Shanice and I are lucky enough to live in an area replete with wildlife. Every morning, when we’re sitting at the porch table having coffee or simply looking out our kitchen window, deer, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, or other local fauna appear in our large backyard. Having property near a national park has its perks.
While Shanice is enamored with all things furry and adorable, or “totes adorbs,” which she squeals just to watch me cringe, I’ve grown to love birds. Don’t get me wrong – I’m also quite fond of the “totes adorbs” variety of animals. Our cat, Meowsers, totes exemplifies adorbs. Still, something about birds relaxes me in a way I find difficult to describe. We have such a magnificent diversity of the flying creatures that even after five years of living here, I think I see a new kind every week.
I’ve set up quite a few feeding stations throughout our backyard. My personal favorite is a spot right outside the kitchen windows where hummingbirds congregate. It amazes me how their tiny bodies can contain so much energy to flap their delicate wings as quickly as they do and flit away in the blink of an eye. But it’s not just the hummingbirds. In our yard, sparrows and jays tweet, ravens and jackdaws caw, and the occasional owl endlessly asks the same question.
Whenever the weather allows it, I’ll wander our property and the adjacent park with my head tilted toward the trees to see which of my friends are out and about. Sometimes I came across a hiker or fellow birdwatcher and we’d get to talking about our hobbies and interests before I’d retreat back to my own head and continue walking and observing. I won’t tell Shanice, but sometimes I wish I was a Disney princess who could tame birds and go on adventures with them. A 34 year old, bearded Disney princess with a 3-plate squat and a 4-plate deadlift. Don’t judge me.
One evening, as we sat in the living room and watched TV, we heard the jingle of the bell on Meowsers’ collar as she came in through the cat door. She wandered into the living room and looked at Shanice and me, deciding whose lap she’d grace with her presence. A moment later, I was the chosen one. Meowsers leapt onto my lap and immediately began extending and retracting her claws in an autonomic display of pleasurable biscuit-making.
At a commercial, Shanice got up and went into the kitchen to refill her wine glass. I heard her yell “God damn it, Meowsers!” I looked down at the cat and asked her if she peed on the floor again. Meowsers purred adoringly. Shanice came back into the room holding something in a paper towel. She brought it closer and I could see it was a baby bird. Maybe a robin. Its belly had been torn open and its guts dangled from the wound. Ugly, yellowish-red liquid bloomed outward from the viscera clinging to the towel. I gagged.
The next day, I went and looked around the outside of the house for nests that might be reachable by Meowsers. I hated to disturb them, but I figured the birds would prefer inconvenience over the gleeful murder of their babies by my cat. They weren’t too hard to find, but my quick inspection of the first few determined they were empty and abandoned.
After another few minutes, I found one with tiny babies inside. I wondered where their mom was. All three of them chirped pathetically as I took great care in lifting the nest and bringing it up the steps to the porch. I’d set up a ladder which led up to the roof. I knew Meowsers couldn’t get up there, and I hoped the shadow of the chimney would be a safe spot with relative shelter from the elements.
While I carried the nest, I noticed a few details I’d missed at my first glance. When I realized what they were, my blood ran cold. The nest was woven together with what had to be human hair. All different colors, too. I placed it down on the edge of the porch and took a closer look. It was definitely hair. I moved it around a little bit with my fingers as the birds’ high-pitched screams of terror and hunger drowned out the singsong calls of the ubiquitous adults. Buried within the body of the nest were tattered scraps of leathery material and hard, gray fragments. I gingerly pulled one out with my thumb and forefinger. As soon as I felt it, I knew what it was. A human tooth.
Something was terribly, terribly wrong. I ran back to the other, abandoned nests that I’d only glanced at before. Closer inspection yielded similar construction. When I turned one of them over, I saw a child’s pink necklace was embedded within the tangle of hair. I felt panic rise in my chest. After I’d calmed my breathing enough to yell, I screamed for Shanice to come outside. She had to see what I was seeing to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.
Shanice was visibly shaken by my find. The whole thing got even worse when she pointed out that the leathery material was skin. Without even discussing it with one another, we both knew what we needed to do.
After stopping at the garage to get some tools and a couple sheets of plywood, we threw it all in the pickup, grabbed the ladder from the porch, and drove over to the edge of our property about a quarter mile from the house. When we got to the shed, sure enough, there was a big hole in the roof. Shanice had been bugging me for almost two years to make sure the shed was sturdy and strong, but I’d always put it off because the smell got to me.
Shanice teased me and made me do the majority of the work myself, always laughing when I had to stop and retch. After I hammered in the last nail, I went inside to make sure there were no birds trapped in there. I stepped over the putrefying bodies of hikers and birdwatchers and, sure enough, a tiny nest was hidden in the corner. A couple baby birds lay sleeping inside. How they managed to sleep through the hammering and bickering was beyond me. I smiled and picked up their little home and brought it out into the light. I handed it to Shanice, who grinned at the sight of the babies, and I closed the shed door and replaced the padlock.
While we headed back toward the house, Shanice carefully stroked the head of one of the sleeping babies with her index finger. “You know,” she said, “I guess baby birds can be pretty adorbs too.” I beamed. Maybe she was finally coming around.