lows at the lake? They set up their nest atop an elec­tri­cal box on the over­hang above the deck. A high­risk life­style, but they sur­vived elec­tro­cu­tion. But when a hu­man came up for the week­end, the birds couldn’t come and go as they pleased. They’d fly to­ward their nest, then change their minds at the last sec­ond and veer off. Well, that was their prob­lem.

My task was to stain the deck. I bought what might well be the last gal­lon of oil-based stain in Western Canada. It was dis­con­tin­ued and on sale. Nat­u­rally, I wor­ried about the birds poop­ing on my deck, but they sur­pris­ingly hadn’t done so all sum­mer to that point.

I stained the deck. The fumes were bad. Not eye-wa­ter­ingly bad, but pretty bad. Overnight, the swal­lows pooped on the deck, likely in protest. I put a piece of ply­wood at ground zero and went home.

The next time I went to the lake, the piece of ply­wood was as clean as when I put it there. Odd. Then I no­ticed the swal­lows were gone. The fumes? I felt ter­ri­ble. I prob­a­bly ru­ined their lives. They were home­less now, push­ing swallow-sized shop­ping carts through un­savoury neigh­bour­hoods of the for­est. And what if they’d aban­doned their eggs? I was a mon­ster.

Then the next bird mys­tery: The Si­lence of the Spar­rows. We al­ways have a healthy pop­u­la­tion of spar­rows in our back­yard. This is be­cause we have three small bird­houses on the side of the garage. The birds had a great sum­mer pro­duc­ing off­spring.

One day, there was a spar­row-palooza. A large group started swirling around the houses. I fought the urge to think “how cute, they’re play­ing!” I fig­ure spar­rows are pretty much all busi­ness. This was more like a spar­row war. One would latch onto the perch. An­other would whiz by and try to hover. If it got too close, it would be chased. With all the chirp­ing and wing flap­ping, it was very dra­matic. In a spar­row way.

Spar­row chicks amuse me and gross me out in equal mea­sure. They truly never shut up, forc­ing their par­ents to make quick trips for food ev­ery few sec­onds. Al­ways re­minds me of hav­ing twins. I used my binoc­u­lars to check them out, but I couldn’t see much be­sides the or­angey, de­mand­ing beaks. Do they have any feath­ers when they’re born? I al­low my­self to think they’re covered in skin, like minia­ture di­nosaurs. Kind of creeps me out.

The abun­dance of chicks pre­vented me from paint­ing the side of the garage for two months. I didn’t want to be at­tacked or in­trude on their life cy­cle. I de­cided to wait un­til the chaos died down.

Then, sud­denly, it did. One day, just like that, there were no spar­rows at all. Time to paint! But I felt bad. Do spar­rows pack up and leave just like that? What of the chicks? Had the worst hap­pened? I shud­dered to think of it — some steely-eyed bird of prey swoop­ing in. And then what? Eating the par­ents and let­ting the ba­bies starve to death in the house? God, didn’t Edgar Allan Poe write sto­ries like that? Or maybe it got the kids first, ex­tract­ing them from the hole in the house. It made me think of eating french fries with no hands.

Without chicks to raise, did the dis­traught par­ents fly away into an un­cer­tain future? Or are they — and the lake swal­lows — fine? I’ll never know. It’s so dis­tress­ing, I might never get around to paint­ing the side of the garage, heh, heh.

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