Friday, March 12, 2010

The Birds: Part II

The first interior bird of the season was no great surprise. And now that Zoot has ceased to be a killing machine and Rufus... Well, Rufus has issues and poses no threat to birds partly because he is afraid of them. So after much waving of towels with the front door and numerous windows open to the 9F December day, the winged visitor returned to the wild relatively unscathed.

I assumed that the bird had, as in previous years, fallen down the chimney. I usually leave the flap in the flue open because Zoot likes to pee in the fireplace and it airs it out, but preventing further intruders became a priority so I closed it. Thus the arrival of the second bird a couple of days later was something of a curiosity.

I have noticed in the past that birds that fall down my chimney typically do so in pairs. Given that there was no obvious alternative point of ingress for bird number two, I suspect it fell down the chimney at approximately the same time as the first one and had somehow avoided detection. (If you're wondering how I could overlook a bird in the house for two days, you probably haven't met me. In addition to my usual limitations in the noticing-things department, I was living mostly upstairs over the winter to reduce heating bills.) After some banging of pans and arctic air from the door and windows, the second bird was also evicted.

Bird number three still remains a bit of a puzzle. It turned up a week after the others left, although it is quite possible it was one of the first two making a repeat visit, perhaps because my house is slightly warmer than 9F and the kitchen has readily available food.

Despite the lack of an "obvious" means for the third bird to enter the house, the latest evidence compelled me to study the situation further. I should explain that The Kattery was built in stages, with the original structure making up about one half of the current edifice. As a result it is replete with novel and probably dangerous architectural innovations, such as dropped ceilings to accommodate heating-cooling duct-work, twin basements linked by a bizarre maze of crawl spaces, and so on. The duct-work alone is a fascinating labyrinth that a few years ago inspired me to attempt to create an Aeolian pipe organ. By modifying the lengths of the ducts through the installation of gates to create segments appropriate to a harmonic scale, I determined that, in principle, when the furnace or air-conditioning sent air through the ducts a pleasing sound would be produced. Unfortunately, part of my testing of the system involved dropping a speaker down one of the ducts in the dining room and playing The Ramones through it. Half way through "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" some kind of resonance must have formed, because after a few seconds of an E-flat that grew from fortissimo to tornadic, the duct-work in the smaller of the two basements exploded.

I carried out a brief inspection of the duct-work, but found no bird-sized holes to the outside world. Further, I knew at least one bird had come down the chimney by the flecks of soot that had mixed with the bird shit that was now liberally spread around much of the house. The Kattery smelled like the bottom of a parrot cage, and once pots, pans, towels, open windows and the rest had seen bird number three leave the premises, I decided it was time to use the evidence provided by the soot and take the battle to the enemy.

I was now confident that the birds could not get in to the house via the chimney, but the soot evidence strongly pointed to them living in or near it. Due to the Kansas weather and the height of my roof, I have a complex chimney cowling that resembles a medieval torture device. Somehow this prevents 70 m.p.h. winds being blown down the chimney. It also, I suspect, provides an Art Deco apartment for birds.

I rarely use my fireplace, partly because Zoot pees in it and more importantly because I suspect it is far from safe. Its intrinsic danger had been increased the winter before when the handful of fires I had were fueled by pine and bits of my fence. This is exactly the kind of wood you do not want to burn, of course, but it was the pine tree and my fence that the most recent tornado had chosen to destroy. I therefore re-opened the flue and built a fire using the remainder of the fence.

My first concern was that a family of birds in the chimney may block the air-flow thereby filling The Kattery with smoke. However, on lighting the fire a good draw rapidly built up. So good, in fact, that the furiously-spitting fence sent large sparks shooting upwards. Consequently I immediately instituted first-fire safety procedure. This involves checking the temperature of the walls in the various rooms adjacent to the chimney, including secondary areas linked by the aforementioned duct-work. Phase two requires going outside to ensure that flames are not shooting through the chimney or conceivably from holes in the wall.

Remarkably all that was burned in this process was the fence and pine. At least that is what I thought initially. However, the next day I was in the kitchen when I heard a clattering, tumbling sound followed by a thud. The flue was still open, since the embers take a while to cool down. I therefore approached the fireplace expecting to be confronted by a pissed off bird. Instead I found in the grate a badly charred object about the size of a pound of butter. With a beak.

Donning rubber gloves I recovered the deceased bird from the ashes and threw it out the front door. Unfortunately it appears that Rufus is only afraid of living birds. He ran out the door after it, captured it, and ran back inside before I could stop him. And then pulled off one of his remarkable vanishing tricks. He turned up again a few hours later sans dead bird, but despite a thorough search of his favorite closets and cabinets the unfortunate creature was nowhere to be found. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait a couple of weeks when the smell of decay would reveal its location.

The next morning I came downstairs to make coffee wearing my hat. It wasn't until I'd got through the second cup that I noticed there was a note on the fridge door. It read:


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