Helmet, Ladle, Action!

The cats had been quiet for a long time. Unusual. So I went on a search. They were all by the front door, heads moving as if connected, ears tipped forward, occasionally make little stuttering sounds. Well, better than trying to chew open the Oreo wrapper or unrolling the toilet paper and then dashing around the house with it. These are not kittens. They range in age from 7 to 5, which was once considered senior citizen, and now is young middle age. If they could purchase red muscle cars and race around in them, they would.3-birdcats.jpg

Soon I’m looking out the door with them, and see the object of their attention–a young blue jay, out of the nest. It’s heading toward evening, and there are other cats in the neighborhood. Unlike mine, they do not have a screen in front of their faces. I decide to hoist the little one into a nearby holly bush. Urban legend aside, blue jays have a terrible sense of smell, and they won’t abandon the bird if I touch it. I’ve done this often before. But I don’t want to transfer my germs to him so I put on a pair of yellow kitchen gloves and head out.

The little one, pointy with new feathers, some of them already identifying him as a jay, sets up a horrible screeching. I haven’t even touched him yet. No matter. Mom and dad arrive out of nowhere and attack. I’m shocked. These are small birds, compared to a human, and are showing no fear. One of them wrenches my glasses from my face, and as I focus on catching them before they fall onto the sidewalk, the other swoops in to peck me. Their sharp, seed-eating bill could crack open an acorn. My head is softer. As I scoop up my glasses, a drop of blood smacks on the sidewalk.blue jay in grass

A little too Tippy Hedren for me. (She starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and is the mother of Melanie Griffith). I go back inside and try to figure out what to do. Protect my head seems good. The only hats I have are soft and warm for winter. Won’t deter these guys. Ah, of course. My motorcycle helmet. Hard, protects the eyes, great idea. I pull on the helmet and buckle it for good measure. Don’t want it crashing to the ground.

What about my neck? Want to protect it from those rascals, too. A long winter scarf will do nicely. I wrap it around my neck, exchange the spatula for a shallow ladle (the little guy might skid off the spatula), put on the bright yellow rubber gloves and head back out.

Directly in front of me is the neighbor’s cat. The bird is frozen a foot in front of him. He’s a big cat, and the bird doesn’t stand a chance. “Back, Simba!” I say, voice filled with authority to break the cat’s focus. I hear birds screaming in the trees. I bend down, scoop up the fledgling in the ladle just as the cat leans forward and then retreats.

I ignore this odd motion, and carefully deposit the bird into the holly bush where both parents dive and vanish, doing whatever scolding or comforting birds do.

Now I have time to look at Simba, and notice he is trailing a leash. His cat sitter is standing on the other end of the leash. She may or may not have seen what just took place. Probably not. She is looking at me, clearly alarmed. She takes a step back.

“Sorry you missed supper, Simba” I say conversationally, and, out of habit, push up my face shield so I can speak clearly and hear better. Suddenly I see how the cat stitter sees me: a large, older woman, a bright blue winter scarf wrapped around her neck. It is mid-May, and the scarf is long out of season. The outfit is completed with a motorcycle helmet. I am barefoot, but my hands are covered in yellow rubber gloves and I’m holding a ladle. And I’ve  just said the word “supper” to Simba. She probably thought I was going to seize and cook the cat.

There are some explanations that don’t work well. It would take too long. It wouldn’t reassure her at all. “Didn’t see he was on a leash,” I say, waving the ladle, “I was about to cook supper.” And then I turn and go back into the house.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com
Blue Jay Image: library.thinkquest.org

17 thoughts on “Helmet, Ladle, Action!

  1. I adore the fact that you didn’t try to explain. That cat-sitter will now have such a great story for how she ‘protected’ her charge from this insane, cat-cooking neighbor who wears a motorcycle helmet (probably part of some motorcycle gang/cult) to disguise herself.
    Heck, in the old days, she could dine out for weeks on that story! What a hoot.

  2. What memories your delightful story brought back. We had just moved into a new house and Fiasco (well named) became glued to one of the dining room windows. Outside was a holly bush and we found it contained a mockingbird nest. The birds were going nuts with those big blue eyes inches from their nest. We didn’t have any curtains yet, so I had to thumbtack paper on the window to obscure his view. And for the next two weeks we had to use the back door!

  3. Joanne–Luckily, he wasn’t at home at the time. He doesn’t read the blog, so he’ll never know. Some things are just better not photographed. I’m just glad it didn’t wind up on You Tube.–Q

    Phaedrus–Birds are amazing. We always think of animals as knowing their own skills perfectly. But there are mockingbirds who have better nest building skills. We had a nest in our pear tree last year, and it withstood a few winter storms. I was amazed, too, as I thought mockingbirds were bad nest builders. I know that they will also lay their eggs in other birds’ nests.

  4. What a great story. It might be a take on prejudice, but if I met a woman in a motorcycle helmet, warm scarf, washerwoman gloves and a ladle, I don’t think I’d be able to figure her out either. Maybe I’d think I had landed in a Gary Larson Cartoon.

    I’ve had this experience with mockingbirds, the world’s worst nest builders. After a storm in spring, baby mockingbirds, many without feathers, are all over the ground, and their parents won’t let anyone near them. A helmet is necessary. When I was young, I picked up one of these (no feathers yet) and raised it myself, because the parents seemed too inept. The baby ate grasshoppers, and I caught every grasshopper on every meadow in a circular mile. Egg whites when I had nothing else. The baby would open wide whenever I came, but the parents never abandoned it: they would make a loud CHACK sound, and the baby would freeze, mouth shut. I had to charge out of the house and stuff food down his mouth before the parents reacted. The baby was in a nest I built, outdoors; I moved it indoors at night for fear of cats. Fond memory.

    In Australia, magpies will attack people for no apparent reason, and people can buy hard hats or helmets to fend off these vicious attacks in spring.

  5. I think a photo of you in your rescue gear photoshopped through the window that the cats are watching from would be very funny!…Hide, she’s hungry!

  6. Quinn: have you been to the WordPress blog “I can has cheezburger”? This picture would be purr-fect there! And this is a great story, but sorry to hear about your Tippy Hedren impression. Once I was eating lunch by a river and there were a couple of seagulls standing around with that “are you going to finish that?” look in their eyes. So I threw the leftovers towards them and within seconds there were what seemed like hundreds of gulls screaming and fighting over my Ramen noodles. I looked around for Alfred but didn’t see him.

  7. Oh Quinn, I can just see you all done up in your protective bird gear. I wish I could have seen the look on the face of the cat sitter! What fun!

  8. I’m lucky I didn’t try to explain. Usually I do–and then I sound really crazy. Dijanne: I am absolutely sure she thought I was going to cook up the cat for supper. She came around the corner and never saw the whole bird part. I’d love to see HER journal entry for that day!

    Ann: I’ve put a zillion birds back in their nests in the evenings. Only two birds ever came after me–a mockingbird and the jays. They are really BRAVE.

    Ross–I’m sure that the phrase “dumb animals” is totally wrong. Crows are tool users, and often make specialized tools. I had a cat who turned on my heating blanket when she got cold. They aren’t nearly as dumb as we think they are.

    Susan’s mom–Mine are strictly indoor cats. But they never lose the charm of bird chasing.

  9. Hahhahahahaha….
    You did the right thing for that little bird. I used to work in a bird rehab center in Houston last summer during bird breeding season. Birds can’t smell, and they will take care of their babies if you can get them up and away from predators. I even watched a jay family build another nest for a little guy that fell and couldn’t get back to the primary nest. Sorry about the injury…but I love their spunk.

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