wingI was in my back yard the other morning, talking on the phone, when a little finch fluttered awkwardly out of the air and fell onto the deck.

I hung up, wrangled the cats indoors and set near the small bird a smattering of seed and a shallow dish of water. In case;  in case it was a window strike or some other survivable incident that dropped her from the ether.

It wasn’t.  She didn’t move when I came near, but tucked her tiny head beneath the shoulder of one of her delicate wings, which trembled lightly every few seconds.  A few minutes later, they fluttered one last time — I have seen my hens do this as they die, as if flying away — and the finch was dead.

When you feed wild things, you periodically see one who is sick, or dead.   Sometimes, there is obvious evidence of predation, a great pile of feathers, as if a down pillow has been eviscerated: hawks occasionally dine on the smaller birds who come to my feeders.  feathers

Mostly, though, you get snapshots of their brief and graceful lives, glimpses of them flying and feeding, hatching and raising their young. I had never seen one tumble from the sky, never been present for that moment in which its life as a wild bird — flight — ended.

I was grateful that she died quickly, that she was not long deprived of the glory of her kind.  And that her stillness in death allowed me to appreciate her perfect body in a way I could not while she was alive:  The dainty feet, thin as twigs and yet strong and agile;  the exquisite architecture of her wings, anchored by tiny ribbons of muscle at her shoulders; the sweetness of her small face. The still-bright eyes:


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And then I took her to a place where a raccoon or hawk or some other animal might find her, and left her beneath a tree with a sprinkle of sunflower chips to speed her journey.

And returned home, where I was quickly given happier snapshots:  Chloe, the squirrel who has trained me to give her peanuts, exploring the kitchen after I forgot to close the sliding door:


Later,  Notch — whose right ear was nicked by some unknowable squirrel mishap — asking politely to be included:

notch blur

And later yet, the bold and raucous scrub-jays joining me at the deck table where I read, choosing just the right peanut —  heavier is presumably better — directly from the bowl.

The squirrels and jays, so fully in their being; one little finch, at the moment of her mortality.

I often find myself weary of humanity, exhausted and discouraged by our noisiness, by our big egos and small spirits.  But never these animals.   Always, with them, gratitude: for the wonder of these snapshots, for the privilege of bearing witness to their wild and precious lives.




  1. That’s so sad. I love to watch birds and hummingbirds go to my feeders.


    1. It’s hard to occasionally see a wild bird struggling, but consoling to know that you are regularly making the lives of many easier by providing food. I’m glad you feed them, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. D'Arcy Fallon · · Reply

    loved this, cate.


    1. Thanks, D’Arce. So good to hear from you, old friend.


  3. What a beautiful post. My heart goes out to the little one. May it rest in peace. Like you, I never tire of the wonderful creatures I come across on my meanderings. Lately I’ve had a lot going on in my life and some days the only things that help me to keep going are going on nature walks and meditating. I may not want to bump into a human, but I always love coming across nature’s creatures…even bugs (dragonflies, bees buzzing in and out of flowers…).


    1. So glad you appreciated the post; thank you. I feel as you do about the respite/refuge of nature; it’s reliable solace in the sometimes crazy-making world of our own kind.


  4. Beautiful post! So true! We can find so much comfort and beauty in nature to recharge our souls!


    1. Thanks, kindred spirit! I appreciate the time you took to read and comment.


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