Several weeks ago, my husband opened our pool. He usually opens it much earlier, because whenever I’m overheating, it can make MS symptoms a thousand times worse. I’ve been known to head into the cool chlorinated waters as early as April and sometimes as late as October. There’s something so peaceful about water that is liberating and healing at once.
Last week, we had a hot spell that threatened to wipe me out. I sat on the ladder of the pool and dipped my legs to cool off. As I glanced at the corner of the pool cover, I saw something that looked like a pinecone, but it was covered with flies.
Hubby came outside a few moments later to check on me, and I asked him to remove the pinecone from the cover. As he drew closer, I heard him draw in his breath. “That’s not a pinecone,” he grunted. I looked closer. It was the body of a headless bird.
It’s no secret that we have a hawk who resides in the tall oaks at Woodland School. My daughter and I caught a glimpse on him on several occasions as he peered down regally from his lofty perch. After speaking with several experts, we were told that hawks don’t randomly rip the heads off small birds and leave the body behind. We attributed the nasty task to the neighborhood feral cats and left it at that. Nothing prepared me for the carnage that lay ahead.
After a quick jaunt to Target’s drive-up, Hubby and I returned home with an iced coffee from Starbucks. As I exited the Jeep to walk across the front lawn, I glanced down and saw a pair of legs. Just legs. About a foot away, I saw a wing, neatly and completely ripped off. What appeared to be dryer lint in the middle of the lawn was a pile of feathers from the carcass that was placed carefully in a fluffy gray pile. I thought I was going to be ill.
Hubby promised to clean up the remains after we finished our coffee. We sat in the yard and reflected on what appeared to be a crime scene in our front yard. He’d mentioned the usual suspects, then offered “squirrel” on our list of perpetrators. I’d never heard of squirrel attacks (except the one on my person), so I dismissed his response and headed into the house to make dinner.
I’d found two slices of bread on the counter that had grown stale, so I crumbled them into small pieces and tossed them on the front lawn. Like a moth to the flame, a group of sparrows appeared on the front lawn and eagerly began to chow down on the breadcrumbs. I turned to finish dinner, the birds off my mind for a moment.
When I turned to set the table, I saw a large blackish grackle hop across the lawn with something huge in his beak. At first, I thought he might have taken the larger piece of bread and had hopped off with it. As I looked closer, my intent gaze became one of horror. You guessed it; he had a headless sparrow in his mouth. I was repulsed.
He went about his business of plucking the feathers off the carcass and began to rip the wing off. As he tossed it, I felt myself lurch forward and I was propelled out the front door to chase him away. I thought he would fly off. The bold fellow hopped off under my Jeep until I turned my back, then headed back to finish his business. While I get the whole “this is nature” thing, it still turned my stomach enough to prevent me from eating dinner that night.
Grackles, those noisy birds at your feeder, are ground feeders who routinely eat insects, frogs, worms and small birds. They travel in packs, which is a bit of an annoyance when you’re feeding to see the beauty of a cardinal or a junco in the middle of winter and the grackles show up. When they arrive, all the other feathered friends scatter to the four winds.
Now that I understand exactly who is behind the “Case of the Headless Bird,” I’ve resolved to stop setting out seeds until further notice. I’ve noticed the blue jays have come back to the yard this year. Don’t even get me started on their feeding habits. Until I can figure out how to safely feed the birds without finding carcasses in my yard, I’ll just have to rely on neighborhood walks or jaunts on the trails to find the beauty of the creatures of the air. Case closed.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.