The Bird on the Train

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As the train pulled out of the station in Chicago, we found that we had a stow-away. A little sparrow surprised and startled us by flying first into one cabin (ours), then another and another, obviously trying desparately to find a way off the train. Too late, we were already moving. It went to the door at the end of the hall – the handicap cabin – where it manged to squeeze under the door and into the closed cabin.

The cabin, fortunately, was unoccupied. Except, now, for the sparrow.

The cabin attendant was flustered and had no idea what to do, and the occupants of the other two cabins weren’t rushing out to do anything other than to say “oh, how about that? A bird!” So I stepped in and said that I would attempt to catch the bird so that we could let it out at the next stop. The cabin attendant was grateful.

We could hear him flying around in there, careening here and there, occasionally landing, and then taking off again. So we first attempted to slide the door open just a bit, with the opening completely barracaded except for at the bottom where we had placed a large, very deep box on its side, in hope that he would end up in there (a reasonable hope, as he had gotten into the cabin in the first place by dropping to the floor and squeezing under the door). When that failed, I grabbed the box, and shut myself in the cabin, blocking the space under the door so that he couldn’t escape (all that was on the other side of the door was the hallway – there were no open doors or windows out through which he could have flown).

He flew here and there, up and down – first alighting on the window rod, then the sink, then the edge of the upper bunk, which was folded up towards the ceiling as upper bunks on trains are when they are not in use. Then back to the mirror above the sink, and the curtain rod again.

Then he went back to the bunk, and went behind the folded-up bunk.

Where there was no way to reach him at all.

And I didn’t dare lower the bunk for fear he might be in the way back, by the big hinges, or between the bottom edge of the bunk and the wall, where he could be crushed.

Eventually he came back out again, and I tried in vain to position the big box so that he might end up in it, but no luck.

He went back behind the folded upper bunk again, and this time he didn’t come out and didn’t come out until at last I left the cabin and went to plan C. We put the box up against the closed door so that if he tried to come out from under the door he would end up in the box.

Then I gave our son and the two other children the job of sitting very quietly in the hall near the box so that they could quietly let us know if they heard the bird in the box.

You’ve never seen three boys be so quiet for so long.

Their parents thought I was a genius.

However after quite a long time, with not hearing anything at all from the room, I began to get really concerned. As it was, this bird was far from his home of Chicago. Would he survive if we let him out in, say, Denver? Would it be better to try to contain him and bring him all the way to California and turn him over to a wildlife rehab center?

So I called the Lindsey Wildlife Center and spoke with their wildlife hospital, who told me that it was definitely better to get the bird out as soon as possible, and for him to not come all the way to California.

They also told me how to catch him – how they themselves catch birds.

Armed with that information, and a renewed resolve to do what I could to help and save this bird, I went back into the cabin to find him.

I couldn’t find him anywhere. But I knew he had no means of escape, he had to be in there somewhere.

I took a mop handle that the attendant had given me when I’d first gone into the cabin, and gently ran it behind the still-folded upper bunk. No bird was flushed out. I did it more thoroughly. Nothing.

By now I was getting truly scared for him. I tried to peep over the edge of the folded bunk, into the space between the bunk and the wall (the bunk was not flat against the wall, it came away from the wall at perhaps a 30 degree angle – and opens up (drops down) to a 90 degree angle for sleeping).

I couldn’t see him.

So I undid the latch and VERY gently lowered it just a bit. This was no mean feat because the bunk is very heavy and meant to be lowered immediately all the way down, and as you may know I have a damaged lower back so that holding this heavy bunk up on my own was really difficult. But I was motivated, and managed to hold it up and very slowly ease it down just a tiny bit. I was terrified that the bird was hiding at the back and would be crushed otherwise.

And that’s when I saw him. Or rather, the tail end of him. His tail was sticking out from the corner, between the wall and the large hinge mechanism on which the bunk is mounted.

Sticking up and out from a space no larger than an inch across, if that.

At first I thought that he was hiding, ostrich-like.

But then, after putting the bunk back up into place (I’d only moved it the tiniest bit) I went underneath it and saw the top of his little head poking out the other side.
He was wedged, head down, in the tiniest of spaces between the wall and the machinery of the bunk.

At first I thought to maybe gently push up on the top of his head to try to push him back out. But I was afraid of injuring him.

I kept going up and peeping over the edge of the bunk at his tail, and back down and peering up at his head, trying to decide what to do. I rolled a thin piece of cardboard into a thin tube and used it to try to gently move his tail area out from the space, but while he seemed to move to try to get purchase with his feet, he wasn’t coming out that way.

Then I went underneath and looked at his head again, to see if there was any chance of testing gently pushing – ever so gently – against the top of his head to see whether there was any chance of popping him back up and out that way.

That just felt like a really bad idea, and I then realized that if it were possible for him to come out by backing out, tail first, it would be easier if I assisted him by easing him out from his rear end than by pushing on his head anyways.

So I went back up, and with a great deal of trepadition, I carefully felt for some tail feathers and rear bird parts that I could gently grasp and tug on without damaging him. He barely budged, but I tried again, and finally was able to sort of tip and pull him out, easing him into the palm of my other hand.

He was still alive, but it seemed just barely. It broke my heart. Hoping against hope that he was just stunned from his ordeal, my son and I said a prayer for him, and at the next stop we brought him outside, nestled him under a thick bush (we didn’t dare set him up in a limb as he would have fallen in the state he was in), with some tanbark and pebbles around him for some protection, and got back on the train.

While we hope against hope that maybe he *was* just stunned, and will recover, we comfort ourselves with the thought that, if he had to go, at least we helped him to go where he was used to being – outdoors – surrounded by nature, rather than dying head-down stuck against the wall. We think that he would have preferred it that way.

At least I hope so.

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