When Worlds Collide

I’ve been thinking a lot about the human/wildlife interface this week, maybe because of how many up-close-and personal encounters I’ve had. Some interactions are beneficial to the creature, like the Monarch butterfly I hatched and released, while others are fatal or near-fatal to the creature, like the young robin that hit a window.

Our growing human population puts increasing pressure on wild communities. We can choose to embrace our nature as a part of nature, or we can put ourselves at odds with the reality that has been evolving for millions of years. Learning to acknowledge our species as a part of natural systems is a practical, moral, and aesthetic endeavor.

Philosophy aside, I’ll actually share the most harrowing encounter I had this week. On Tuesday evening, we were sitting on the patio, sharing a relaxing moment before returning to the farm to do some succession plantings of peas. Suddenly a loud (and unfortunately familiar) thud came from the conservatory window, followed by a progressive crash through the pines beneath. I raced to investigate. It was difficult to see through the resinous branches, but I could hear something scraping in the needle mulch near the base of one of the plants. It took me a moment to position myself so that I could see a young robin feebly trying to extricate their wing from under a branch. I wasn’t sure what to do, should I interfere or just let “nature take its course”? I decided that some assistance from me would just begin to repair the damage I had done by putting up this house in bird country. In response to my frantic and ongoing commentary, Joe retrieved a small box. I gently removed the robin from the entangling limbs and placed them in the box. The bird was looking worse than ever. They were laying down, panting, eyes half open. I realized this bird was probably going to die. Would it be crueler to let death come slowly and with much suffering, or should I quicken it along? Acknowledging the surprising resilience of nature, I decided to let the bird choose.

We placed the bird box up off of the ground in the branches of the pine to keep them out of reach of curious (and serial-bird-killing) cats. I tried to work in the farm, but the agony of the robin’s plight kept me returning to see if their condition had changed. After about an hour, an exciting development arose as the bird hobbled upright. It was clear that neither of their legs were broken, however the panting and otherwise near-death appearance of the robin gave me little hope. Another hour passed, and night was falling. I moved the box to a more secure shelf under an overhang and went to do the nightly chores. When I returned, the robin was in the same position. My innate curiosity (and impatience) prompted me to interfere. I hear a lot about how I shouldn’t interfere with nature, and as a student of biology, I know I should stay out of it as much as possible. However, we interfered with this bird when we put a bank of windows up between some attractive Elm trees.

With that reasoning now fully justified, I slowly put my hand into the box and picked up the bird. Almost immediately, the robin held tightly to one of my fingers. I pulled my hand closer and looked at them. They looked around in a seemingly healthy manner. Just as I was wishing I had my phone to capture this special moment between me and my newest wild bird friend, they left. In one graceful and sudden motion, the bird launched themselves out of my hand and flew steadily and purposefully to the copse of trees on the other side of the test garden. Just like that, the saga came to a joyous conclusion.

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