Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

A Random Act of Kindness

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, 1st winter plumage.

Image: Kevin T. Karlson [larger view].

This morning, I ran into a little bird at the entrance to the library where I go every day. I was actually distracted, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed this was a white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, instead of the ubiquitous house (english) sparrows. Not only are white-throated sparrows the sister species to my dissertation bird, the white-crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, but their NYC appearance heralds the coming of the harsh East Coast winters. So this bird had probably returned this morning from her migratory journey and had miscalculated as to where she was. Instead of reaching Central Park or another bird-friendly location, she had instead settled down on the enormous concrete slab that surrounds Lincoln Center.

I watched the bird for a few minutes and saw that she was definitely hungry (and probably also thirsty) but was unable to find anything to meet her needs. I also noticed that, even though she was unhurt, she could only flutter along the ground, but could not fly.

So, I caught the bird, single-handedly. As soon as I touched her, I knew she was in trouble; she was thin and probably dehydrated as well. However, she had apparently been in good health until quite recently because she was in fresh, crisp plumage. Thus began a journey for both us where we ended up on the other side of town at the Central Park Zoo. Every step of the way, I could feel her little life vibrating in my hand, even when she closed her eyes.

Once there, I briefly told the zookeeper about the bird’s dilemma, and that I’d happily care for her myself for a day or two until she had regained some weight, but I was too far away from my apt to do that. So the zookeeper took the bird in and promised to give her some food and water and keep her there until this evening when she would be released in the park.

I just hope the bird can eat enough in the next few hours to ensure her survival through the coming night.

So I left my contact information with the zookeeper in the hopes that she would call me and give me an update on the bird’s condition.

Update: the zookeeper called and told me this evening that the bird was released into Central Park this evening. It took her a little while to fly away, but she eventually did.


  1. #1 certhia
    September 29, 2007

    Hi, and what a lovely little encounter with one of my favorite birds–favorite because they are the background noise for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area–a sacred and beautiful place. Hope the little one makes it.

  2. #2 Library Diva
    September 29, 2007

    How fortunate for that little bird that a caring and knowledgeable person like yourself was the one who happened upon it. Most people wouldn’t have even noticed the bird at all, and of those who did, most of them probably wouldn’t have realized that she was in distress or known what to do about it.

    I bet that less than 1% of people that live in the city would’ve noticed and known what to do to help…the more I think about it, the more amazing it is. I guess sometimes in life, you’re just the right person in the right place at the right time.

  3. #3 Chris' Wills
    September 30, 2007

    Thank you for helping the bird and it seems to have a happy ending.

    + what Library Diva wrote

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