11 October 2016
In the spring, I heard strange noises that seemed to be in the ventilation system of my apartment. Perhaps some sort of rodent? I was pregnant and overwhelmed at the time, and also wondered if I told my landlords whether they would use a humane pest removal service. So I didn’t mention it to my landlords, hoping that the little animal would leave on its own (and not take up residence!). I heard the noises, like scuffling or fluttering, a few times over a two-day period. Then nothing. I hoped this meant that the little creature had left the ventilation system, but something did not feel right. I wondered if I should have done more to investigate the sounds.
Then in September I was replacing a furnace filter because the deadbeat landlords don’t do this. There were feathers all over the filter. Startled, I managed to use a flashlight to peer into the narrow slit where the filter goes. I could see the wing of the dead body of a bird, a starling.
My heart sank. Now the noises back in the spring made sense. Somehow the starling got into the ventilation system, and must have been fluttering at an intake grate, the only light it could see.
I felt terrible. A sentient being had been in need, and I had done nothing.
This morning at 5am, nursing my baby back to sleep, I thought of the bird and performed a kind of inner ceremony. I called upon the bird’s spirit, and visualized a conversation with the bird. I apologized to the bird’s spirit and asked for forgiveness. I promised that the next time someone needed help, I would do my best. I also said that I truly would have helped if I had understood that it was a bird who could not escape without help, versus a mouse or squirrel I thought would be able to get back out of the ventilation system.
The starling’s spirit forgave me. I asked if there was any message the starling had for me. The bird said that the promise to help next time was good. That it was in my nature to help others, and to not let external circumstances cause me to stray from what my heart knows is the right thing to do. (The bird also told me that the message of its death within the darkness of the ventilation system was not to warn me away from darkness. In fact, it is my responsibility to illuminate any darkness I encounter. But that is for another writing project.)
Fast forward to today. I took my nine-week-old daughter to the Mommy & Me yoga class at Bayshore Shopping Centre. I could have driven, but I decided to try taking the bus. It was my first time taking my daughter on the bus. The trip there went well because she was asleep! When I got off and walked in the overpass to the Bayshore Shopping Centre at 9:50am, I noticed a small dark bird with white speckles all over within the overpass, huddled on a beam at the entrance into the Bayshore OC Transpo station. (Thank you Safe Wings for identifying the bird: a European starling in non-breeding plumage.) The bird flew several times into the windows, trying to escape. Then would return to perch on the beam by the entrance.
I quickly determined that there was no way for the bird to get out except the exit at the other end of the overpass. The windows were open but there were grates and screens on them. Especially given I was carrying my baby in a carrier, I couldn’t undo any of the fastens holding the screens on. I figured it would be a two-person job to free the bird. Two people could shoe the bird gently down the overpass corridor towards the exit. Then one person could hold the door open while the other person shoed the bird through.
The yoga class was at 10am, so I went into the mall seeking help and was directed to the Security Desk. But the young security guard on duty said there was nothing that they could do because the bird was in the overpass, which is OC Transpo’s jurisdiction. He said he would call the appropriate OC Transpo number. I asked to make sure that he would actually do this. He said he would so I went to the yoga class, but was concerned.
The yoga class went pretty well (lots of cute babies!!), my daughter let me do maybe 2/3 of the class. The rest of the time I walked and bounced her. And by the end, she was quite fussy, and I suspected she was having gas pains. So I made a hasty departure, hoping that I could get her back to sleep by the time we got on the bus.
To my dismay, the bird was still in the overpass. It had been over an hour since I notified security in the Bayshore mall, and since they had told me they would notify OC Transpo. My daughter was crying and I was trying to sooth her while simultaneously find phone numbers on my ancient slightly broken cell phone and ask for help from those walking by.
I managed to find the number and call OC Transpo Customer Relations. The representative said he would call the appropriate Department. Once again, I just had a feeling the situation might not be addressed quickly. So I texted my partner to find the number to the Wild Bird Care Centre. When I called the Wild Bird Center a volunteer on the line told me they were a very small charity and couldn’t send anyone to help. She gave me advice on how I could try to shoe the bird towards the exit. I explained I had a fussing 9-week-old baby in a carrier and the ceiling of the corridor was very high, so the bird could fly back over me back to the beam near the entrance that lead deeper into the Bayshore station (versus towards the other exit to freedom). She said maybe I could use a blanket to wave above my head. She told me it was OK to tire the bird out so that I could then capture it in the blanket.
This seemed a dubious approach, but I did have a receiving blanket. So I waved it over my head, trying to convince the bird to fly down the long corridor to freedom. But it kept flying back over me to the beam near the wrong exit.
I knew there was another organization that might be able to help, but I couldn’t remember the name. I kept asking passersby for help, and though initially friendly due to my baby, they were all evasive once I asked for help with the bird, though a few seemed sympathetic to the bird’s plight.
Then I saw a Caucasian man with sandy-coloured short hair and steel blue eyes walking with a young child, maybe 4 years old. A fellow parent! Surely he’d be keen to teach his young one about kindness. I greeted him and quickly explained the situation and possible solution. He looked at me with hostility and said, “It’s not important. It’s just a bird. It flew in here, it will find its way out, too.” And walked away before I could say anything.
This interaction really troubled me. It was obvious to me the bird had gotten itself into a situation that it could NOT easily find its way out of. (Who reading this has not done the same?) And why not say he didn’t want to help or couldn’t? Why make up some story about it, and make a blanket statement? It was not important to him. That did not mean it was not important, period.
It was important to me. Especially since that very morning I had received forgiveness from the starling that had died in my ventilation system. And the reminder to be true to my nature. I do believe I am a kind and responsible person. Some of my favourite adventures were rescues, like a mouse, a vole, a green heron, a puppy, among others. I didn’t mind if I looked a bit silly, there in the overpass waving a receiving blanket over my head with my daughter starting to fuss.
But she started to get more and more distraught, likely gas pains. I had to get her home, and reluctantly headed towards the bus. One came shortly, and unfortunately for most of the ride she screamed. I’ll write more about that some other time, because I would like to use public transportation as much as possible, but I feel bad if my baby is crying.
But back to our story, once I got home I was able to post about the situation on Facebook with a photo of the starling in the overpass in case a nearby bird-lover could help. I called the OC Transpo Customer Relations again, and the man said that he had contacted the appropriate department and that a contractor would take care of the situation within the hour. This time I felt more hopeful the situation would be handled well.
And then I was reminded of the name of the organization I had wanted to call when I was still there: Safe Wings Ottawa. Many people on Facebook had the same thought and suggested I contact them. By 12:30pm I reached a volunteer via Facebook, and they said they would look into the situation and follow up with OC Transpo if needed. I was relieved. My baby needed my attention.
At 2pm the Safe Wings volunteer swung by Bayshore’s OC Transpo station to check the overpass. No bird. So one way or another, the bird was out. I hope the rescue was as humane and stress-free as possible. But I don’t know. All I can do is send the bird blessings.
I wish I had been able to just free the bird myself. Or that a passerby had been willing to help me. But I did my best. I don’t think it was a coincidence that a bird needed to be rescued the very morning I asked forgiveness from the bird I had failed. I believe everything is interconnected. And so every being is important. And I personally believe the world would be a better place if the people rushing by in that overpass had actually stopped to try to help a terrified little bird. I think we all pray for kindness should we ever need to be rescued.
It was not “just a bird.” It was an opportunity to make the world just a little better.
For All My Relations,
I’m always been interested in what readers have to say. Have you been in situations like this where you’re not quite able to do what you thought was right? How do you decide when you’ve done enough to help?
I did not know at the time that Elder Jacob Wawatie was passing to the Spirit World when I was attending to this starling. I now think of the video, below, in which he tries to get the logging industry to see the consequences of their logging: a dying baby bird whose nest was destroyed by the logging machines (see especially 8 to 16 minutes into the video). This post is dedicated to Jacob.