Thunk! The sound of a  songbird hitting a window sends us running outside. At my side is a nine-year-old girl named Hazel who loves to draw birds. The Dark-eyed Junco lies motionless with eyes open, and its tiny feet in the air. How could this have happened? We put specially designed film squares on windows to make them visible to birds.  Our  birdseed on the snow that attracts juncos is  away from the house. Likely, something– a passing merlin or Cooper’s Hawk– scared the flock and they scattered into the air in all directions. This hapless bird struck our living room window.


“Is the bird dead?” Hazel looks at me with sad eyes.

“No, just stunned.”

I put my hands around the junco, scoop him up,  and carry him indoors. Hazel helps me find a shoebox, and I line it with a soft cloth, place the junco on its bed, and gently close the lid (first poking a few holes in the top).

“Just like us, when we’re hurt, we need to rest and feel better.”

“How long?”

“We’ll check in a few minutes.”

Then, I join her parents, Hazel’s little sister, and Wes as they ready for a hike into the lava fields that extend for miles close by our home in the pines of Bend, Oregon. We’re chatting, when suddenly, the junco is flying around our living room.

“Hazel! Did you open the box?” Her mother looks at her.

“I was just checking. I didn’t know he would fly!”

The junco lands on the top of a framed art piece –the caribou on tundra poster that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Our living room wall is high, and the junco perches about 12 feet up. I have to admire him there for a few seconds before taking action. He looks like he’s wearing a black head scarf  over soft tans and grays. His conical small beak that’s ideal for eating seeds is pink. His eyes are the darkest night sky.

Fortunately, my grandmother’s antique cedar chest forms a perfect platform for stepping up and reaching ever so slowly up to cup the junco again in my hands. This time the bird is fully awake. We all walk outside. It’s time to let the junco return to the pine forest and his companions.

I turn to Hazel, and gesture for her to come close. Gently, I put the junco in her small outstretched hands. For a couple precious seconds, I know she feels his beating heart, the flutter of wings, the tickle of feet on her palms. She opens her hands wide. The junco flies free, his tail flashing that distinctive pattern of white-black-white.

Hazel will remember this. So will I. There’s nothing like freeing a living bird into the wild. There’s nothing like flying free.


Take Action To Save Birds from Colliding with Windows

A billion birds a year die in the U.S. from striking windows.  You can help!

  1. Safeguard glass windows, so birds can see them and avoid flying into them. See this list of products approved by the American Bird Conservancy.
  2.  Place bird feeders less than three feet from a window or more than 10 feet away from a window. When close-up, a bird won’t get hurt if it does fly from a feeder toward the window. When far away, a bird can maneuver away–as long as it sees the window.
  3. Take action in Congress! Just yesterday, on January 30th, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois re-introduced the bipartisan Bird-Safe Buildings Act.  Thank him and urge your own representatives to support the bill! (Give a tweet of thanks to: @RepMikeQuigley



Note–I do not have photos from the actual event, so thank photographers. I also found this lovely little video that gives you an idea of Hazel opening her hands to let the bird fly free.