Thump

Cardinal_2I am a dreamer at heart. There. I’ve admitted it. I’ve tried to deny this for years, doing the practical things humans do, fretting about getting good grades and finding the right mate and how to keep a roof over my head and food on my table, marching in painfully uncomfortable lockstep with the other grownups. I put that uniform on when I need to—food and shelter are not to be sneezed at—but the wool itches and the vest constricts my breathing and let’s not talk about how the crotch rides up on those ridiculous trousers.

Right about the time I began to worry whether I’d let the uniform become a permanent part of my epithelial cells, sort of like a Simpsons character, this weird little cardinal started attacking my back deck.

Male Northern cardinals do this sort of thing, I’ve heard. They are territorial, especially during brooding season, and when they see their own reflections in shiny things like windows and car mirrors, they think it’s a rival bird and attack. Over and over and over again.

We named him Napoleon.

I did the things people suggested to make him not see his reflection. Decals on the windows, dangling distracting strips of things from the glass…everything short of covering the sliders with white sheets, which the spouse nixed. I’d rather have a thumping cardinal than a husband grumbly that the lack of natural light coming into the house might kill his cacti. And his mood.

Eight months later, well past normal brooding season, he’s still flinging his winter-fluffed body into my windows. But in the beginning, my little dreaming heart wanted to tell stories and make meaning out of it.

My first flight into the nature of his arrival was that he had come to teach me something. About perseverance, perhaps. Or how to survive getting hit on the head over and over and over again, a common way of life for freelancers and indie authors.

Thump.

Next I entertained the possibility that the meaning was a little more subtle and archetypical. He represented something. A message from a friend, sent on a wing and a prayer, perhaps. (I apologize for that. No, I don’t.)

Thump. Thump.

Then I attempted communing with him. While waiting for my coffee to brew in the mornings, I’d inch up to the window, watching the proud set of his banged-up beak, the determination in his shining black eyes. He liked the sound of my voice, or at least did not fly away from it. At this point, Husband considered that I might need professional help, or a hobby, but I ignored him. Instead, I went deeper and imagined his story. I let him tell it from his point of view. In the first, he had come to save me from my itchy, semi-permanent uniform, a sort of cage I’d locked myself into and did not realize I could leave. Next, and I admit I might have been a little loopy that day, maybe from the repeated percussion of a determined cardinal banging up my house, he’d been sent by a Disney princess to be one of those magical cleaning birds but was continually frustrated that he couldn’t get inside the window.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I latched wholeheartedly onto the next theory, relayed to me by several Facebook friends. Some say that an appearance of a cardinal means that you are getting a message from a loved one who has died.

Then I was all about what the message might be. From my mother-in-law, watching over us? Telling me to clean the house and fretting that my husband is too thin? A friend who likes that we’ve hung one of his paintings in the hall and hopes we’re happy? Someone else? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the love from beyond, but those windows are going to need some serious power washing come spring.

I know that my time with Napoleon on this plane is limited; I know that some think I’m making too big a deal of what might be a simple avian instinct gone awry. But his presence gives my little dreaming heart something to thump about. And now, instead of rattling my imagination for meaning, I spend a little time with him, send out a thought-beam of kindness and compassion, and say, “thank you.”

Fear Factor Is Back. Will PETA Be Watching?

Well, pass the remote and deep-fry me a Madagascar hissing cockroach. To honor the return of the “new” Fear Factor to NBC (which looks just like the “old” Fear Factor), I’ve updated one of my favorite posts. Enjoy. And kids, don’t try this at home.

What makes an animal?

Consider the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Or…maybe not. Gromphadorhina portentosa is not exactly the Brad Pitt of the insect world. If I lived in Madagascar I’d be laying in a good supply of Raid.

But somehow PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has overlooked the fact that scores of obviously live and kicking Madagascar hissing cockroaches are allowed to be crunched to their doom by obviously insane Fear Factor contestants every year, who seem to be willing to eat or do anything for the prospect of being on TV and going home with $50,000 (and probably some form of exotic parasitic disease).

Yet during Fear Factor’s original run, PETA nailed a Virginia Beach nightclub that allowed contestants to swallow live goldfish.

I don’t know. Is it the “cute” factor? Must a creature pass some sort of beauty-pageant litmus test in order to be taken under PETA’s wing? Spotted owl? Cute. Baby harp seal? Awww. Madagascar hissing cockroach? Pass. Get some plastic surgery, dude, then send in that head shot again, okay?

Possibly the omission is because PETA has too much on their plates. What with getting all huffy demanding that a town near me change its name from “Fishkill” to something less violent toward our finny friends (Someone didn’t do their research: “kill” is Old Dutch for “brook,” folks. Every other town around here is named Something-kill) to killing dozens of trees with mailings warning me of the evils of animal product testing, they’ve got quite a lot to do.

But hissing cockroaches aside, they’ve missed something really, really huge.

Windows kill an estimated 1 billion birds each year.

That’s right. Windows. (That’s why I use a Mac)

But seriously, according to ornithologist Daniel Klem, who was interviewed by NPR’s John Nielsen on Morning Edition, “It’s a very common phenomenon. Birds are deceived. They just don’t see glass as a barrier and this is a problem for them.”

I’d say dying a horrible death by ramming your tiny little body head first into a solid pane of glass could be a bit of a problem.

But just to prove his hypothesis, Klem went into a forest and hung some windows off the branches of trees. Then he watched as an “appalling” number of collisions occurred. From an eight-foot perch, many of the birds smacked splat into the windows and died.

Cripes, he could have saved his research money (and many unnecessary avian deaths) and come over to my house to watch the dingbat birds doing the same thing here.

We had a feeder over our front stairs for four months. The same birds kept coming around. They’d become smart enough to get the seed out of the feeder, and to know where to find the spillage when it’s empty. Then, when it’s obvious we’re not going to refill for a few days (we’re afraid of them getting too plump to escape from the neighborhood cats) they stop coming. When we refill the feeder, somehow they figure out that it’s safe to come back. You’d think they’d have a good bead on the landscape by now, but no, there’s that THUNK again.

Window, dipstick.

Tiny pinfeathers are sticking to the panes.

And there’s your research.

PETA seems to be ignoring this. A quick search of their web site revealed that their only beef against birds and windows is the recommendation that when you cage a large bird (and remember, there are no such things as “caged” birds, all birds are wild animals and deserve to be free), don’t use a cage with glass sides or mirrors for the very same reason that birds can’t see it and will fly headfirst into it and knock themselves silly.

However, another site (birdsandbuildings.org) suggests putting a flexible screen outside your window (they claim decals don’t work) or using “fritted or patterned” glass. The problem is that humans have found these alternatives objectionable in their homes, as it interferes with the clarity of their views.

I mean, which would you rather have, a semi-obstructed view or billions of kamikaze birds going splat against your panes?

If a creature is that stupid, I’d rather spend my resources trying to save the Madagascar hissing cockroach. I could go on Fear Factor, eat a bunch of them, and put the $50,000 toward modifying their DNA to make them look like bunnies.

(Note: no animals were harmed in the making of this post.)