Thursday, July 22, 2010

The painted bunting

More writing just for writing's sake.

I volunteer to work with the painted bunting guy to impress my boss. Before working with the twitchers I’d never heard of the bird. I love a window and a bird feeder as much as the next person, but I’m no expert. My mom has a hummingbird feeder, and I’ve seen those. But I never knew there was a bird like this outside of rainforests. Its bright blue head, and small fluffy body with patches of red, orange, yellow, and green. It’s miraculous, phenomenal, extraordinary in a world of catbirds, robins, and chickadees. A supermodel surrounded by the drab and ugly. An elite stuck with the working class.

The painted bunting guy travels up and down the coast during migration, tracking the little rainbow-colored birds. I wake up at four to drive over to the plantation. He’s already set up the nets and sits in a small folding chair. He waits and watches, holding a pencil and a notebook full of script I can’t read. I introduce myself. We sit. We wait.

I’ve gotten hundreds of birds out of mist nets this summer. Usually we get to them right after they go in. It’s bad for the birds to be stuck in the nets for long. They are so small, they cannot wait in the chilly pre-dawn air for long. Most of the birds submit willingly. Somehow they know or trust I am going to remove them from the net and set them free. Or maybe they have no other choice. Only the cardinals fight. They use their strong, triangular beaks to bite your fingers while you try to free them. It pinches but doesn’t break the skin.

The painted buntings arrive. One after another. Little wisps of shadow piercing the net. The painted bunting guy tells me to go get them. We work that way for a while. A few go in, I remove them from the net and bring them to him. He records their number combinations from small metal bands on their legs. Then we sit again, waiting for more to show up. Again and again. On the final run I work to pull a bird from the net. I think I’ve got it free, but realize too late its right leg is caught. I hear a tiny snap. I take it to the painted bunting guy, shame washing over me. I won’t meet his eyes. I worry I’ll see judgment reflecting back at me. I’m supposed to impress this guy, not kill the birds. And what will the twitchers say?

I mumble something about the bird’s leg breaking, handing him the small creature. He tsks and records the bird’s band code. I start to talk, whispering so I don’t scare other birds away. Is there any way to fix it? Have I killed it? What can we do? all run together before he can fit an answer in.

Try to tape it, he says, pulling scotch tape out of his workbox. I pull out a small piece, fastening it around the limb, securing it.

Is it okay? I ask. He doesn’t respond. I’m not sure if the piece of tape is really going to fix the bird, or if he suggests it because he thinks I will cry if I know the bird is dying. I wouldn’t. Not in front of him.

I release the bird, and I leave the painted bunting guy to pack up his nets alone.

bird image from: Houston Audubon website

1 comment:

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