There was an unsettling moment when I thought the pterodactyl-looking creature might rear up and pluck one of the eyeballs right out of my head.
Just you never mind that the pterodactyl creature was no more than three inches tall or that it seemed unable to stand on its two comically large feet. This was the badlands of Hebron and you just never know what might be looking to eat you.
But, as it turned out, this wasn’t some Hollywood movie monster, it was just a distressed little bird that had fallen out of a nest and smack dab into the middle of a sizzling hot back road.
We came upon the bird at midday, whizzing past it at 50 mph, the front tire missing the little chirper by perhaps 4 inches. At first I thought it might have been an owl, standing tall and defiant right there in the center of the road. But after turning around and getting a closer look, this was no owl, it was some kind of baby falcon flapping and floundering on the hot pavement in obvious distress.
What would Ace Ventura do?
When it comes to wildlife, I’m pretty much a leave-things-alone kind of guy, but this was different. This was a baby bird whose placement on the baking hot road almost guaranteed that the tires of the next car or pickup or monster truck to come roaring by would flatten the chick into a messy puddle of beak and feathers.
“We have GOT to save this bird!” I declared, finger upraised to the sky all heroic-like.
I mean, we’re talking about shooing a tiny bird out of the road. How hard can it be?
We first tried shuffling him into a grocery bag, but the bird wasn’t having it. It reared up, opened its hooked beak and flapped its angry wings against the pavement. It scrambled this way, then that way and generally looked like it was about to suffer a tiny bird heart attack as it flopped its way to the side of the road where it wedged itself — of course — beneath the tire of my car.
There it sat, refusing to budge. Every time a car roared past on the road, the bird would twist its tiny head 180 degrees, open his glaring eyes even wider and stretch open its beak as if to say “Whaaaaat?”
So at this point we’re crawling around on our bellies, reaching under the car and trying to speak in some esoteric bird language. Two full-grown adults sprawled on the hot tar of Hebron (or possibly Minot) and babbling in squeaky chirps and tweets that undoubtedly sounded like utterly useless noise to the baffled bird. Passing motorists slowed to watch us, presumed we were on the dope, and sped off to warn their children about the dangers of drugs.
Meanwhile, the bird continued to engage us in a roadside standoff in spite our our cheeping, chirping attempts to reason with it. It absolutely refused to drink our water and would not budge from beneath that tire.
These are people who, on a near daily basis, handle a crazy variety of beasts and biters with a kind of aplomb unimaginable to the rest of us.
Six-foot serpent in the washing machine? Oh, yeah. Mr. Drew can knock that off on his lunch break and he’ll wear the asp home as a fashion accessory.
Baby skunk with its head caught in a rum jug? Please. Burton could handle that in his sleep. He’ll free the little stinker, feed it with an eyedropper and raise it as his own before releasing Mr. LePew to the wild.
Guys like Desjardins and Burton handle an insane array of wildlife situations and they do it with compassion, skill and confidence. What’s more, they share their adventures with the rest of the world through social media. The rest of the world claps its hands together and screeches with glee at each new story of the hard luck turtle, domesticated bat or rescued raccoon.
People love animals, and these guys are in the business of saving them. They are rock stars and they deserve to be.
So after negotiations with the baby bird in Hebron broke down, we got in touch with Desjardins, who interrupted his day of handling dragons or whatever to help.
Is there an angry mother bird circling above, he wanted to know? Could we see a nest or were there desperate cries from the woods?
Mr. Drew also put us in touch with another rock star group in Avian Haven, which would prove immensely helpful. With experts from that group along with local studs like Burton, Desjardins and Strout, it’s like having a team of Super Friends on standby for all animal emergencies, great and small.
Out in Hebron, I distracted the beleaguered bird with clucking sounds and funny faces while my wife got her gloved hands around the falcon and carried it to a shaded spot well away from the road.
Mission accomplished? Who knows, bro. Maybe the bird’s mother would come back for it and all would be well. Maybe a weasel would creep out of its cave (I have no idea where weasels live) and eat the baby bird the moment we drove away.
Both Desjardins and a nice lady from Avian Haven got in touch later to check up on things. How was the baby falcon, they wanted to know?
Tormented by nagging feelings of self-doubt and second guessing, my wife and I drove back out to Hebron the following day. We checked the spot where we had left the bird and found no trace of him — no bloody heap of feathers, no beak-scrawled note, no nothing.
We were about to drive away when out from the tall grass hopped the baby bird, looking spry and chipper where it had appeared half dead the day before. He was strutting his stuff across that country road like a streetwise bird about town. The little dude looked like he should have been wearing a tiny top hat and carrying a cane to twirl.
It hopped around like a football receiver celebrating in the end zone for a while and then bounced off onto the lawn of a nearby farm and disappeared behind a barn. He showed himself just long enough to impart that all was well, he had survived the night and would surely write us when he found work.
Cool beans, right? I expect that once the falcon is fully grown, it will return to me as a loyal attack bird any time I stretched out my arm.
Either that or it will rear up and peck my eyes out. You never know with wildlife, which is kind of the coolest thing about it.