I was making coffee the same way I do every morning when it happened. There’s a picture window over the sink that looks out into my backyard, and usually that yard is full of birds. Every day at first light blue jays, mockingbirds, cardinals, and yellow-throated warblers all compete for real estate in the branches of the white oak while the rest huddle around the perimeter and wait for an open spot. It’s an avian Wal-Mart parking lot.
This morning though, it was quiet. The gold-green glow of the sunlight on the foliage made its way through the window as I watched the coffee pot drip its way closer to full. Nothing moved outside. The silence was perfect and peaceful. There was no thriller-movie crescendo of music to warn me that anything was about to occur. All was simply silent.
And then I heard it hit.
I didn’t even get a chance to see what it was before it disappeared but it sounded like someone had thrown a baseball at the house. I immediately shot outside to find out what happened, and, turning the corner, was confronted with the saddest little brown and yellow bird I’d ever seen.
I’d found the projectile and it was injured. After bouncing off of the glass the creature had landed sloppily on the top of the bush below. My first thought was that it was just disoriented, but then it looked up at me, coughed a little dramatic cough, and flopped its head to the side, dead.
Cough, cough. Flop.
It was a bit overacted honestly and kind of fake looking. It was the way I would expect William Shatner to die.
It had apparently broken its neck in the impact. It just laid there, limp and crooked. I picked it up to make sure that it wasn’t just pretending, and then I walked it out to the middle of the yard. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with a dead bird. As I set it down, I could hear fluttering in the branches above. I was being watched; judged, it felt like. “I didn’t kill your friend,” I said. “Weren’t you watching?”
And then I started to wonder what had caused this in the first place. The obvious explanation was that the bird simply didn’t know there was a window in its way and flew into it on accident. I mean, birds seem pretty dumb. I wouldn’t necessarily put this below them. Unwilling to let Occam’s razor explain this away though, my mind wandered. What really had happened here?
Did the other birds dare this young chick to do it? Maybe he was trying to get into some feathered fraternity – Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting happening live in the animal kingdom.
Maybe there was an emergency and he was being reckless trying to get home to solve the crisis. Maybe one of his eggs had fallen down the stairs or his wife had broken her hollow little hip and he was racing to provide aid.
Or was he drinking? I know I’ve done a lot of dumb things after a few drinks. Maybe he ate some fermented fruit. It was entirely possible that he was just fucked up and all the other birds warned him not to fly, and as usual he didn’t listen. “No, no, no. I’m fine. I’m just going up the block. I only live like two trees away. I’ll call you when I get there.”
Or was he a daredevil bird that pushed things too far? I can relate. I tore my ACL when I was eighteen jumping over a table to win a ten dollar bet. I’m painfully aware that bad things happen. Maybe this bird, flirting with death, got caught up in the moment and took things past the limit. “I’ll go out doing what I love”, he told himself, then tucked his wings in tightly and closed his eyes.
What if this particular bird was a twin and his brother had kept him locked away in an iron mask for years. Now, angry and frustrated, he was on a mission to get revenge. Suddenly, catching a glimpse of his reflection and seeing what he could only assume was his evil doppelganger brother, he attacked. Wait, that’s not how that movie happened at all.
Or had war been declared and I was simply unaware? Perhaps it was a kamikaze strategy employed by the Bird Nation – my kitchen window becoming a clear-paned USS Bunker Hill to the bird’s Ensign Ogawa.
On that note, maybe it was a more traditional suicide. Perhaps he was picked on in bird school and couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe he knew the easiest way for a bird to kill himself would be to hit a window at 30 mph. Now, somewhere off amongst the limbs, a press conference was being held. “He wasn’t that kind of kid,” his mother would cry.
They’ll say he was desensitized by the abundance of violence in bird cinema, or that he used to play that video game where you steal another bird’s wings and run from the blue jays; that somehow he just didn’t grasp the concept that a window will really kill you. Bird society will be blamed for making death seem so simple and small. Thank God he just killed himself, others will say. He could have taken out an entire nest if he’d wanted to.
All of the possibilities aside, I’m having a hard time letting go of the idea that in actuality he was just a really stupid bird that couldn’t tell a reflection from the real world; that the echoing impact that rattled its way through my kitchen was just Darwin being Darwin.
No breeding for you, you simple-minded little sack of down. Here’s a window. Eat it. You heard the man! Life’s got to move on, chickadee, and you’re in the way. Somebody sweep up these feathers. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
There was no note. Whatever it was that drove that little bird to hurl himself against the side of my house, only he will ever know for sure.
And he’s not saying a word.