The morning sun shone through the sticker-laden kitchen window and warmed me as I prepared my breakfast. The burner on the electric range, powered by the solar panel array on the roof, clicked as heat flowed into it. I guesstimated the amount of water I would need for my oatmeal and set it to boil, then stepped outside in my slippers with a scoop of sunflower seeds to replenish the feeder. The sun glared off of the snow and my eyes started to water, but not enough that I didn’t notice the chickadee on the ground beneath the window. Dammit! I’d have to make a trip to Taking’s Court again!
I can still remember the old days, when finding a dead bird beneath the window caused a momentary pang and then a shrug. Watching my mother or father scooping up the carcass with a shovel and flipping it into the woods would have been the only reaction to such a small tragedy. Not anymore. Ever since the Birdlution, when the birders, in far larger numbers than even the most optimistic naturalist could have predicted, took to the streets and took over the country, all things bird-related had become a hassle. You can’t even just enjoy the birds at the feeders any more! No, you have to do surveys and report your findings, and, should the population at your feeder array not be up to snuff, you are forced to come up with ways to improve your numbers.
I went back inside, added my oatmeal to the water, and got a specimen-bag from the bird cabinet. Back in the cold snow I grasped the still-warm body of the chickadee and started to place it in the bag. Dammit again! The bird is banded! More paperwork!
Back inside, the dead chickadee in its bag on the table in front of my raisin-studded oatmeal, my laptop open and running Bird Bands I found that the chickadee had been banded eight years earlier down the street at the Nolan’s banding station. Eight years and the bird had only made it half a block. Why would it go anywhere else when it had all the food, habitat, and nest boxes it could possibly ever want or need in every yard? Then again, I’ve been in my house for the last six years ever since my parents passed and have hardly traveled myself. I reported the bird as deceased and hesitated about the cause of death. If I ripped the carcass up a little and just turned in some feathers, the legs, and other bits I could pretend that it had been caught by one of the sharpies that was wintering this year…if I only didn’t have to worry about the Birdquisition. No, I would have to play this one straight and hope that my window-sticker mitigation attempts would see me through.
I filled out the required forms for a bird taking online and sent them to Taking’s Court while eating my oatmeal, then I filled out the forms on Bird Bands to report a band recovery. I washed my oatmeal pot and spoon, got my boots and jacket on, and headed down the street to the Nolan’s with the chickadee to let them know I had recovered it. Granted, they would find out for themselves the next time one of them logged on to Bird Bands but I figured they would want to know as soon as possible, and, to be honest, I had heard that Lisa Nolan was home from graduate school for the holidays, and, well, it would be nice to see her.
Goldfinches flew their undulating flight overhead and nuthatches honked from the pine trees in the yard of old Mrs. Vertiak next door. I waved to Mrs. Vertiak (she was out filling up her thistle feeders) and continued my stroll through the cold clear air down to the Nolan’s. Lisa was on the front porch, her bins out and focused on the tree line behind the houses across the street. I paused for a moment, looking at her through the steam of my breath, and then walked up the steps. She was, of course, bundled up, but even through the thick winter clothes I could see that she was still gorgeous. What little skin that was exposed on her hands and face was a deep, healthy tan. Her long curly brown hair was swept back in a loose ponytail and her face, as ever when hidden behind binoculars looking at a distant bird, was scrunched up in thought.
“Hey Lisa,” I said, “What are you looking at?”
It wasn’t exactly the best opening line I’ve ever come up with but I was a bit nervous. She lowered her bins and smiled. “George,” she said, “It’s been so long! I was just thinking about you while watching this dark-form roughie. Do you still remember showing me my first?”
Of course I did. How could I forget? We were twelve years old at the time and she had been so pleased at the sight that I had gotten my first kiss, clumsy as it was with her nose almost going into my eye. Ah, those heady days when we (and the Birdlution) were young.
My reverie was interrupted by another question from Lisa, who, ever observant, had seen I was carrying something. “Did you bring me a welcome home present?” she asked.
Caught off guard all I could do was hold up the specimen bag and blurt out “Dead chickadee.”
How is it that she can still make me stammer and sweat though I’ve known her nearly my whole life? As usual, she smoothed over my awkwardness, batted her eyelashes and exclaimed over how romantic it was to get a dead bird on her first full day back in the neighborhood. We went inside, Lisa linking her arm in mine as we walked down the front hall and greeted her parents.
Mike Nolan, the Neighborhood Compiler for the Birdlution, was sitting at the kitchen table typing on his laptop with two fingers. He was a big, burly guy, all rough edges with a heart of gold. He and his wife, Linda, who was cleaning up the breakfast dishes, had been the kindhearted people who got me through the loss of my parents after they gave their lives fighting off the counterbirdlutionaries when I was barely out of high school. I still have my father’s shattered binoculars, retrieved from his dying body by Mike, who served with them in the Peregrine Corps, to remember them by.
“What have you got there George?” Linda asked after we had exchanged greetings.
“A dead chickadee,” was Lisa’s reply, “He brought it to me as a welcome home gift.”
Linda, who has the same ability her daughter does to make me blush, said, “Oh George, always a Casanova. Watch out, Mike, he’ll steal our daughter away from us yet.”
Of course, there are few things I would rather do, but I didn’t think it was the proper time to share those feelings. Instead I let them know the circumstances of the chickadee’s banding and demise, and my worries about Taking’s Court. Mike volunteered to be a witness to the prevention efforts I had made on my property to try to prevent window strikes and Lisa volunteered to go along as well, having not been into town for over a year. We figured we would leave just before dawn the next morning to get to court early enough that a line wouldn’t have formed yet. Going to Taking’s Court is bad enough: waiting for hours to be judged would only make it worse.
I said my good-byes, promised Lisa that I would help her survey for owls that evening, and headed home to get to work on my feeder prototypes…
Bi-Sci-Fi, short for Bird Science Fiction, is the blending of two of my favorite things, birding and science fiction. This will, if 10,000 Birds readers enjoy it, become a somewhat regular feature here. So check back soon (within a couple weeks) for the second chapter of Birdtopia!