Last night, I wrote about bird banding and how I’m not sure if I’ll be sharing it with Violet when she arrives at the appropriate age. My uncertainty is tied to a single image – a small, dead bird in my hand. While bird safety is the main priority in bird banding, it’s almost inevitable that during the process of catching and handling the birds, an injury or a death may occur. It happened to me six years ago with a chickadee that was extremely tangled in the net, and I took too long to get it out. It might have been stress that did it in, or the net may have been wrapped too tightly around its neck. Whatever it was, I knew the instant it was dead. A living bird feels one way, a dead bird feels another, and I felt it change from the former to the latter in the matter of a moment, and I couldn’t help but feel as though I had stopped its heart with my own fingers. It was alive before I came into its life, and then it wasn’t. I have seen other banders lose birds, and I’ve seen birds injured, as well. Broken wings. Legs cut, broken, or amputated. Percentage-wise, however, these incidents happen very infrequently. Of the thousands of birds I’ve banded or seen banded, it’s so rare that I can remember with clarity each injury or fatality. The scientist in me says that these are acceptable losses, that the benefits outweigh the damage. Banding research has led to habitat preservation and conservation, as well as the expansion of knowledge of bird species, the world over. Aren’t these strides worth the loss?
At this point, you may be wondering how this relates to Violet, and it comes down to one word: compromise. The scientist in me says that in a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits of banding are worth the losses, but the philosophical side of me, the side that decided to stop eating meat all those years ago, the side that believes I should, in this life, do as little harm as possible – that side disagrees. It places the image of the small, dead bird into my mind every time I head out the door to go banding. That side says I should not participate in something that has not yet figured out how to avoid such unfortunate consequences. And so I compromise. I tell myself that since bird banding will go on even if I don’t participate, I need to take part and do what I can to make sure it’s done as safely as possible. I tell myself that the data I help collect will be used by scientists in countries across the globe, tomorrow, next year, and for years to come, and chances are it will be used to save birds and habitat. I tell myself that it’s just a few birds out of millions.
And don’t we all make compromises like this? I’ve talked to friends about this before and some tell me, “That’s what it means to grow up. You learn to accept the world as an imperfect place,” and I hate that answer. I hate it because it smacks of giving up. It’s a notion that leads too many of us to shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, what can you do?” when faced with unfortunate situations, big or small. I don’t want Violet to become a complacent adult, unmoved by a dead bird in her hand. I want her to understand the wrongness and responsibility inherent in that image.
So where does that leave me? I'll fill you in on the rest tomorrow...