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The flailing flicker and other indoor bird tales | WHIDBEY BIRDING

Recently, while waiting for the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle in the tall, glass-walled section of the airport terminal near baggage claim, I noticed a woven wire enclosure tucked behind the large display of granite boulders.

It looked like a big birdcage, maybe 4x6x4 with two seed feeders and a couple of water sources plus some fake greenery. I scooted around the rocks to read a sign on the cage and learned it was a bird decoy trap.

The trap is intended to lure in the wild birds that flutter around inside the terminal and, once captured, the birds can be released outside. The trap was supposed to hold live sparrows to attract their species-mates into the cage. But when I saw it, the trap was empty.

That section of the airport, light and airy with waiting passengers eating snacks or sipping coffee, provided a comfortable environment for these freeloaders. Several house sparrows perched near the tables watching for a handout.

Haven’t we all seen birds, usually house sparrows or rock doves, in large public places such as malls, sports arenas or enclosed plazas?

After arriving home, I spoke to Steve Osmek, wildlife biologist for the Port of Seattle and the person in charge of the bird removal project. He said those birds are a health hazard and add to the janitorial costs. It has been a major challenge to figure out a way to trap the birds. In fact, the water feature that was installed with the boulder display has been turned off, so the sparrows could be induced into the traps. About 50 birds are removed via that trap each year.

He emphasized, once again, the importance of obeying the “Do Not Feed the Birds” signs, both in the airport an in other public places.

Wild birds indoors and unable to exit can be a problem both for them and for us.

At my house there is a Bewick’s wren that hops up onto the back deck and pecks into each crevice around the outside walls of the house looking for insects. If I leave the back door open, even just a few inches, it will peck its way inside.

Once inside it heads for the crumbs under the kitchen table and when startled, the bird flies toward the closest window hoping to escape. No amount of banging from one window to the next releases the bird, which has evidently long since forgotten its route into the house.

Then I must calmly and gently capture the bird and usher it back outside to safety.

We also have a problem with hummingbirds getting trapped in our garage. I expect the red cars attract them. Our garage has four large recessed skylights so once inside the hummers think they can escape up and out that route. Even if I leave the garage door open, their inner drive is “up and out” rather than “down and out.”

A ladder, broom and much patience on my part (and sometimes waiting until they are exhausted) are usually successful. Talking calmly to them also seems to help.

But our most exciting bird-in-the-house drama happened when a Northern Flicker, likely looking for a safe, warm roost, came down our chimney. It was during the Christmas holidays and we already had a house full of visitors.

A flicker may not look very large outside on a tree limb, but inside on the living room coffee table, it becomes gigantic. That bird flailed itself into a large window while our guests fled the room. It then rocketed across the room and into a glass door, before dropping to the floor momentarily stunned. I quickly pulled off my sweater and blanketed the bird before it regained its senses. Then grabbed it firmly.

My husband opened the door and I carried it outside to freedom. We were ready for some liquid holiday cheer after that.

Handling a wild bird indoors can be challenging, so here are a few tips. Stay calm and assess the situation first. Will the bird find its own way out? If so, open all nearby doors and windows and turn off the lights. Birds naturally head to daylight.

If you must capture the bird, use a lightweight towel. Quickly fling the towel over the bird, aiming to cover the bird’s head and beak. Grasp the towel and the bird firmly around the bird’s body, keeping the wings closed. Be prepared for the bird to try to peck you and struggle to escape. Hold on and carry the bird outside to a safe spot. Remove the towel and stand back.

Reflecting on my conversation with Steve Osmek, I’m reminded that keeping wild birds outside is always the best plan. It’s about respecting our health but more importantly, it’s about respecting their wildness.

Frances Wood can be reached at wood@whidbey.com.

 

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