The afternoon was fading, but a sliver of golden light reached across my backyard through a network of bare branches into the window next to where I was working. The dog and cats were sleeping, two on the couch and one on the dog bed on the floor (it wasn’t the dog). It was quiet, peaceful, a lovely end to a busy day.
Suddenly, bang! Something had hit a window or the wall of the house from outside. The dog barked. I looked out the window in time to see a Cooper’s hawk flying off, low over the ground. It had nothing in its talons, so I ran to the back door and looked outside. Cooper’s hawks have a way of herding their prey into a nearby window or wall to stun them. They then come to the ground where they finish the kill by squeezing the immobilized bird with their strong talons. Sometimes the catch is consumed right where it is caught. Other times it is carried off to a nearby tree.
This time, the prey was left behind. It took me a minute to find it, as I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or where it may have landed. Perhaps it had bounced off the window and was able to fly off. Our feeders are far enough away from the house that this is a rare occurrence, but it has happened before, with both fatal and non-fatal results.
Something moved on the ground. Its bright red feathers stood out among the graying grasses where it sat, huddled but alive. I reached down, but it flew low over the ground and rested next to the house. The cardinal was obviously stunned but seemed uninjured. It wouldn’t be safe where it had landed. I was able to gently pick it up and look it over.
If you’ve ever held a live bird, you know how fragile and light they feel. This one was warm, and I could feel the beating of its heart. I checked it for damage and carefully placed it on a branch deep in a bush. My hope was that it would be able to rest there until it felt ready to move on. Birds have remarkable healing powers when left to recover, and since this bird seemed alert and even feisty, I felt pretty sure it would survive. I went indoors and peeked out the window to see how it was doing. I swear it looked right back at me.
I quietly went back to work. The sun had settled behind the trees and the sky was darkening. Still, the cardinal sat in the tree, occasionally preening a bit. Cardinals are always last at my feeders, so I knew it could still see to fly. I tried not to worry, but it was very cold. The bird needed better shelter than the bush I’d left him in. Darkness soon blanketed the yard and I could no longer see whether the cardinal remained in the bush.
We are always up well before the sun, and the next day we were up in the dark as usual. I peeked behind the shade to see if our red feathered friend was still out there, alive or not. It appeared to be gone.
Gradually the sky lightened, and I got caught up in the morning routines of feeding pets, making breakfast, showering and planning the day. There was no sign of my cardinal friend. I hoped for the best, got in the car and headed to the beach for a long walk along the sand. When I returned I sat down at my spot by the window and began my work for the day.
My bird feeders can be seen from my “work” window, a well-planned strategy to distract me on a regular basis. A bright red cardinal arrived on the feeder tray the cardinals favor. It looked right at me. It had the same gray spot above its wing that the injured cardinal had. Was it he, saying hey, look, I’m OK? (I’m sure the scientists among you are smacking your heads and that’s fine with me.) Sometimes thinking there’s a connection between a wild thing and yourself is a cause for wonder. Having held this tiny creature in my hands had felt almost miraculous. Even if the bird that peered in my window wasn’t the same, I like thinking it was. I like thinking we had a momentary bond. It is the season for unexpected wonders. Mine was a little bird dressed in red feathers. May the season bring you all the wonders of nature, wherever, however, you may find them.