Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Firebox Flicker

I had a rather unique wildlife experience today, one I'd not hoped to have and hope not to repeat.

Yesterday evening, my husband heard a visitor in the pipe for our wood-burning fireplace's chimney; a chimney we've never used, and the fireplace is inactive, but somehow, something got inside, despite caps on the chimney outside and no real way for entrance. We weren't sure what to do, and fearing an unpleasant rodent, we opted to leave it overnight in the hopes that whatever found its way in would find its way back out.

It didn't; this morning, the scufflings and scratchings were more insistent, driving me to distraction in my office in the next room. I called several pest control companies that could deal with wildlife, but either didn't get my calls returned or else found their prices in the hundreds of dollars range, far outside the budget I was willing to spend, despite my sincere wish to end the creature's captivity and certain misery, whatever it might be.

Without a solution, I returned to work, but in an hour or so I went to check on the fireplace again. The flue had been closed and the firebox empty; we knew the creature was trapped in the chimney itself. I took the flashlight to check and be sure it hadn't escaped into a worse prison, and the first thing I noticed was tracks - the soot in the firebox had been obviously disturbed. In a few seconds, flashing out of the sooty gloom, a northern flicker flew to the glass doors, anxious to escape but trapped in a gloomy metal box.

(Note: That is not flame in the fireplace, just reflection from the morning's sunlight. And the dust? Soot debris from the bird's escape attempts.)

No way could I leave the bird inside the box - hungry, stressed, scared. But if it got loose in the house, it would be confronted with 20-foot ceilings and innumerable perches constituting a much larger prison and one it would be much harder for me to help it escape from. First, all the doors were closed to limit the scope of area the bird could access; then a shower curtain was strung along the hallway door to remove that egress. A blanket draped from the upper bannister helped block off the stairway, at least in part. The closest outer door (just a few feet from the fireplace) was opened wide, and it was time - all my preparations were accompanied by the bird's increasingly frantic desire to escape.

Cautiously I unlatched the fireplace doors, then flung them quickly wide and stepped back to give the bird easy room to leave. A few seconds later, out he flew - straight out at first, then curving quickly for the open door and out into the blue sky, a soft shower of soot to mark his trail and my cheers echoing behind him.

Quite the traumatic experience for both of us, to be sure. My priority this weekend is to get on the roof and examine the chimney to be sure this cannot happen again, that no unfortunate bird suffers a similar spate of captivity. And as a warning to all readers out there; be sure your chimneys are equally safe!

1 comment:

gardenman13 said...

I met with a client yesterday regarding her complaints of squirrels and other rodents in the country house she's having renovated. Among the points of entry I encouraged her contractor to inspect were the chimney vents and screens, which can rust and fail over time. Anything that looks like a tree and has a hollow character is attractive to a lot of wildlife. Another source of entry, especially for bats, are the tiniest of cracks that edge the overhangs around rough-hewn trusses in oft-time rustic buildings. We found a Little Brown Bat hanging out and downward from just such a sliver, and whether stuck and dead or alive and hibernating alone, we are yet unsure.