Awesome: Wild birds.
Not Awesome: Wild birds that fall down a derelict stovepipe chimney and become trapped.
Once upon a time, last week, I was sitting at my computer wondering why it was so hard for me to start blogging again. It was a dim, cloudy day, and rare (welcome) storms were approaching my Utah home. At 3:50pm, I heard a horrifying scriiiiiiiiitch-ing noise and thought that something was scraping maniacally against a window–or I was about to become a front page newsworthy victim of some horrible suburban home invasion.
Gushing adrenaline pushed me out of my chair and into the living room, where it became apparent that the noise was coming from the chimney of our never-used wood (or is it coal? We don’t even know) burning fireplace. A poor bird was stuck in there. (Can you help identify the bird? See below.)
Panicked, guilty horror washed over me, which in my brain goes a lot like this: ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit!
Why guilty horror, you ask? Because a few months back the same thing happened with sad results. The scritching noise started as I was heading out the door, late for work. I called Ben, who had a similar reaction. We weren’t really sure what to do, and I had no idea how to disassemble the fireplace or the chimney, so I went to work. I called a chimney sweep, who quoted me $100 to come out. I called Ben again, and he came home as soon as he could to attempt a rescue… which was successful. But the bird wasn’t moving much when he pulled it out, so Ben set him down gently in the garage near the open door where he staggered on his feet for a minute before falling over. Sadly, it died right there in front of its big-hearted rescuer.
And here’s the part where I look like a neglectful homeowner and horrible person: we realized that there must not be a cap on our chimney, or it had broken, thus allowing a bird to fall down in the first place. But we never fixed it. So yeah, the whole story you’re about to read could have been avoided… but at least this time there was a happier ending. So I’ll get back to that now.
3:50 I first heard the sound and concluded that it was a bird.
3:51 Ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit
3:52 I realized the rain had started, so I ran upstairs to close the skylights.
3:53 I ran back to the living room, but the noise had stopped. Loki was sitting two feet away from the fireplace, staring intently at where the noise was but also looking somewhat bored at the same time. How do cats do that?
3:55 I called Ben to tell him about the noise, and that it had stopped, and that I was pretty certain there was a dead bird in our chimney. Or maybe it was alive, and I should try to rescue it? But what if it was really dead? He asked me what I wanted him to do, and I pulled out my seldom-used Girl Card and squeaked, “Can you come home and take care of it?”
4:01 The bird scared the shit out me as I was about to hang up the phone. “I’m coming home now,” Ben said. I spent the next few minutes clearing things away from the fireplace area and pulling out small-ish cardboard boxes and a flashlight.
4:22 The bird went crazy in the chimney again and scared the bejesus out of Phoebe, the scaredy-cat who had been downstairs up until that point.
4:42 Ben arrived. We closed the doors to the bedrooms, wrangled the cats into the basement and shut that door, and opened all the windows on the first floor in hopes that the bird would be able to fly through one after its release. We have double-hung windows so we could open the top portion, assuming that the bird was more likely to fly high. Ben had the forethought to turn off the ceiling fan in the living room.
4:46 Ben pulled off the top lid-thingy on the stove to peek inside. I felt like an idiot, because I think I could have done that. But all we could see was a tail, so I happily relegated myself to flashlight-holder and picture-taker.
The next several minutes were nerve-wracking because in my head, the bird could die at any moment. The shrill sound of frantic talon-scratching on metal was welcome because at least we knew that the bird was still alive. Ben shook the stovepipe to encourage/force the bird to put its feet at the base of pipe, which caused it to climb up a foot somehow. So we waited patiently, and eventually it came down far enough for us to see what its body looked like.
Ben had the genius idea of bending a wire coat hanger to use as a scooping prod. No, of course he didn’t use the hook end to poke the bird! The first time the hanger touched the bird, it freaked out and climbed out of reach again. In the meantime, we scraped away some of the ashes at the base of the hole to allow more of the bird’s body to show. Eventually it slid back down and this is what we saw:
It was a much bigger bird than we thought it would be, which made it impossible to rescue in the same manner as the other bird (which had been small enough to fit underneath that flue bar in the middle). Ben tried one last time to coerce it over the flue bar, but its beak was at least 1.5 inches long and it retreated again.
Then Ben had another genius idea… to try opening the metal flue. Once open, he could see the bird in the pipe and was confident the bird could fit through that opening! I suggested he put on some gloves before sticking his hands up there in case the bird pecked or clawed or there were sharp edges inside.
So I took over as the holder of the flue handle to make sure that the flue didn’t slam shut with Ben’s hand or the bird inside. Ben used the coat hanger and something cute like “Hey there, little bird, we’re here to help you!” and pretty quickly told me to stand back.
And then the bird flew out! It flew up toward the ceiling immediately, paused for a fraction of a second, and then flew out the closest open window. I was very thankful that the top half was open… the last thing we wanted after freeing the bird was for it to slam right into a window.
We ran outside to see where it went or if it faltered, but it flew a straight course over our neighbor’s house and disappeared into the neighborhood. It was sort of anti-climactic… I mean, would have been nice if the bird had perched on the lonely nectarine tree in our backyard and chirped a little thanks before flying off, right? Needless to say, we were relieved and happy that the bird made it out alive and apparently well. A thousand kudos to Ben, my animal-loving hero who’s not afraid to get dirty:
It took a total of 45 minutes to get the bird out from the time Ben came home. Not too bad, I guess… I would say that we’ll now be able to do it faster next time, but I’m hoping there won’t be a next time. We’re getting a cap on that chimney ASAP. Also, a sign that says “No Birds Allowed.”
Can anyone help us identify this bird? From the long, conical black beak (not pictured, but it was around 1.5 inches, I’d say) and the striped pattern on the wing, I think it could be a female woodpecker of some sort, or something similar, but I can’t find a close match in my bird books or online. Those spots on the belly and the orange feathers (underneath the tail and it thin stripes on the wings) are really throwing me for a loop–not that I’m a really seasoned birder or ornithologist.
Head to tail the bird was perhaps 10 inches long and upon a quick glimpse as it flew out the window, I remember the trunk being a little fatter, kind of like a pigeon’s. The eyes were a solid black-brown. I didn’t use flash on the photo of the head because I didn’t want to scare the bird any more than it was at that point. Also, and I don’t know if this will aid in identifying the bird: it didn’t seem to like being stuck in our chimney.
[After posting this blog entry, I sent an email to Sharon over at Birdchick.com. I caught her online and she replied swiftly (it's a birding pun!) with a positive ID on our little mystery bird. Because she linked to this entry as a challenge, I'm going to hold off on my follow-up post for now... but you can see what people are people are guessing here.]