I have a pretty active backyard. A lot of birds come and go every day. I’ve gotten to know most of them by name. One of these, sadly, that I have not gotten to know very well are the house finches I have. Mainly, because there’s just too many of them most of the time. Yesterday, I got a chance to get to know at least one of them a little better if only for a short time.
I have a feeder hanging about two feet from my sliding glass door in back. It is a sunflower chip feeder which is enjoyed by a lot of birds. One of them it’s not supposed to attract are house finches. The feeder requires clinging which they’re not that good at. Mind you, that doesn’t stop them from trying and occasionally succeeding at feeding from it. The consequence of having this feeder there is that goldfinches use it and drop a lot of seeds and seed pieces. One of the major benefactors of this are the house finches who hang around underneath it and can make out pretty well if they’re patient.
This weekend I noticed a male house finch that was spending a lot of time underneath this feeder. He seemed quite content to munch on the food droppings from the other birds. He was unpreened and a bit puffy so I thought maybe he was old or diseased. Whenever I would open the back door, he would look at me to see if I posed a threat and take flight if I came out. He wasn’t spry by any means but he was plenty capable of taking flight when he decided to.
Yesterday afternoon, I went out for my daily feeder filling and got almost all the way up to my main feeder station when I looked down and saw him picking through the seeds on the ground. Like before, he looked at me for a second and waited until I was almost at the feeder to take flight and land on the fence about fifteen feed away. His flight looked a bit erratic and when he landed I could see he was breathing heavily. Not a good sign.
I finished filling and cleaning and went back inside to make some calls. I was talking with a good friend of mine battling his way back home up I-95 from CT to NYC when I got up to stretch my legs. I walked to the back door to see what was going on in my backyard. Everybody was busy feeding as if I’d rung the dinner bell. It’s a scene that brings me great joy and peace on a daily basis.
Then, I saw him.
On my patio, not three feet from my back door lay that male house finch. My heart sank. Is he dead? I told my friend I needed to go and take care of this before my wife got home. I knew she wouldn’t want to see him.
I walked out and he didn’t move. When I looked closer I could tell he was not breathing. Still, he looked so peaceful. It was as if he wanted to try to feed there one more time and just decided he was too tired to do it. I went inside and got a hand shovel. I took him back into the woods behind my property, said a short prayer and buried him. I couldn’t believe how much it was affecting me.
When I was done, I started thinking about the little bird. I’ve had other birds not come back one day and we thought they may have died but didn’t know for sure. Only a handful of times have I found the silent vessel of what used to be a bird. This was as real as it gets. I told my wife about him and we agreed that he must have come to a place he loved to say thank you and goodbye. I’m tearing up writing this. Am I a fool?
All I can say is thank you little house finch for the joy you’ve brought me watching you and letting me spend your last hours with you. Reminding me how precious all life is was exactly the medicine I needed today. Goodbye and God bless you!