One Friday in Detroit.

Alan was on his way into work Friday when he passed a homeless man, who had taken the top off a sidewalk garbage can and was rooting around inside for whatever treasures he could find. (People in states where you don’t pay deposit on cans and bottles think the whole idea is an unbearable nuisance, but I’m telling you, it’s like having your own state scrip. Keeps trashpickers busy, too.)

The guy popped his head up suddenly and said, “Man! You gotta come look at this!”

Alan, well-versed in the art of ignoring the homeless, did what anyone would do — put up his urban blast shields and quickened his step.

“No, man, you gotta see this! It’s some crazy kind of bird!”

The man who gave me both Audubon’s Baby Elephant Folio and Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America could resist no longer. He approached the garbage can, and looked inside. There was, indeed, a bird there.

An American woodcock.

A peacock would have been less surprising. pic-woodcock300.jpgThe Hare Krishnas have been known to keep those at their headquarters at the Fisher Mansion. Peregrine falcons are well-established in many U.S. cities, where they nest on skyscrapers the way they nest on cliff faces in the wild; that wouldn’t have been such a shock. And of course Detroit is home to a thriving pheasant population. But a woodcock? This reclusive, perfectly camouflaged game bird lives far from cities. In Michigan they prefer forest floors near swampy areas where they can easily find the earthworms that make up 75 percent of their diet. Their long, curved beaks are made for probing soft ground. Some people call them timberdoodles.

“What is it?” the homeless guy said. “Some kind of woodpecker?”

Alan told him what it was, reached in and took it out. He placed it on the sidewalk, where it flopped around uncontrollably. One wing was badly broken. By this time another reporter had shown up, and the three of them watched the wounded bird struggle.

I’ve never seen one myself. Alan says he kicks them up sometimes in the woods when he’s fishing up north, particularly at night — they hide until the last minute, then flush almost into your face. Once we went out to Fox Island, a county park in Fort Wayne, hoping to see them do their spring mating display. While the females stay on the ground, the males rise in long, slow spirals, then suddenly fall zig-zagging to the ground. They do this well after they’ve charmed the girls into mating; some theorize the males do it to keep the females entertained during the tedious nest-sitting.

How did it end up in a covered garbage can in downtown Detroit? The possibilities seemed endless, and impossible to know: Migrating along the Great Lakes flyway, it went astray, hit a building and fell to the ground. Perhaps. Maybe the hole of the garbage can looked like the open end of a log, and it somehow managed to fly in. Hit by a motorist? Escaped from a chef? (They’re beloved by adventurous gourmets, particularly French ones, who eat them right down to the trail, the earthworm-filled intestinal tract.) Whatever brought it here, it wasn’t going to make it to any wintering ground in the non-frozen south.

“This bird doesn’t deserve to suffer like this,” Alan said, scooping it up again. “It needs to be put out of its misery.”

“I don’t need to see that,” the homeless guy said, scuttling away. The reporter did likewise. Alan paused a mournful moment and broke the bird’s neck, then placed it back in the garbage can.

“It was a bad way to start Friday,” he said. “Kind of put me off.”

I told him that if I tell this story here, some people will say he did the wrong thing, that he should have called the Humane Society of Animal Cops or whoever, who would have tenderly nursed the bird back to health and released it in a bird sanctuary somewhere. Alan, the outdoorsman, shook his head. “It wasn’t going to get better. It was miserable. This was the right thing to do,” he said.

I believe him. Sometimes, the hardest thing is the only thing.

Posted at 7:11 pm in Same ol' same ol' |

17 responses to “One Friday in Detroit.”

  1. Heather said on November 12, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    Ouch. Takes a lot of courage to do that though. A few years ago some friends and I saw a doomed baby pigeon that had fallen out of its nest hugging the wall of a building, trying to get warm–killing it would have been the kind thing to do, but none of us could bring ourselves to do so. (Needless to say, we’re not outdoorsmen. Outdoorspeople?) I’m no fan of pigeons, but I still think about that poor bird sometimes.

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  2. ashley said on November 13, 2006 at 3:37 am

    Damn. It hurts, but he’s right.

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  3. Dorothy said on November 13, 2006 at 9:01 am

    Whoa. Of course Alan did the right thing. It’s sad but true.

    Once we were on the way to the library in our new neighborhood, in 1992. We saw a deer with a badly broken leg on the side of the road, in some leaves under a tree. Poor thing was thrashing around. The kids were terribly upset because the leg had been snapped and pointing in the wrong direction. The police station was right beside the library so I stopped in and asked to have an officer go put it out of it’s agony. On the way back home we saw a police car parked there and I knew the animal was no longer suffering.

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  4. Kevin Knuth said on November 13, 2006 at 11:09 am

    I love animals- and that also means you cannot let them suffer.

    Without a doubt, he did the right thing.

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  5. Danny said on November 13, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Yep, he did the right thing. I’ve done it myself. It is a bad way to start a day.

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  6. Marcia said on November 13, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.

    Sorry. Fray song stuck in my head.

    Hey, Nance, I can’t remember reading if you’re a college football fan or not. I just wondered if you’ll get hyped at all for the game.

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  7. Dorothy said on November 13, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    We’re hyped at our house, Marcia. My son is a senior at OSU. I think he sold his ticket for $600. He said there’s a limit to being a fan – money means more to him than being there to see it. He could actually still be there at the game since he works for security on campus.

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  8. Danny said on November 13, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    What’s hilarious about the matchup is the way the fans have been battling it out on sports radio. About 2 weeks ago, pro bowl linebacker, Michigan alumnist Cato June came on Jim Rome’s show and predicted a 22 point beat-down of OSU. Man, you shoulda heard the mellee that ensued. OSU fans calling and saying things like “First off, if Cato June knew anything about football, then he would know that that is numerically impossible unless Michigan can figure out how to first score 22 points!!!”


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  9. Danny said on November 13, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Oh great, the latest email to Jim Rome’s show.

    “Hey ‘suck-eye’ fan, you’re reign of terror is over, blah, blah blah. See you in six days you ‘sister-loving-meth-addicts.” Beautiful.

    He said his phone board looks like, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Columbus, Columbus, Columbus, Ann Arbor. And we’ll only have one more week of this skirmish. Oh, and then the gloating on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

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  10. Marcia said on November 13, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Dorothy, I’d sell our tickets in a heartbeat, but the man of the house won’t hear of it.

    Danny, I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, and was sitting in a bar at Midway watching some sportscaster counting down to “the game.” It was something like 500-and-some hours to go.

    What the hell.

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  11. Dorothy said on November 13, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Yeah I think I saw that countdown clock on some sports channel recently and had the same reaction.

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  12. Danny said on November 13, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Marcia, yeah, I know what you mean. But on the other side of the coin, this is one of the most intense rivalries in college football and with both teams being undefeated and ranked 1 and 2 and the fact that until recent years, college fans rarely got a true championship bowl game, fans are freakin’ salivating.

    Except for wrestling and swimming, I don’t watch college sports much, but I may just tune in for this one.

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  13. Connie said on November 13, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    I read somewhere yesterday that a congressional district recount in Ohio will not begin until next Monday, in order to avoid the distraction of the big game. Seriously.

    Go Blue!

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  14. John said on November 13, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    It’s a funny coincidence that you mention woodcock. I just finished Nelson DeMille’s latest novel, WildFire. It’s a scary well researched story about a right wing plot to set off a supposedly real government protocol that nukes the entire Islamic world in response to a terrorist nuclear (or nu cul ur as Bush would say) attack on U.S. Soil.
    Anyway the protagonist is John Corey, DeMille’s main good guy, a former NY cop attached to an anti-terrorist task force. COrey and his wife are staying at a $2000 a night lodge in Saranac Lake, NY and the french chef is planning woodcock night. Since COrey is a smart ass and likes to poke fun at snobs he has hundreds of off color comments like, I can’t wait to see Henri’s woodcock.

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  15. Joe Kobiela said on November 13, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    A poem,
    I saw a birrdy in the snow
    His wing was broken, this I know
    I coaxed him over with some bread
    then I smashed his little head.
    I know sick and not funny but it just popped out.

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  16. basset said on November 13, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    made me think of the woodcock reference in Richard McKenna’s “The Sand Pebbles”… pretty obscure but interesting. anyone else know it… while I’m thinking of how to describe it without being rude and offensive?

    great novel, too. right up there with “Thin Red Line,” if you ask me.

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  17. Danny said on November 14, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Joe, that poem is similar to one of the songs my buddy’s had to sing during PT in the marines, to keep cadence.

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