A life-or-death struggle out on the deck

Because my back was turned, I only heard the thwack; my wife, Julie, actually saw the impact: Two sparrows the size of feathered eggs had slammed face first into our sliders not three feet from where I was sitting then and typing now, an hour later.

One flew off, apparently unscathed, but not before first checking on its companion, according to Julie.

The other bird flopped to the deck underneath the barbecue, very much scathed -- alive, but from all appearances not likely to remain so for long.

Unfortunately, two of our three 6-year-old children -- Grant and Emma -- were nearby and saw the wounded bird now unable to move much more than its head and beak. Emma couldn't take her eyes off the struggling creature, despite our best efforts to direct her attention elsewhere.

"Can you call an animal doctor?" she asked.

We were honest; that wasn't going to be how this would end, although the most likely outcome wasn't one you want to spell out in any detail to a young child.

At one point, even the beak movement stopped; Julie whispered to me that she saw the head wobble and fall. I don't mind telling you that I was hoping the end had come naturally. ... It hadn't -- the movement resumed soon enough.

After 10 minutes or so, I walked out to the deck in the desperate hope that my getting near the wounded bird would prompt it to take flight and we'd have a happy ending.

No such luck. I got within touching distance but it didn't budge.

Back inside Emma wasn't any closer to abandoning her vigil, although Grant, thankfully, had lost interest.

A few minutes later, Julie shepherded Emma and Grant into the living room to read a book and I took the opportunity to grab a shovel from the garage. What choice was there?

Having had to do this sort of thing before, the walk around the house to the deck was unpleasant to say the least. Three or four strides from the barbecue I tightened my grip and raised the shovel.

And damn if that sparrow didn't take flight like a bat out of hell. Last I saw it was headed through a clump of trees.

"Good news," I told the family triumphantly, "the bird flew away."

Julie gave me one of those looks parents give each other after telling the kids that the family dog has gone to live on a farm.

I'm still not sure she believes me.

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