Saturday, April 12, 2014

The curious incident of the bird in the nighttime

I was watching the TV news last night when there was a loud bang from the adjoining dining room. It sounded like someone had thrown something hard against our French doors.
I went to investigate and there, just visible in the rapidly fading light, was a handsome morepork, flat on its back on our deck. It was a truly pathetic sight. Its legs were moving feebly but it appeared to be out cold and I wondered whether it had done its dash.

What do you do in these situations? I figured that the stress of being picked up and handled by a human being might only have hastened its demise. I convinced myself that the best course was to leave it in peace in the hope that it would recover of its own accord. Fortunately it wasn’t cold or wet outside.
While my wife kept an eye on it, I got on the phone to seek advice. My call to the Bird Rescue organisation in Auckland was diverted to the SPCA, where the call taker – obviously not an SPCA person, but someone merely manning the phones – said I’d have to contact my local branch. This I did, and got an after-hours cellphone number where there was no reply. I left a message.

Meanwhile things were happening on the deck. Somehow the poor bird had struggled to its feet. In the light of a torch (it was now completely dark) we could see it standing motionless, its head drooping forward. It looked desperately forlorn.
I went back to the computer and looked for advice on handling stunned birds. I quickly found what appeared to be an authoritative article from North America which said, essentially, that the first thing to do was ensure it was safe from predators such as cats. (This was my wife’s first thought anyway, which is why she stood vigil at the French doors.)

Beyond that, it suggested allowing time for the bird to recover on its own and if necessary, carefully picking it up, placing it in a box and leaving it in a safe place where its system could “reboot” (nice analogy).
By this time, probably half an hour had passed. Then a shout from the dining room announced that the bird had flown. Phew.

The incident left me pondering a couple of questions. The first was, why do moreporks seem so accident prone? I always assumed they were skilled night-time flyers, but I’ve already written here about the dead one we found tangled in the branches of our plum tree a couple of years ago. A man from DOC told me they sometimes get disoriented in stormy weather, but last night was calm. So why had one crashed headlong into the side of the house? It’s the sort of clumsiness you expect of kereru, not ruru.

The other thing I was left wondering was why we should be so moved by the fate of a mere bird. Nature kills creatures every day in all sorts of cruel ways. Having established what the noise was from the dining room, I could have rationalised that this was simply Darwinism in action and gone back to watching TV. But something caused my wife and I to fret about the morepork’s survival, and we were both hugely relieved when it appeared to recover.
Was it because a morepork, with its soft, mottled plumage, is a beautiful bird when you see one up close (a privilege we don't normally get)?  Was it because it’s a native bird, and therefore considered more precious than an introduced species? Was it because there’s something uniquely appealing about the call of the morepork in the nighttime, when everything else is silent?

Was it, in other words, mere dribbling sentiment? Intrinsically, a morepork’s life is no more special than that of a blackbird or a sparrow. Yet if a blackbird or a sparrow had knocked itself out on our deck, though I would have felt momentarily sorry, I would have been inclined to shrug my shoulders and leave it to its fate. What a capricious, emotional lot we human beings are.
Footnote: I’m pleased to say that someone from the Masterton SPCA returned our call soon after, and was as delighted as we were that the bird had flown.

1 comment:

Jigsaw said...

Our house is on the crest of a hill and the windows give visibility right through so that we often get birds trying to fly through the 'clear space' to them, that seems to be there. At night we often leave the lights on over the deck and this way we can attract moreporks that come to feed on the moths and so on that come around the light. We have never in 30 something years had a morepork fly into the windows. I have heard their talons against the glass as they have come in close to snatch a huhu from on the window but never a crash. The birds that do crash into the glass are usually kingfishers and cuckoos.Mostly they survive-there are NO cats anywhere around. I do recall when teaching that a child bought a morepork to school. It had been stunned flying into a farm vehicle.
It enmerged from the sack in a very bad temper and we were all able to admire it. The beak I recall was very strong but didn't penetrate flesh. We let it go of course and it flew away none the worse for its experience.In general we leave the stunned birds and just observe them.