An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of March 23, 2014
issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center
in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas,
on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

BIRDS HITTING WINDOWS

impression of bird that has collided with a window

Juniper House's walls are more windows than wood, and it's good having a wrap-around view of the forest, and of the birdfeeder where there's always a carnival taking place. On windows all around the house I've stuck up falcon silhouettes to keep songbirds from flying into the glass, and the silhouettes work fairly well, but still a few birds continue colliding, apparently seeing the woods' reflection.

After most collisions the birds fly away with little evidence of being hurt, but rarely dead birds turn up below the windows. Sometimes the collisions leave imprints on the glass, showing every feather, the beak, the eyes, all visible at the moment of impact, as shown above.

In a life where sensitivity to, and empathy with, living things is important, this is a sad and worrisome situation. I deal with it by trying to focus on the broad sweep of things, not the pain and death suffered by individual birds. Here's how that works:

I accept that, as a natural organism on Earth, also I may claim living space appropriate for my species, and if birds run into it, then it's sad, but part of the inevitable reality of living in a physical world. Second, these collisions are part of the evolutionary process. Human shelters may have reflective parts, which to a certain extent the rest of the biosphere must evolve to accommodate. When a bird dies who is unable to adapt, that bird will not pass on genes to its descendents carrying the dead bird's fatal vulnerability.

But, there's more to the human mind than abstract rationalizations. We are wired to react viscerally to what's seen and heard, to react to this or that with fear, hate, love, arousal... or, in my case, with sadness and empathetic pain if it's the thump of a bird against a window.

On another level, maybe these bird tragedies are so affecting because each one is nothing less than a real-life metaphor of what may be the most fundamental and unavoidable tragedy afflicting humanity in general.

That tragedy is that we humans are at least potentially maturing, ever-more alert and understanding spirits residing in physical bodies programmed to fall apart in ways every bit as inelegant as breaking one's neck by flying into a window.

That bird headed for the window is me with ever greater certainty coming face to face with my own inescapable reflective surface. Facebook Icon.