A bird in the hand

December 6, 2000

Perched upon the wooden molding 6 feet directly above my computer was a small dark bird with a long, smooth beak – perhaps a starling, though with my limited knowledge of birds, it could have been a flamingo. At any rate, there it was, with half a dozen of my colleagues pointing at the little creature that had managed to sneak into our office Friday afternoon.

My first concern was that, being scared by a bunch of pointing humans, the bird would drop something on my monitor which would ooze through those vents in the rear and cause our computer consultant to make a visit. Second, I didn’t want the feather-clad beast to swoop down in a fury, tear my glasses off and claw my eyes out (as if that’s never happened before).

Since wild birds are considered out of their element when indoors, unless they’re stuffed and mounted in Norman Bates’s office, The Plan was to escort the ostrich (or whatever it was) outside. The door by my desk was opened, and my co-workers formed a sort of wall a few yards back so that the duck couldn’t go back into the other part of the office, unless it elected to do something peculiar, like fly over their heads.

I stood up on the half-wall that separates my desk from the raised platform in the display window where the Christmas tree stands, and took a couple of steps toward the parakeet, which had hopped upon the track lighting directly above my keyboard, making me envision a more difficult mess to clean. I figured this would be easy – all I had to do was flutter my hands in a semi-threatening manner toward the chickadee, prompting him to wing his way out the open door to freedom.

Apparently, I projected a less-than-semi-threatening demeanor, because the emu leapt past me and into the display window with a jarring whonk. I was surprised, because I didn’t figure they were that clean.

He flapped his little gray wings and bounced among the boxes and bags of food and toys strewn about the base of the tree, trying desperately to fly though the window. Joan, our Business Manager, told me to get in there and get him out. Short of asking him nicely, I had nothing.

“Just pick him up,” she said. Yeah, like a pelican is just going to let me pick him up. I flinched. “He won’t hurt you,” she said after detecting my trepidation, which had manifested itself in my asking, “Will he bite me with his beak or claw me or give me rabies?”

So there I was, a 190-pound man intimidated by a bird no heavier than my thumb. Determined to redeem myself – in my own mind, at least – I pursued the woodpecker around the Christmas tree, careful not to stomp on any of the gifts or the bird’s head. I crouched low and formed a net with my hands, but every time I brought them to within a few inches of the bird, he jumped a foot to the left or to the right. My colleagues, meanwhile, were watching me in the most pathetic version of Crocodile Hunter.

Finally, trapped between a carton of Spaghettios and cans of Star-Kist tuna, the parrot remained still as I closed my hands around him. For the first time in my life, I held a bird. Chances are that it was the first time the bird was held by a human being. He was motionless, just as I would be if I were picked up by one of the World Trade Center towers. I held him lightly, aware of his fragility and virtual weightlessness, and hoping he wouldn’t choose that moment to relieve himself. If he had used my palms as a restroom, at least it would have been to the sound of applause from my gracious colleagues.

I stepped up onto the half-wall, down to the floor, and out the open door to the sidewalk. Releasing him to the south would do no good, since there was a tree a few feet away, and I’d have problems (as would the newly freed penguin) if he flew excitedly into its trunk. So I walked 6 feet to the corner of Main and Grove streets and tossed him to the north. With a terrific burst of energy he flapped his wings and rocketed off above the street.  I watched to make sure he didn’t smack into a telephone wire or church steeple; thankfully, he escaped unscathed, except for the mild psychological trauma of having been clutched by one of the World Trade Center towers. That was one happy falcon.

I felt pretty good, too. I had experienced a first, which, as I’ve come to learn, don’t come along too often. With that condor rescue, I broadened my scope and became a fuller man, less apprehensive and more adventurous, ready to shed my fears and embrace the unknown.

Then I washed my hands. Twice.

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