Friday, July 24, 2009

Runaway hamster and escaped finches

It’s been more than a month since my finch pairs produced any new nestlings. For a while, there was always a batch or two of tiny white eggs among my collection of 2 nest boxes and 5 hanging nest baskets. After the last one hatched more than a month ago though, there have no more baby birds to grace the inside of my big bird cage; and without cute little clumsy babies in there, it's just not as fun. In fact, the last hatchling of two months ago is almost grown up now. I wonder what’s going on? Although, thinking back, I DO have my suspicions.

For one thing, about three weeks ago Divine closed the cage door without fully sliding the latch closed. About an hour later we were doing some gardening together when a suddenly horrified Divine pointed behind me at the cage, exclaiming that the door was open. I hurried through the porch and breezeway and back around to the cage door. Closing it behind me I began counting birds—I was quite crestfallen learning that nine had escaped.

Escape is the wrong word since it seems that none of them really desired to be on the outside. They continued to hang around, most choosing to perch directly on top of the cage netting while chirping away at their friends, mates and offspring still on the inside. Right away I began to scheme on how to retrieve my lost children.

I felt a bit of déjà vous going back almost 40 years to the time when my family still lived in my grandma’s house where I slept downstairs in her semi-finished basement. While there we had a hamster that managed to escape from its little metal cage. This particular one was an excellent climber and soon found its way up into the drop ceiling that had been recently installed by my father. I figured that whatever trap I came up with, it was going to have to be set up there on top of the ceiling panels where my quarry had made its new home. It was unsettling, having to listen to it scratch and scrabble around up there as I lay in bed trying to sleep.

I knew it must be getting hungry. Rodents love to eat; they do so continuously and often. I deduced that hamster feed pellets would be the key to the trap. Now, what of the actual trap itself; what would it consist of? I settled on a plastic milk jug. Cutting the top off so that it was just big enough for a hamster to crawl through, I balanced the jug on its side so that most of it hovered off the edge of two thick stacked books. I put a few pellets around the opening of the jug to get the furry critter's attention and placed a much more generous amount inside the plastic jug, knowing that the weight of the pellets would help catch my wayward hamster; my plan being that their considerable weight would prevent the captured animal from being able to push the jug back over on its side (hopefully).

With one final check I stepped down off the back of the old couch after returning the ceiling panel into its position smooth with the rest of the panels. Sprawling on the old green couch I absentmindedly watched TV, determined to keep an ear sharp for the telltale sounds of a captured hamster. Nonetheless, I fell asleep. Sometime later I was startled awake by strange bumping sounds. For a second or two, forgetting about the hamster and my trap, I had no idea what it was. But then, eureka! I realized I had caught the prodigal critter and on my very first attempt. The sound was it trying to re-spring itself from the jug by pushing it back over.

Excitedly jumping back up on the couch, I exploded the panel back out of the way and popped my head through. From the inside of the now upright jug, the hamster was very nearly able to push it over on its side; but each time the weight of the pellets kept that from happening. With a thumping plop, the jug would re-right itself, even if only just barely; thus, the bumping sounds. It felt great outwitting that naughty little rascal.

"Ha! I got you!" I yelled down at it inside the jug, where it stood up on its hind legs looking up at me, its whiskers moving as it sniffed the air in my direction.

Jump forward from 1971 to 2009. Instead of a silly hamster, I have to figure out how to recapture 9 flighty little finches. Divine was so depressed and down on herself for leaving the door open that I felt bad too; I wanted to retrieve the birds mostly to make her feel better. After all, finches are cheap; it would be easier to simply buy new ones. The idea of abandoning the lost finches was not something she wanted to accept though, and she pleaded with me to try.

The obvious trap is to use a birdcage, but we had given away all the ones we had from our original bird purchases when we had rid ourselves of the larger fancy birds. I told Divine we needed another little cage if I was going to have any chance at success. She came back with a cage that afternoon and so I went to work.

Luckily the cage door slid upward to open with gravity causing it to guillotine shut when released. Perfect—if I could get a bird to go in, all I had to do was figure out how to release it and let gravity do the rest. In five minutes I had fashioned a release mechanism from a heavy piece of wire. I attached 30 feet of green nylon ribbon string to it to act as a lanyard.

Next, we placed the cage, now filled with bird seed and water, near the back of the big bird cage just around the corner from where the maid washes clothes. I instructed Divine and the maid to check it every few minutes telling them to give the ribbon a good strong yank if they saw a finch inside. Within an hour Divine burst into the room exclaiming that she’d just sprung the door on two finches at once. Over the next two days we had recovered 7 of the 9 lost finches, along with three unwanted and very frantic sparrows, which, of course, we released. Not bad. As far as the other two finches, we never saw them again.

When I started this post yesterday I had assumed that the trauma of the inadvertent escape from several weeks ago had put the finches off their reproductive cycles. Either that or all the hard rain of late has discouraged them from doing what finches do best—procreating. But, as of this afternoon I can say with all certainty that I was wrong. I just did a check of all my nest baskets and boxes and was pleased to find that two of the nests have a full load of tiny eggs. So, baby finches are on the way once again!


Ed said...

Wasn't there some cheesy board came called MouseTrap or something like that where you had to make similar traps? It is a good thing we fall on the more intelligent side of the spectrum.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Speak for yourself Ed Abbey! grin

Hope said...

I'm thinking more and more about getting finches for the kids.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Going to build a big bird cage for 'em too? Yeah, do it! It'll be cool.