A Brush With Royalty

A well documented peril of modern architecture is the fatal effects of plate glass on songbirds. It is super sad to me. There is a new building on the north side of Central Park that was recently profiled by the NY Times as being an exceptionally prolific killer. It is one of those things that I just have to try not to think about, because otherwise I get very upset, especially knowing that there is nothing that I can do about it.

Earlier this week in the Catskills, I was about to head outside for a run when I heard small *plunk* noise on the slider door. Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen a little puffball collide with the glass before dropping like a stone onto the deck below. I ran outside to assess the damage. The victim was a male Golden-Crowned Kinglet. The little guy was only slightly larger than a golfball and lay there with his miniature little talons pointing up to the sky. I feared the worst.

I very carefully scooped the miniature king into my palm and in doing so, noticed, much to my relief, that he was still breathing. I oriented him right side up in my hand and observed. He, in turn, was observing me right back. There he was completely dazed, now in the clutches of an apex predator; the same type of predator who built the structure he had just slammed into and who is generally responsible for the mass destruction of his habitat. I only hope that the stunned little animal was too woozy to comprehend the sheer terror that this situation presented to a creature so small and delicate as a Golden-Crowned Kinglet.

After a few minutes, he began to move his little head around. He stared up at me with one eye, then turned his head and gazed upward at me with the other. “God, is that you? Have I died? I thought heaven would be warmer.” Eventually, I felt his little feet unfold and grip onto one of my fingers. After 10 minutes or so, I was starting to freeze. It was only 26 degrees outside and I was only wearing a base layer with no hat or gloves. I knew it was too risky to try to bring my little friend inside. If he suddenly decided to attempt flight again while indoors, he might very well end up on the floor again.

I was starting to shiver a little bit when I decided that he seemed recovered enough to try to relocate him from my hand to a safe, static perch until he felt ready to fly off again. The deck railing seemed like a good candidate. I placed the edge of my hand level with the railing and opened my hand as wide as I could, trying to encourage the little guy to scoot onto it. Instead, I felt his little feet tighten their grip on my finger. I was very moved by this. In reality, he was probably still totally dazed, enjoying the warmth of my hand and too terrified to move. In my mind, I was convinced that he had befriended me and was enjoying my company, haha. At any rate, I was super flattered. To be honest, I was secretly really enjoying bonding with what was possibly the most adorably tiny animal I have ever held in my hand. As such, I was easily persuaded to let him relax in my palm for a few more minutes.

By the time that my fingers were starting to go totally numb, my pint sized little amigo was looking very much more alert and had started shuffling his little tail feathers back into formation. Again I positioned him next to the railing. Again, he clamped those little talons down on my finger. “I love you too friend, but you are too pure for my world.” With my free hand, I gave him a gentle nudge under his tail feathers. Begrudgingly, he stepped one foot, then the other, onto the deck railing and puffed up his feathers.

He was still staring at me when I backed away and retreated into the warmth of the house where I continued to observe the little dude. The knock-around camera happened to be sitting right there on a bench near the front slider and I decided to get a quick snap of him before he (hopefully) flew away. I quickly put on a jacket and went back out with the camera. The lens on the knock-around camera is a basic 50mm f/1.8, i.e. not typically suitable for bird photography. But a telephoto lens is not necessary when you have developed a certain level of trust with the subject.

Camera in hand, I cautiously approached the kinglet again, who by this time was looking fully lucid. With the lens only a couple of feet from the bird, I clicked 3 or 4 frames (my favorite one, at the top of this post) and gingerly backed away, then back inside. A few minutes later, he flew away. I’m very grateful for this encounter. I like to believe that the bird suffered no permanent injury. I also like to imagine him telling his little avian crew about his curious encounter with a new human friend.

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