The Saga of Gutter Thrush – Winter, 2010

Gemma Radko
ABC Communications and Media Manager

 As I left the ABC office in downtown Washington D.C., my mind was on nothing more than enduring the chilly commute home, then finishing my mundane Monday list of must-dos…make dinner, take out the trash, etc. As I dashed across the darkening street, a small, huddled shape in the gutter on the opposite side caught my eye. It was a bird – not a House Sparrow, or a starling, or a pigeon – the most usual suspects in a busy city. As I came closer, I saw the bird was a thrush, crouched pathetically in the gutter, seemingly in shock.

I have experience handling birds from years of banding, so I immediately scooped this bird up. It was alive, but not resistant at all. One of its eyes was closed, and it looked completely exhausted. What to do? I didn’t want to leave it in the city. The bird had probably collided with a window or building as it was migrating, and was suffering from who-knows-what kind of shock and trauma.
Since my commute involves a 40-minute train ride, followed by a 30-minute car trip, I still hesitated. But I couldn’t see any other way around it – I wasn’t going to leave this poor thing in the gutter in the freezing cold to suffer. So, onto the train I went, with the thrush in my coat pocket to keep it warm.

The other commuters on the train were probably wondering about the worried-looking woman who wouldn’t take her hand out of her coat pocket…but the thrush and I made it to the end of the line without incident. There, I tried to release the bird into a wooded area next to the station. But the bird just huddled miserably on my hand, and wouldn’t fly. My Monday evening was not going according to plan…

Fortunately, there is a wild animal rescue center not far from the station – so away we drove, the thrush resting comfortably in an impromptu nest made out of my ABC baseball cap. Unfortunately, it was late, and the rescue center was closed, so, against my better judgment, I took the bird home. I’ve had experience with traumatized wild birds before, and know how fragile they can be, so I didn’t really expect the thrush to survive the night. However, I made it comfortable in a rag-lined shoebox, put it in the spare bedroom with the door closed to protect it from my four indoor cats, then hoped for the best.

In the morning, the Hermit Thrush (I finally got a good enough look at it to determine the species) was still alive and more active than the previous evening, so once again, I tried to release it, this time in the woodlot behind my house. The bird tried to flutter away, but it couldn’t get far. Off to the rehab center again – which was open this time, thank goodness. As I surrendered the bird to care far more competent than my own, the staff told me this was the second Hermit Thrush they’d received in the past day with collision-related injuries.

The Hermit Thrush is there now, with medicine for its eye, all the mealworms it can eat, and a warm place to rest and recover. Whew!

The whole experience really brought home the issue of bird/building collisions – when birds literally fall out of the sky at your feet, it’s hard to ignore! I feel fortunate that I work for American Bird Conservancy, can share some of what I know about the issue, and can perhaps inspire more people to get involved in our search for effective solutions.

Postscript: Unfortunately, when I called the rescue center a few days later to check on the thrush, I found that it did not survive its collision-related injuries.

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