Some deaths make waves. They’re noticed, written about, talked about, mourned.
Other deaths, not so much.
Yesterday morning, I noticed a bird lying in the grass just a few feet from the back deck. It was a Cedar Waxwing, as the brilliant yellow tail tips and the crest made clear. I thought it might be stunned, so I kept my distance so as not to frighten it further.
But I saw no flutter of feathers, no glitter of eye, no movement of breath. The little creature was dead. I lifted it and turned it over.
There was no blood, but the feathers were disarrayed and perhaps damaged. Was this a result of sitting in dew-wet grass for hours? Or had the bird been hurt?
I was surprised at how heavy the little bird felt in my hand.
A living bird feels so much lighter. (The Baltimore Orioles below are held by ornithologist Eric Slayton, but I had the opportunity to handle a couple of birds on this bird banding trip to the Bronx.)
I wondered if the Cedar Waxwing was a juvenile. I saw only the faintest yellow on its underparts, and no sign of the bright, waxy-looking red wingtips that give the bird its common name.
But Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds maintains that the “red wax tips” are not always present. And the damage to the birds’ breast feathers may have destroyed the yellow of the under feathers. So I assume this was an adult. Whether male or female, I can’t say, since male and female waxwings are close to identical to an untrained eye like mine.
The bird looked peaceful in its oddly settled pose, even when I set it down for a moment on the picnic table.
I wonder what happened to it. Did it escape from a cat, only to die later of internal injuries? Had it flown into something, and suffered injury? Or was it ill and could simply fly no further?
I took it down to a scrubby patch by the bay, and left it there, thinking some scavenger would appreciate the morsel. A day later, it remained untouched.
R.I.P., Cedar Waxwing and all small creatures at the end of their days.