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Freedom wins the war over hearts

The tiny bird hit the window and settled, completely unharmed, on the sill. The dash for freedom lasted less than a second, but in that very short flight, ending with a very big “thump,” my little girls grew wise beyond their years. (Image: Richard Simms)

There is no telling what drove it there. Possibly the high winds combined with the plummeting temperatures. For whatever reason, the tiny bird found my front porch to its liking. My wife saw it first and casually mentioned “a strange-acting bird is on the front porch.”

I’m still not sure if it was a House Finch or a Purple Finch. Female Purple Finches look a whole lot like male purple finches. Since it took up residence at my house, I’ll call it a House Finch.

The bird refused to leave. Like an actor blinded on the stage by a spotlight, the finch would not abandon the well-lit porch to fly away into the darkness.

Like any self-respecting outdoor type who is fascinated by all wild creatures, I proceeded to get the landing net out of the boat and capture this befuddled finch.

I am sure the neighbors figured somebody should come and get me with a landing net. The neighbors wouldn’t have been able to see the tiny bird from across the street. All they could see was me, barefooted, rushing up and down the porch like a duck in a shooting gallery, flailing at the air with a fish net. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure.

Finally I caught the little wisp of a bird.

“The girls would like to see it.” I thought as I put the finch in a box for the night.

Now I am a trained professional wildlife manager who has spent numerous years of my life spreading the message of conservation and the official line, “keep wildlife wild.”

Wild animals do not make good pets, in fact, trying to make pets out of them can kill them. But all the time I have spent spreading the official line, I have known in my heart that sometimes it does not apply to the real world.

Trying to keep or raise a wild animal is just part of being a child, or part of being a grownup who still has an ample amount of child still running through his veins.

The next morning I brought the little bird from the box for the girls. As I expected, the first words to pour like sweet syrup from their 9 and 6-year old mouths, “Can we keep it?”

Daddies are suckers. Before the bird came out of the box, I knew I would be making a trip to the store to buy a bird cage. I probably knew it because that is what I wanted. Factor in bright, shining eyes of two little girls, full of wonder and anticipation of caring for a tiny, cute , fluffy, little cotton ball of a bird, and the bird cage man was already counting his money.

The girls would have to pay for the privilege by listening to one of daddy’s speeches.

“Now it is fine with me if we keep the little bird for a while, but you girls have to understand that wild animals do not make good pets and that the little bird could even die if we do not let it go.”

Of course they claimed to understand, yet believed the benefits were well worth the risk. They beamed with joy over their new baby. Each was taking her turn holding the House Finch that fit perfectly in the palm of a 6-year old hand.

Suddenly the hand opened ever-so-slightly. I really could not see it, but the bird could sense it. Like a flash, the Finch flew forth. Speeding like a bullet across the kitchen, it headed straight for the window.

House Finches apparently do not know much about glass.

“Thump.”

The tiny bird hit the window and settled, completely unharmed, on the sill. The dash for freedom lasted less than a second, but in that very short flight, ending with a very big “thump,” my little girls grew wise beyond their years.

In an instant they witnessed, and understood, what makes wild animals wild. They experienced the sense of fear and urgency. Suddenly they understood perfectly the little bird’s overwhelming desire to be free, to fly through the sky untouched by the hand of man.

Sure, out there beyond the window pane are cats, hawks, snakes, cold weather, starvation, and disease. Inside there is nothing but warmth, food, and loving hands. But to a wild creature, those things are as foreign and as frightening as the glass that abruptly ended the freedom flight through my kitchen.

In an instant, and with a few tiny wingbeats, that little bird taught my girls far more than hours of daddy’s speeches.

Sometimes, if you love something, you really do let it go.

Related: They're cute, but leave them alone

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