Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One day killing them, one day saving them

Boyfriend was getting ready to head out for work this morning, and I to stay in for a day of working at home, when we heard a loud thunk in the kitchen behind us.

"Oh my God!" Boyfriend yelled.

"What?" I said, whipping around to see what had happened.

Read more..."A bird just slammed into the window."

I bolted out the back door to see if it was OK and found a stunned robin on its back, head lolling, legs moving weakly.

"It's not dead," I yelled back to Boyfriend.

When I picked up the bird, it took off and landed on a low limb of our silver maple, but looked like hell, and within 30 seconds fell off, landing gently in the thick spring grass.

"I've got to get him or Harlequin will eat him," I said. Harlequin is the sleek black cat who owns our back yard and has a taste for birds - and the skill to capture them. A robin would normally be too big for her, but she's not stupid - a stunned bird of any size would look like lunch to her.

"You'd better get to work," I told Boyfriend, grabbing the bird, holding it in my palm and stroking its back to calm it. I know that's a mammal-calming technique. But screw it, it calmed me down.

Within seconds, Harlequin was at my feet, meowing. Had I not been there, this robin would've been in her mouth. But it was in my hands, and I was going to see what I could do for it.

Now, if anyone but me were writing this blog post, this would seem like a normal reaction to the turn of events. But this is so contradictory even I marveled at what I was doing as I was doing it. Not only do I routinely kill birds during hunting season, but I actually aid and abet Harlequin. When she has a bird that's crippled but not dead, I often dispatch it. Why? Because it's going to die anyway, and while I know it's stupid to impose my morals on a cat, I don't really want to be a silent accomplice to torture.

So I took the bird inside. Bird in one hand, phone in the other, I called my friend Rebecca - a falconer and expert on all things bird. She didn't answer right away, so I left a message, put the bird in a cat carrying cage (ironically, to save it from our indoor cats) and googled "how to care for a stunned bird."

As I did, I looked into the cage and saw the bird's eyelids drooping, and head dropping. I cried. I didn't want this bird to die.

Between the 'net and Rebecca's prompt call back, I learned I needed to put the robin into a paper bag (dark, calm, safe place) and give it a couple hours to recover.

That left me time to ponder this. Why save this bird when I've killed so many others in my short time as a hunter?

1. I felt bad that it was fooled by our window. Where it hit, I'm pretty sure it could see through to the front yard. I'm sure it looked like a clean flight path.

2. If by protecting the bird from the cat I could give it time to recover, I thought that was the least I could do.

3. When it really comes down to it, I just hate, hate, hate suffering. I know suffering is indigenous to life itself, but I believe acts of kindness make life better.

4. I have a profoundly deep respect for animals - more now than I ever did as a non-hunter.

And all that said, I still eat meat, and I will still hunt as long as I am able and as long as I continue to eat meat. It is a part of my being, my biology and probably a million years of evolution. Being omnivores made us what we are. When I hunt, I feel completely in tune with what it is to be a denizen of this planet - I am isolated from none of its challenges or harsh realities. I am doing what I am supposed to do.

Of course, some people say just because we evolved that way doesn't mean we need to stay that way, that being civilized means we should no longer kill or use animals, and they become vegans. I salute their moral consistency, and their willpower to resist bacon.

I say being civilized means I use everything in my power to minimize any suffering associated with my diet. I believe it is impossible to live on earth without leaving a footprint - even vegans do. The question is what kind of footprint do I leave?

About three hours after this morning's crash, the bird was starting to rustle in the bag on my desk, so I took it outside. The robin burst out with a tweet and sailed straight and steady for a branch in the middle of a neighbor's tall blue oak - exactly what Rebecca said it would do.

I kept checking on it, and after sitting there for about an hour - also what Rebecca said to expect - the bird has finally taken off.

There are probably hundreds of thousands of other meat eaters who would've done the same thing for this bird, given the chance. It's just that for a hunter like me, facing the irony is unavoidable.

So yes, tomorrow, I may help Harlequin finish off a winged snack. And Friday, I'm definitely going pheasant hunting. But today, I helped this robin.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Albert A Rasch said...

We do more in a day,

Than most (fill in the environmentalist group)...

do in a lifetime.

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
The Range Reviews: Tactical
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything contradictory there. You weren't going to eat the bird and it wasn't so injured that it couldn't be saved. So you protected it until it could fly away.

Makes perfect sense to me, and I bet most outdoorspeople would do the same thing.

Terry Scoville said...

Yep been there myself a time or two. Mostly with Black Capped Chickadees though. Sounds like you time to get yourself some window predator silhouettes. That'll help alleviate the crashings.

Oh and I too love my bacon, won't give it up!

Anonymous said...

I once rescued a whole batch of baby ducklings whose mama had died. They were swiming in my little irrigation ditch and a crow was trying to get them. I sat out there for over an hour until my husband got home. We then caught them up using a fishing net and a cooler, and then put them in a old stock tank in the garage with a heat lamp for the night. The next day I drove 90 miles round trip to take them to a bird farm where they would be raised until old enough to return to the wild......I often wonder if any of them wind up on my kitchen table during duck hunting season:) We do these things because we are not callous beast, we are compassionate conservationists.......stepping of my soapbox now:) Good post!

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Mucho thanks for being a fantastic distraction from my smashed window and stolen radio telemetry.

Honestly, saving a robin, or even just experiencing a songbird so intimately is a good check in these times to all the nasty things this economy will bring. The US economy has only been around for several hundred years. The robin has been here for thousands and thousands of them.

(Actually it's a thrush, silly pilgrims!)

Holly Heyser said...

Rebecca, good point. I've been craving nature. I'm glad to hear your window is at least back in order, and I hope (beyond reason, I'm sure) that you get your equipment back.

Everyone else, I knew I wasn't the only one. I think the assumption in the non-hunting world is that we're either indifferent or outright hostile to animals. Because I spend a lot of time trying to explain what we do to people who don't share the experience, I'm always looking for ways to describe how we really feel about animals. I don't know if this did it, but I felt utterly compelled to write about it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I commented here months ago -- I'm the reader who works in wildlife rehabilitation. Thank you, Holly, for taking the time to care for this Robin. And good advice on the paper bag, dark, and warmth as well.

Robins are truly amazing birds, ones I work with intimately. And I appreciate this chance to actually impart a bit of extra information about window strikes if you don't mind me adding to that -- since others may encounter this situation.

Window strikes are among the most debilitating injuries birds sustain and the resulting head trauma to birds can cause significant injury internally. So, if possible, those who find birds injured and debilitated, but not killed by such collisions, should try to find out if there's a wildlife hospital or rehabilitator in the area. One such resource is this:

When birds who strike windows are brought to our facility, they're checked for internal hemorrhaging and put on anti-inflammatory meds to facilitate brain recovery and reduce swelling. If possible, also put decals on windows and make windows otherwise less reflective. We've seen birds hit plexiglass backboards on basketball hoops, too. It's such a prevalent issue.

If you've found an injured bird -- you can also put the bag on a heating pad until you can get it into the hands of a rehabilitator. Always on low heat. Put half the bag on the heat, half off so the bird has a chance to move away from the heat source if necessary. And -- always check on any bird that's on heat. Open mouthed breathing can be an indicator of overheating. Always check on a bird that's sitting on heat.

Oh, and I completely get the routine disruption as well. People are often surprised how much effort goes into rehabilitating just one songbird or one squirrel in our clinic . . . which accounts for some of the emotional attachment I wrote about last time. And usually, for me, I find an injured animal on the way to a work engagement or other pre-ordained meeting. My friends have come to accept that. Well, that, and the fact that I carry gloves and an extra grocery bag everywhere I go.

btw: I can't deny that I wish you guys felt the same way about ducks. :) (Yes, note the smiley.) I work with them, too. And pheasants and wild turkeys. So I just have to put in a shameless plug for them. But I'll definitely take the Robin story with much appreciation -- and thank you again for caring for this beautiful little animal!

Holly Heyser said...

Hey Hutch, nice to see you again. And no worries on the shameless plug.

I said this to Rebecca, but I'll say it here too: I wonder if this bird has any clue what transpired? What happened in the first place, the fact that it could've been toast.

Last time I got hit on the head (holding boards for karate chops - a big piece smacked me in the eyebrow ridge), I never knew what hit me, and I can't remember the minutes that followed at all - big big hole in my memory. Nobody realized I'd been hit until someone spotted the growing lump.

I'm guessing this bird's experience was similarly disorienting. And the weird way I acted afterward, I'm thinking probably someone should've stuck ME in a paper bag.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I think most of us hunters - despite what the anti's try to make us sound like - appreciate all living things. How can you not appreciate life, when you have been so close to death?

The majority of us hunters have a deeper respect and appreciation for animals, then any anti-hunting group out there.

I think the main difference involved here is one of fairness, for lack of a better word. We do pursue animals, and ultimately kill them for meat. But we all like to do it on a level playing field. And suffering does not fit into that mold.

While all of us - on the surface - might seem like bloodthirsty killers, really, we're not. We are far from it. We appreciate nature, and the animals within it, because we have such intimate knowledge of them.

It is a hard thing to describe though - killing one day, and saving the next.

I do completely understand. I wouldn't think twice about putting a .22 shell through a squirrel while hunting them, but I still slow down so I don't run into them on the road.

Holly Heyser said...

Me too! I feel sorry for them, because it's obvious they like PLAYING with cars, and anything else that goes down the road.

Chas S. Clifton said...

The Colorado Div. of Wildlife gives its rehabbers and transport people (like me) a list of suggested answers to public and media questions.

Q. Why does the Division of Wildlife send you out to save animals when they make all their money from killing them?

A. One of the things that is very rewarding about volunteering for this project -- in addition to knowing how we help wildlife -- is to know how many people in Colorado truly care about their wildlife. (Et cetera.)

So is that like bureaucratic jujitsu or what?