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The Bird at the Door

I’m allergic to animal dander, so pets have always been out of the question for me. A few years ago, my now-husband recommended we get a birdfeeder, seeing that I enjoyed watching the birds hopping about in the very large evergreen tree that sits directly outside my condo balcony.

Years later, the birdfeeder has expanded to 2 birdfeeders, as an influx of overly gregarious goldfinches and housefinches were displacing my favorites, the chickadees, from the few perches on the original feeder. The success of our little bird community has not gone unnoticed by the local wildlife, and since the New Year a Cooper’s Hawk has taken up periodic residence in our trees, going so far as to divebomb the feeders on a few occasions. (Which is fairly horrifying not only because I don’t particularly want to see the little birds I dote on in the throes of natural selection, but because the hawk comes inches from our sliding glass doors on each attempt. This past Saturday, I came downstairs to witness the hawk immediately post-victory, shedding feathers all over the tree while enjoying its kill. Not favorite, though the folks at the bird supply store think it’s generally good (“they weed out the weak and injured!” Well, what if I LIKE the weak ones?)

One of our house finches, giving zero fucks that my husband is 2 feet away. Quite possibly  the same that visited us last night.
One of our house finches, giving zero fucks that my husband is 2 feet away. Quite possibly the same that visited us last night.

Despite the new predator, the feeders are still well-frequented, though not as overrun as they were late last year. In particular, there are a few house finches that seem completely unperturbed and will sit at the feeder, sometimes for half an hour at a time – rare for these tiny birds who seem to need movement to breathe. At the moment, there’s a trio – we think two males and a female – who sit, puffed up and stationary, at the feeder for lengthy periods, often not even eating, just enjoying the calm of the day. And yet, one thing that is universally true about our birds – they retire at sunset, and the feeder goes unused until sunrise.

But last night, well after dark at about 8PM, I heard a tapping on the sliding door, which got my attention immediately since it was so unusual. Luckily, it was more of a brushing sound and less of a thump, which would indicate an unintentional flying accident. I went to the window to find one of the three puffy house finches sitting on the balcony, calmly staring at me for a moment. Then he marched up to the window and tried burrowing in the joint between the two door panels.

Fascinated (and because it’s so rare to be so close to them), I settled in to see what he was up to. Why was he up so late? If he was hungry the feeder was right there – but clearly this was not about food. He kept making eye contact, then having bored of the door joint hopped around for a bit. He investigated our storage room door, then hopped back up to the glass door… and stopped. Stopped not where the light was, but in the dark corner that also happens to be where the door opens. And waited. Making eye contact, as if to say, “Well? Can I come in?”

It was at this point that my husband suggested we open the door to see if he really did want to come in. But I was reticent – we don’t have anything to care for him inside the house, and there are plenty of dangers (the rats’ nest of cords among them). Besides, I wasn’t about to be chasing a bird around my living room in concern that he’d poop on the Pikachus. Yeah, that occurred to me.

So we sat and watched. After a few moments, he took flight again, flying up directly at the doorknob to the storage room. Not the door, not the birdfeeder, not the tree – the doorknob. A moment’s rest, then having failed to get into the storage room simply by touching the doorknob, he flew at the glass door again briefly. Then landed, hopped up to the side of the door where it would open, and waited again.

At this point I was both enraptured and a bit spooked. Now, I know he’s seen the doors operate many times. My husband is in and out of that storage room (where the birdseed and some other things are kept) and the sliding door many times a day. So these didn’t come off as lucky guesses by the bird, especially given the length of this incident (25 minutes) – he knew what he was doing. The direct eye contact (inasmuch as any small bird can accomplish – briefly between motions) and the incredibly intentional actions (ignoring the feeder, flying at the doorknob, flying at the door, waiting at the specific point in the sliding door where it would open) made it feel otherworldly, as if this little guy did very much want to come in. But the more rational part of my brain couldn’t shake the feeling that a bird that wants to come in probably shouldn’t.

My chickadee well-wisher from June 2014.
My chickadee well-wisher from June 2014.

It also reminded me of a strange moment I experienced back in June. It was the day after terrible news – a project I’d been working on for almost 2 years was shut down. I woke up and got downstairs to see the feeders were fairly low. I was about to go out on the balcony to refill them, when I noticed the chickadee calmly sitting, looking up at me, right next to the glass door. Even moreso than the housefinches, this was strange, for the chickadees rarely stay in the same place for more than a minute or two. But I sat and watched him for 10 minutes, him looking back at me. (Not his own reflection – he’s shorter than the glass.) I found it particularly strange and calming, a sign from the universe, perhaps, that things would work out alright. It went on for so long I worried that perhaps he had flown into the window and become dazed, but just as that thought occurred to me his friend called out from our tree and he flew back up into its branches.

My friend jokes that my interest in the birds and their possible interest in me mirrors Cinderella in Into the Woods, a character I played back in 2008. But last night’s interaction took it to a whole new level. If he tries to get in again, I don’t know that my curiosity won’t overpower the more rational part of me keeping the door closed between us.

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