April 12, 2019

Last week, I heard a fluttering come from the wood stove in our home as Russell, Casey, and I were playing gin rummy.  We went over to investigate and saw a little starling beating its wings in the ashes, wondering what hell she had found herself in after the long travel down a nearly 50’ stove pipe.  I knew that this was a good opportunity to capture and release her, at least she wasn’t flapping above us near our ceiling.

I have to explain something about this farm house.  It is the original barn of the property from 1850s. In 1971, it was converted into a home by a successful architect Stanley Tigerman.  By his book, Designing Bridges to Burn, it is obvious that he was his biggest fan.  As a far unique barn conversion into an architectural oddity, it is top notch. Though as a family home, it lacks a few things.  Namely: walls, doors, windows that open, and ceilings. Now we have a few of those things, but none really that function well during a flying invader scenario.  As you walk into the front door of our house, one can see the open pit of the basement, the whole first floor, the knee-walled second floor, and even the ceilings of the barn above the third floor master suite.  The only doors are on the bathrooms and basement auxiliary spaces. All walls are knee walls, unless on the perimeter of the barn. Most windows are triangles, and none open, though there are few permanently screened vents.  All of this means that if a bird gets in our house, it flies to the tippy top and does not want to come down to the first floor door, its only escape.

So, the boys and I prepared with our IKEA laundry bag were ready to pounce, though I’m not sure they understood the gravity of the situation.  As we slowly opened the stove door with bag covering every gap possible, the starling quickly avoided the bag and flew straight up to the ceiling.

Now if you search on the interweb for how to remove birds, all of them start talking about isolating the bird, closing doors, and opening windows.  There are no hand guides for this rogue barn structure. Still, I opened the front door and hoped for the best. We tried making a combination of short guttural yelps and bird whistling as close as we could to it, to scare it downstairs.  It had plenty of space to flutter around along the ceiling and watched as we ran up and down the spiral staircase, along the knee-walled hallways. We tried a nerf gun, shooting near it, hoping the whizzing bullets would encourage a downstairs movement.  Nothing. No broom could come close to where this bird could go on the tracked lighting at the peak. Farmers, shepherds, and parents of obese children use food to get animals places they want them to go. So I tried plates of bird seed near the front door to entice her down.  I went up to Beckett’s 3rd floor room where the ceiling is a bit closer and his knee-walls, though more like neck-walls, are a favorite perch for invading birds. I thought I could lure it close enough, and while drunk on the plate of seed, grab it with my lightning fast reflexes.  Obviously that didn’t happen, though I did get within six feet of it before it flew again. I also left a trail of bird seed in my son’s room and the rooms below trying to pitch little bits of it closer to the starling.

The most miraculous part of the story I did not witness.  My oldest son, Beckett, had two friends over for a Friday night sleepover and were loudly gaming as the bird continued to hide and fly around (front door still open two hours later).  I guess the bird decided it was done and landed right next to Beckett as he played and he just reached out and grabbed it. After taking a good look at the starling up close, we released it and washed our hands.  Not the first time I’ve dealt with a bird on the inside, but probably the longest duration, well until now.

Technically, now it’s a bat.   I think it all started this past weekend when Sue and Ted visited to put up some bat houses on the garage and two barns.  Do you know that some bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour? Actually, many people know this and still do not put up bat houses because of some serious bat prejudice.  Though some of it may be deserved (who likes rabies?) we put up three houses, enough for 900 bats at full capacity. Unfortunately, it can take up to two years for bats to find the houses, but a timeline like that is pretty common in farm projects.  So we put up the bat houses, and then on Tuesday night, after a long tiring day, we all lay down and notice another fluttering. We all look straight up the ceiling of the barn as we lay and can’t believe it’s happening again. We thought bird, until I went up the hallway to investigate and saw it coming straight at me.  Instincts threw me to the ground and cover my face. It quietly flapped the other direction, and I tried to regain composure. How do you put kids to bed at night as a bat flutters around above their heads?

Similar technique tried for the bird, though it’s colder, darker, and windier outside.  Open the doors and try to use strategic lighting to scare its way down. Bats don’t enjoy light, right?  Again, the internet fails us as it speaks of gloves as you grab it (no way) and professionals coming (at 10:00 PM in rural Michigan?).  With the door open, and some family coaxing, we guide it downstairs. It flutters from the basement to the first floor with ease, which is my domain as the appointed bat lead person (non-binary living and copyright infringement make me want to avoid the obvious).  Armed with a broom and croquet mallet I do my best to scare it toward the door, perhaps with the smell of my own fear rather than the broom or mallet. It works! No bat. Double check with flashlight in all the dark corners, and I declare the house bat free. Now, I didn’t see it leave, but I really felt it was gone.  Close up the doors and get ready for much awaited sleep. We all lay down in separate bedrooms, leave a couple more lights on than usual and start to drift away.

Casey says he sees it first.  “Little child, you have such an active imagination, Dad got rid of the-” nope, it’s right there again.  Door opens, more light action, more swatting and cajoling this blind beast, and an even more resounding possibility that it is gone.  I saw it fly by the door, but not out. A technicality that apparently matters. Again, all back in bed, thinking the bat is gone for good.  Ten minutes roll by and the boys are asleep. We lay there and listen to the wind. Murmur about the bat. It flutters again over our head. I decide I’m done and ready to sleep.  I knew the hours put into the bird, and wasn’t ready to invest that. Molly went downstairs and opened up the front door and its double door. A far superior method, I was made to understand later.  She came back to bed “Mission accomplished.” She is the professional bat removal expert we had been waiting for. I noticed the next morning we still have a Halloween decoration on our front door that’s a bat.  I laughed at it, my wife can take care of you!

The next night.  Bats are nocturnal.  Somebody was pretty quiet during the day, but chooses bedtime to come out and play.  The bat flutters around, starts to bother the younger boys. I find them in my bed with Molly after I go through the whole open doors, lights on rigamarole.  “Come on guys, back to bed, I know I got the bat this time.” Nothing, no signs of bat. Maybe a few less stink bugs and flies in this farm house than I remember.

Night three.  The bat now lives here.  He’s a quiet roommate. Has late hours, but cleans up his area of the house.  The days have been so windy, that we couldn’t leave the doors open during the day.  Will bats even escape during the day? Nights have been rainy and cold. How many hours can you leave the front door open, or both (if you are using the superior method). At the minimum, the barn cats will definitely find their way in.  

I wish there was a neat little ending to this tale of winged guests, but there is none.  I wanted to write about how wind affects the farm and how that weather makes for the most unpredictable issues on the farm.  You always think about rain, heat, and cold as the things to prepare for, but really wind can be the hardest to work in. It knocks limbs onto fences, tears a sheet of metal off a lean-to as you are pulling out of the driveway to bring the kids to school, etc.  Instead, this one bat and the events that lead up to it, are on my mind. Embracing the capricious nature of life, allowing the wind to blow me in the direction where I should put my attention, seem appropriate lessons. Does this mean I have to live with a bat?