Warm water squelched and slid in double freezer bags as I tried to stuff them through the bottom hatch of the bluebird house.
Above, in its circular entrance, a tired, cold looking bluebird sat, stuck. As I crammed the squishy homemade water bottle into the hole, under the struggling little bird, liquid seeped from the seal into -14 degree air. The activity felt so wrong. I was just trying to help the bird thaw. I thought its leg was frozen inside the box.
As I awkwardly juggled the water bag, I looked at the face of the bluebird, forced to wait in the frigid air for who knows how long until I came to realize it was stuck. A tear ran from one of its beady black eyes.
Tears began to form in my eyes.
I threw the bag on the ground and removed one of my gloves. I would use my body warmth to heat its leg.
As I fingered it, I realized it was not the bird’s leg, but a piece of fiber stuck to the inside of the wooden box. The string, from one of last summer’s nests, had gotten wrapped around the bird somehow. The afternoon before I had put meal worms in the house for my friends to eat during the cold snap and the birds had been busily entering and exiting the house, generally used only during the warm months for nesting.
I unwrapped the string and the bird erupted from the house and to the snow below. I picked it up carefully and put it in a cardboard box. I gave it some meal worms and straw, and lay the box on its side, facing the sun on the deck of the chicken coop.
I checked once before I left, the snow almost knee high in some places between the sheltered coop and the house. The bird had not moved; a brilliant blue babe in a box, winter’s sharp sun painting it navy.
When I returned from work that evening, I saw a bluebird sitting on an electric wire.
The first thing I did was take meal worms to the bird house. The second thing I did was check the cardboard box on the chicken coop deck. The straw had been moved out of the way and the bird was gone. There were no varmint tracks or other signs of commotion; just one blue feather in a boot track halfway between the coop and the front porch.
Inside, out of the biting conditions, I watched from my kitchen window as they came. Three, four, six bluebirds, having a little party in the birdhouse with meal worms as the main course. They crammed in like clowns in a clown car, then a few would fly out and others would squeeze in.
They came while I was telling my grandma the story. She suggested I hang another bluebird house this year.
I think I should. My friend Fred Wooley said that because of me, that bird will mate this spring. And that could mean more bluebirds.
It was because of Fred that I managed to free the bird. He answered the phone when I called and listened to the story of the little bird stuck in the hole of the bluebird house. I had nudged it a few times and tried to figure out how it was stuck. I was flustered.
Open the hatch, he suggested, and try to free the bird. It would perish there exposed in the cold.
I opened the bottom hatch and out fell brown, soiled hay and other stuff not so recognizable. Everything was flash frozen. I thought it felt like the bird’s leg was stuck.
I had the water bottle idea and put some hot water in a freezer bag, with another freezer bag wrapped around it for a better seal (obviously not to be more environmentally conservative) with paper towels wrapped around that (I know).
A screw poked menacingly into the path of my plastic bag. Choking back a little sob, I trudged back to the house, the skin on my face stinging, found a Philips, and back to the pole, I unscrewed the screw.
Then, with zero finesse, I tried cramming the water bag into the bird house.
It might have worked if I was trying to thaw something, but it turned out it was just a string.
Thank you, Fred, for giving me the confidence to free the bird.