I’m sitting in my kitchen watching old tennis matches in my iPad when it happens: a blasting sound up in the sky followed by a violent thud on the ground.

There on the patio lies motionless the body of a little house finch. A few feathers fluttering around. I can see it all happening six feet away from me because the kitchen and the patio are separated by a sliding glass door.

It’s 7pm and there’s still daylight, but it’s getting cold out there. I figure it best to pick up the corpse sooner rather than later, so I slide the door open and crouch to take a close look at the bird.

He’s still breathing!

Humane killing

I go back in the kitchen because I’m cold outside. If I let things be, the bird will die a prolonged death. Trauma, wounds, and excessive cold. He clearly has no hope of surviving though. He is not moving.

I search on the internet “humane way to kill a bird” but the methods suggested by self-proclaimed experts seem to me anything but humane.

Survival

I began to wonder whether the finch’s paralysis is the product of him being in a state of shock. Maybe he’ll live if I can keep him warm. I have a box of skateboarding sneakers and a desk lamp and the bird shrieks and flaps his wings when I try to grab him. I shriek too.

House finch in box

I close the box, take it to my garage, and open it again. The garage is warm but nonetheless I bring the desk lamp close to him and turn it on. I hope he makes it through the night. He is terrified.

I go back to my iPad and find the website of the California Wildlife Center. It opens tomorrow at 8am and it’s located no more than 10 minutes from here. They take wounded animals, help them recover, and then reintroduce them to the wild. I am grateful for their mission.

As the day turns into night, I can distinctly hear hundreds of birds chirping.

It’s been two hours since I left the finch in the garage. Time to check in on him… the box is empty. He’s managed somehow to escape, but he must be somewhere in the garage. It’s too dark to look for him, so I just go to my bedroom and sleep.

In the morning

In the morning I go to the garage and see the box: still empty. I look under the car and there he is. Standing under the engine, looking at me. I open the garage door and an immensity of natural light illuminates everything. And this light pulls on him. He starts hopping towards the exit. I want to see him take flight and I’m heartbroken when I see him try and fail.

We have to take you to the wildlife center, little boy. They will take care of you and your broken wing. Let’s go back in the box.

California Wildlife Center

We drive through the mountains. A winding road off Malibu Canyon, and we find the small red box that tells us we have arrived.

California Wildlife Center - Entrance

We slowly follow the signs up the driveway, park the car, and enter the waiting room. It’s small and rustic, decorated with old photos of the local fauna. Squirrels, coyotes, songbirds, rabbits, owls.

California Wildlife Center - Driveway

A young man comes out of the back and I tell him the full story. He nods, asks for the box, and excuses himself.

He returns a few minutes later and hands me the sneaker box. It’s empty. The bird is being taken care of, he says, and then asks for my personal information. I ask him what species the bird is. House finch, he says, and gives me a page with a phone number and a patient intake number in it. You can call us tomorrow to follow up on the bird, he says. He also says that they are a non-profit and wonders if I’m interested in donating. Of course I am, I say.

California Wildlife Center Door

He thanks me and wishes me a good day.

Follow up

I tell a friend the full story. Two days go by and she asks about the little finch. He’s healing, I think as I dial the number on the page. Nobody picks up the phone and I leave a message. A woman calls back as I’m walking to a meeting in the office. She tells me that she’s very sorry but that the bird had broken his beak and wasn’t able to feed himself. Then she says that he passed the day after I left him.

Was he euthanized? I ask. No, he died by himself, she says.

I am upset. I tell my friend. She says we will never know if we eased his suffering.

We will never know text message

We will never know.