Saving the Thrasher

Today the view outside my window is full of activity and change.

Birds are gathering at the feeder that hangs from the live oak. You can see it just barely peeking below the overhanging canopy of the oak trees on the left. Redwing blackbirds and their mates, various woodpeckers, jays, and cardinals are all crowding the rim of the platform. There are also birds that I cannot yet identify. I call them ‘lbs’ (little brown birds) and ‘lgbs’ (little gray birds).

The woodpeckers are especially interesting to watch. They land on the outer edge of the platform and hang as it were there, with their pointed tails pressed against the underside of the feeder. As they are mainly insect feeders, I haven’t the slightest idea what it is they are after in the assortment of seeds we’ve offered. They trash about the seeds throwing large amounts over the rim and onto the ground. Maybe it’s all according to some plan?

I say that because below them, thrashers, doves, and squirrels are going through the leaf litter in search of seeds that have been knocked down from above.  They are all busy it seems trying to feed before the approaching rain storms. There is a darker cast to the western sky. You can see it in the background way off into the distance across the lake, through the trees. As I’m looking at all of this, the appearance of yet another thrasher reminds me of the drama that began last night here only ending early this morning.

It was dusk. At ground level, off to the lower left of the picture, I was walking along the pool looking down towards the lake. From where I was I could see straight down the path off from the corner of the pool down towards the lake and our garden. The garden is a large rectangular plot cultivated out of a natural clearing near the edge of the oak/scrub hammock and the opening spread of the grasses in the wetland by the lake.

We grow organic so the soil in the garden is pretty rich with all manner of organic material that we’ve composted. Both the worms in the soil and planted vegetables often attract visitors looking for as easy a meal as the birdfeeder. Since we are in competition with the critters and bugs for the garden produce there is a series of fence lining the boundaries of our garden. It doesn’t keep some of the birds, such as the doves and quail out, but they don’t take much. It’s the rabbits, voles, and other rodents that the fencing is for. The garden has the end facing the backyard bordered with a line of white plastic weave-look fence sections. The middle has one piece, with stakes at its base that acts as our gate. It’s is more held in place by tension from either side of the adjoining fence pieces than the stakes.

One side of the gate is fastened loosely with twine so that we can lift the gate up from the ground and swing it to an open position to enter the garden. We also lay a length of white plastic fence rail along the base of the gate piece with a large rock in place to deter some critter from easily digging its way under the gate. It was the gate that I was gazing at last night just before dark when I noticed it was pushed inward. But the gate position wasn’t what caught my attention. It was what I thought was a bird clinging to the gate and fluttering its wings that I noticed.

Walking down the length of the pool to get a better look, I could see that it definitely was a bird. But I couldn’t tell if it were hanging from one of the openings in the gate or if it were trying to get through the narrow gap at the ‘v’ made by the leaning gate. It was a brown bird and it was fluttering its wings as if it were either trying to fly or move. By the time I had gotten to the end of the pool, I realized the bird must be in trouble.

I ran to the gate and knelt down beside the bird. The poor things’ head wasn’t even visible, it was caught in the gap of the gate! The bird was being strangled and I only now grasped the urgency of the moment. Now I recognized it as a young thrasher. Somehow, it must have been trying to hop onto the fence and landed by circumstance with its head in the gap of the gate. It’s body weight immediately pulled it tightly into the gap and it was thus struggling to free itself before it expired.

Pressing gently against the gate so that it leaned more inward, the pressure was released on the young thrashers neck, the bird’s head pulled free and it dropped to ground.

It didn’t move. At first it just sat there, breathing slowly with its eyes wide open. I didn’t dare move or touch the dear thing though I wanted badly to. Something inside me told me this poor little creature was on the edge of life and probably could be scared even closer to the brink if I touched it. So I knelt there and watched as its eyes slowly closed and it lowered its bill to the ground. Was it dying or trying to recover? I didn’t know.

I got up and ran to the house to tell my wife what had happened. While she ran down to the garden I looked quickly for a box. By the time I returned she was coming back up to the house with the thrasher tenderly cradled in a towel. It wasn’t moving. I asked her when we met how the little thing was doing and she thought it had died. Its head was lying down on the towel and it wasn’t moving.

We both looked closely at the thrasher. I thought that I could see its body move slightly in a shallow breath. She gently stroked its wing and the little eyes opened and the thrasher stood up. A ray of hope sprung up in both of us. We lowered the bird nestled in the towel into the box. I placed a small sauce holder a little larger than a bottle cap full of water to one end of the box. We then placed the box out on the back screened porch so the thrasher could be undisturbed. Just before bed, my wife peeked in to check on the bird and said it was still breathing. So, we retired wondering what morning would bring.

First thing in the morning we were both up. I ventured out onto the porch to check up on our guest. Peeking inside the box I was met with a very alert fluttering thrasher. I rushed the box into the house to show my wife. She was just as thrilled as I. It was time to release our patient.

I took the box outside to the base of the live oak just below the bird feeder. It seemed like the perfect spot to let our thrasher free. The sun was breaking and birds were singing and flying about the trees. I opened the box and turned it slightly to the side and out the thrasher jumped. First it landed on the ground, then flew up to the stem of one of the palmetto fronds, then another, until it simply flew high up into the oak tree. The whole time it was chirping. It was a great way to start the morning.

Somehow, as I sit here working and looking out of my window at the world outside, it all flows together. The life given back to the young thrasher is like the arrival of the life-giving rain that’s been visiting us all of today. One thing touches another. Another thing leads to something else. It all seems to have purpose and it’s all right out there patiently waiting to share its treasures. That’s the life outside of my window.

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