Virtue & Mischief: The birds


This past Saturday morning I noticed we had a critical mass of leaves strewn across our driveway and southwest corner of our front yard. For the purposes of the current discussion, “critical mass” means “a quantity sufficient to trigger Mrs. Amigo’s heavy sighs which translate to ‘Tim, I’m just curious. Do the [cue Carl Sagan voice here] billions and billions of yellow and brown Silver Maple, Pin Oak, and Tulip tree leaves all over our yard and driveway bother you at all?’”

I hate those heavy sights, not to mention the Carl Sagan voice.

So after lunch I put on a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket, a stocking cap, and fingerless gloves, raised the garage door, and walked over to grab a couple of brooms and rakes. Luke, the youngest amigo, was slated to help me out so I wanted to grab all the necessary gear and be ready by the time he (finally) made it outside. I took three steps inside the garage and noticed something odd in my peripheral vision, to my right and on the ground.

A tiny motionless sparrow, recumbent on the concrete. Weird. A dead bird in our garage? Wonder how that happened? I thought to myself. I shook my head and felt a frisson of sorrow at the poor bird’s fate. I took another step or two toward the back wall of the garage in order to retrieve the rakes, but halted when I spied four more avian creatures, lying still on the ground, their deceased bodies forming the vertices of a small rectangle.

Five dead sparrows sprawled on our garage floor, bodies stiff and eyes closed. No blood, no sign of broken bones, no predators visibly roaming in the near vicinity. How did the birds get in and what was the cause of their death? I looked around for signs of disease or poisoning. I inspected the contents of our garage for bags or containers with anything inside that could conceivably have poisoned them. Nothing. I was flummoxed, and even a little “weirded out,” as the amigos might put it, probably owing to my recent “Stranger Things” binge.

Krista had taken Abby to play tennis at the Y, so the spot in the garage normally occupied by the van was empty. I called Krista on her cell phone to ask if she’d noticed anything “unusual” when she and Abby had departed. “No,” she replied, but admitted they were in such a hurry that it was possible they rushed in the van and backed out without noticing the bird carnage.

I was tempted to make chalk outlines of the victims, but decided against it. Not even my twisted sense of humor could really justify something so callous. I left the birds as they were because I wanted Krista and the amigos to witness their positions, the better (or so I hoped) to devise unique and relevant cause-of-death theories. Abby was stumped, as were the boys, but Krista wondered if they hadn’t flown in together the night before when she returned from work.

“Maybe they’ve been in here all night and died somehow trying to get out,” she ventured.

“And you and Abby didn’t noticed five bird corpses when you climbed in the van to go to the Y?”

“It’s possible?” she offered, more a question than a statement.

I was skeptical. I could see Abby failing to see them in her haste, but Krista? Seemed unlikely for the woman whose “Scooby sense” is sent into overdrive whenever a dining room chair is a few centimeters askew, a shoe is partially untied, or a molecule of schmutz is affixed to a family member’s light colored shirt. Krista and Abby walked to the house while I heard echoes of the X-Files theme music in my brain.

I began my outdoor chores while Krista delved into some research. Abby emerged a few minutes later while Luke and I were brushing leaves down the driveway toward Avenue E.

“Dad!” she exclaimed. “Guess what??? Mom googled ‘dead birds in a garage’ and found out that finding dead birds is a Norwegian omen for death!”

“Really. Well, now, that’s serious. An Irish omen wouldn’t concern me too much. A German omen? Meh. A Pashtun or Finnish omen might cause me a little consternation. But a NORWEGIAN omen—better get out the family sack cloth and ashes! We might as well have a preemptive wake, right here and now.”


“No, really. But I’m curious—does finding the dead birds in a garage make a difference? Maybe the fact that we found them in a garage means we’re inoculated from the death omen or something.”


“On the other hand, maybe finding them in the garage acts as a force multiplier! Maybe we’re all toast, and everyone we contact over the next 24 hours…oh, it’s just too horrible to think about!”

“Daaad!” she protested again as she walked back into the house. For the next couple of hours, Luke and I swept and raked and mused about the cause and meaning of the dead birds.

The next morning Krista departed for her daily morning walk. I fixed a pot of coffee and checked my email while the kids took showers and got ready for church. About an hour later, Krista entered the house, a Cheshire cat grin on her face.

“I think I was right about the birds. Come with me, Tim. Our mystery is solved.”

I put my coffee down, put on some shoes, and followed her to the side of the garage. Krista pointed to the window of the garage’s side door, a half foot above the door handle. There, wedged between the glass of the window and some peg-board covering the window from the inside, was another dead bird. He had obviously sensed some light from emanating from the holes in the peg-board, sensed it might be an escape route, found his way to the window through a gap in the side, and desperately tried to peck his way out—no doubt expiring in exhaustion and futility.

“I think that’s our answer, Tim. I was right. They were trapped and died trying to get out.”

Perhaps, I thought. Perhaps not. As Mulder and Scully might have said, “…the truth is out there….”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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