Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Unfortunate Happenstance

This past Sunday found your narrator down in southern Ohio for a long day of botanizing and immersion in the area's phenomenal spring flora.  I'll be bringing you some of the day's plant finds and photographs in a future post but I felt compelled to share this short albeit melancholy story with my audience.

Female Baltimore Oriole after getting hit by my car

While driving along an open country road, I had the unfortunate fate of hitting and killing a female Baltimore oriole with my car.  It all happened in the blink of an eye and there was truly nothing I could have done to avoid the collision.  She flew right in front of my windshield and before I could even register her sudden appearance, she was hit and gone.  I knew such a sudden impact at nearly 60 miles an hour could only realistically result in one conclusion but I turned around anyways to make sure it was a clean hit and she didn't suffer.  As I came back around, I was horrified to see a bird flapping around in a panicked manner in the middle of the road and for a second I thought I had only severely injured her.  The fluttering ended up belonging to a male oriole and presumably the hit female's mate who was nervously fluttering around her body.  My heart immediately sank to a new low and I felt the reality of the situation soak through.

I pulled off to the side of the road and before I could even get out of my car a truck can flashing by and literally straddled the male oriole while he was still in the road.  I thought for sure I was about to see the male meet his untimely end as well but by some miracle he was unharmed and quickly flew to and perched on a nearby fence.  I ran into the road and retrieved the female in order to remove her to the grassy margins of the road where she might rest in a more peaceful place and allow the male to grieve in a more safe environment.

Unique in-the-hand experience 

In a more morbid than preferred instance, the unfortunate happenstance did provide your blogger with a unique chance to admire and study such a remarkably colored and beautiful bird in the hand.  It's almost unbelievable how little birds weigh and how soft their downy feathers feel.  The male sat at his perch and called out time and time again not more than 20 feet away as I set the body softly to the ground and walked back to my car to continue on with my day.  I do my best to never hit animals while in my car and without putting myself or other drivers at risk and it's always an accident when it does happen but that never helps dull the guilt or take the ache away from my heart.  This bird had just spent weeks flying thousands of miles north from its Central/South American or Caribbean over-wintering grounds back to its breeding range only to be taken out by a zooming Subaru.  To make matters even more depressing, an hour or so later I drove past the spot on my way back the way I came and the male was still perched exactly where I last saw him on the fence post.  It really spoke for the emotion and connection these and other species of birds can establish with their mates and that they go through similar experiences of grief and mourning.  I certainly hope she wasn't nesting yet and I left a clutch of eggs motherless but perhaps it's for the best I never know.  I already feel plenty guilty enough even a few days later.

I'm of the belief and stance that all forms of life on this blue oasis of liquid water floating through the infinities of desolate space are precious and none is any less important than us.  Some reading this may think, "well, it's only a bird...", and I find that type of mindset a bit off-putting.  That very mentality is why our planet is in the shape its in and why so much of our biodiversity is in danger of extinction and/or local extirpation.  It's only a bug, it's only a bird, it's only a forest, it's only a river, it's only an entire mountain, it's only a human being...that's the evolution that comes from that and if we can't even treat everyone of every color, race, ethnicity, culture, economic status etc. of our own species with equality and respect, I fear what's at stake and in store for every thing else that resides "below" us on the list of importance.  It may only have been a bird to most others who wouldn't even take the time to think much about what they hit but to me it was a beautiful creature with a story and a purpose and it's a shame our fates would intersect in the manner they did.  I've been told I care too much but everyone needs something that they care a little too much about.  I think it's pretty evident the natural world and all its wonders, both biotic and abiotic is mine.


  1. Beautifully written and heartfelt. In this one essay you've convinced me to return to your blog. Full of wonder and responsibility. And I thank you for your caring "too much".

  2. Aha! I have found where you are currently posting. Just came over from Saratoga Woods and Waterways. I'll be back.

  3. And re- your experience. I HATE hitting things, but occasionally it can't be helped. I had a squirrel and a chipmunk commit suicide beneath my tires last year. Hoping this year will be less deadly, but when they turn around and run right back under, there is not much you can do. Birds vs. cars is a constant menace. I attended a butterfly lecture once where someone questioned how the speaker could collect specimens and not feel guilty about endangering the species. He replied- if you want to stop endangering butterflies, stop driving your car.

  4. Great post! and lovely stories, places and photos. Thanks for sharing!