By Carol Garlington, Wildlife Watcher

The flicker was eating from the suet when I tromped through knee high snow to scatter seed to the sparrows and quail. I tried to be quick and not look directly at him. I didn’t want to disturb his meal. In previous encounters, I’d had only seconds to appreciate the gorgeous black bow tie like feathers on his chest, the bright orange under his wings, the power of his long thin bill which can drive into trees – before he would sense me and fly away. Had I realized he was eating, I would have waited to take food to the other birds.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw huge wings flap but a bird going nowhere. I turned to face the frantic flicker, his foot caught in the ornament to which the suet cage was attached. Crying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I struggled across the snow to help him. He relaxed his powerful body into my hands and met my eyes as I figured out how his bleeding foot was trapped and worked to free it without causing further injury. Blood and tears dripped into the snow. Finally, I was able to set him down on a drift. He waited an instant before spreading his wings and taking off in flight.

I texted our flicker-loving neighbor to watch out for an injured bird. I moved the suet to a safer location. Thoughts turned to people who trap animals and birds on purpose. I grabbed the snow shovel and started digging and sobbing both from relief at seeing him fly and anger that we are in the midst of trapping season. There was enough snow with more coming down sideways from the wind to keep me shoveling for a couple of hours.

Normally, all birds would have avoided such noise and activity but not that day. First one flicker flew to the tree above my head and kept me company. Two more came and tried to feed simultaneiously from the safely placed suet A fourth flicker flew to the edge of a flowerpot, waiting her turn to eat. I don’t know if the bird who had let me free him was one of them but I hope so.

Years ago, we once assisted a water-logged dragon-fly to dry off his wings. By the time the rains stopped, he was able to fly. Hours later, a thousand dragon-flies landed on us, covering our bodies for a few moments before disappearing in the sky. The flickers’ surrounding me while I worked brought back that memory of grace and connection. If everyone could feel this, purposely set traps would disappear.