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Sunday Cycling: Adventures in bird rescue

Today, Sidsel and I went cycling for the first time this year, after postponing our inaugural journey twice. We planned go to to Lauwersoog just like on our very first cycling trip two years ago. It would, frankly, have been a thoroughly unnoteworthy trip except for two factors:
1: The wind. We'd completely underestimated the power of the wind blowing in our faces, and in my case I'd also underestimated the wind chill. When we started, we were in the inner city so the wind didn't feel as bad but as soon as we got out of Groningen, it hit us hard. And kept hitting us hard.
2: The oystercatcher. 20 kilometers out of Groningen, between Mensingeweer and Wehe den Hoorn, we spotted something strange in a tree, which turned out to be an oystercatcher with its foot snagged between two branches in what must have been a very uncomfortable and painful position. Oystercatchers don't voluntarily land in trees; they're wading birds that drill for food along the floodline or in grassland with their comically long, red bills. Presumably, it had been surprised by the wind and crashed into the tree; I could see other birds struggling to maintain their course against it.
We could, I suppose, have let nature run its course but you know, moral agency and all that. It looked like a terrible way for any creature to die. So we went to a nearby house to look up the number for the Dierenambulance, the animal rescue service, and waited for it. As it turned out, we had to wait quite a while; the area is quite a way from the headquarters of the service's Northern Groningen division, and not the easiest to find at that. I'll be feeling the chill in my bones from standing in the open field in that cold wind for some time.
When they arrived, it quickly became clear that the bird was too high up for them to reach, so they called the fire brigade. Luckily, they were stationed very close to the spot where we were, and as there weren't any big fires going on in the area, they were there pretty soon. Had we known, we'd have called them first; not that the people staffing the Dierenambulance could help it, it's just that their branches are divided up in a rather odd way, so the Northern Groningen division covers this thin, wide strip of land from Delfzijl to Lauwersoog, and the other branches in the province of Gronigen aren't allowed to operate within that area. I learned that the Northern Groningen headquarters are at one end of that area, in Delfzijl; we were nearer the other.
The firefighters came up with a small truck and a squad of six, all suited up and helmeted. So with Sidsel, me, and the mother-and-son team staffing the Dierenambulance there were ten people about to help one small bird!

Oystercatcher in distress
The oystercatcher in its distress. Initially it looked rather comical, like some cartoon of a bird that had just crashed into a tree. Then we noticed that it was still alive and it wasn't so funny anymore.
The professionals have arrived on the scene
The cavalry have arrived!
Fire crew setting up ladder
The fire crew setting up their ladder. You know, for a moment during the long wait for the animal rescuers, I considered just climbing up the tree and pulling the bird out myself. This picture shows why that would have been a bad idea; the bird was 4 meters up a very thin, smooth tree which was also above a ditch, and in that strong wind. Even if I could get up there, I'd have to pull out a frightened, hurt animal out without falling down myself. And then of course, I might have to take care of it. As it turned out, it was in pretty bad shape.
Leave it to the professionals
The professionals, on the other hand, had no trouble getting the bird out at all. Usually, it's cats, of course.
The injured bird
The animal rescue worker holding the oystercatcher and showing its injuries to Sidsel. Note that the bird is trying to bite the rescue worker's sweater in self-defense. The bird's leg was in terrible shape, abraded to the bone in one place, and broken in several places. It's almost certain the leg won't be fixable and there's a good chance that by the time you read this, the bird will no longer be alive. Which after all that effort is disappointing, but still better than letting it die slowly and painfully stuck in a tree.
I like oystercatchers. They look funny and are very talkative and excitable. I wish there was more that we could have done for this one, but I'm glad we at least took the steps we did.

We didn't make it to Lauwersoog, by the way. By the time the bird was out of the tree, it was 2 PM and we didn't feel like riding another 20 kilometers upwind. In fact, it felt to me as if we'd covered much more distance than we had. I must be losing my cycling legs.

Photos: Sidsel.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 17, 2006 10:57 PM.

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