Flu over the cuckoo's nest 

I don’t understand all this concern over the bird flu.

I mean, I’m as much of an animal lover as anybody, but Lord have mercy we all get the flu from time to time when one of these big epidemics occurs, and all there is to do for it is take some Tylenol, some Contac, some Formula 44, and drink plenty of fluids, and stay in the bed for a few days.

In the birds’ case, that would be staying in the nest for a few days, which, for Baltimore Orioles and other birds that build really comfortable nests, wouldn’t be bad at all.

It might be boring, inasmuch as birds don’t have TVs to help them pass the time, but it wouldn’t be anything to get alarmed about, to cause all these big headlines and these Hong Kong and Tyson poultry growers to go out and slaughter all their chickens, turkeys, whooping cranes and all, even the ones with just mild cases.

I don’t mean to belittle the birds’ suffering, but you know all of God’s creatures have their little ups and downs — look at what humans had to endure with Katrina and the tsunami and all — but you just have to get through it and pick yourself up and move on. Nobody wants to hear all the moaning and groaning.

Not that I’d want to eat a turkey or chicken that had had a bad case of it when the fowl version of the Grim Reaper showed up. Turkeys with the flu can have just as much of a problem with phlegm and all that other mess as we do, and prandial thoughts and reflections on that just aren’t very appetizing.

Medical authorities are comparing this bird flu outbreak to the one that wreaked havoc on us humans back during the First World War, and if it really is that serious then birds would be well advised to take some precautions. Those shots are no fun but they can save your gizzard. But you can’t tell a bird anything. I’ve tried to, many times, but they just act like you’re not there.

These sparrows that build their nests here in the eaves of the house, for example. I don’t tear those nests out and give the eggs to the cat because I enjoy it. It breaks my heart. It really does. But I’ve warned them till I’m just wore out. I’ve put up signs: No trespassing. Go away! They just poop on the signs. And build more nests, lay more eggs. And the heartless cat just sits back and smiles.

I suppose flu is a bigger deal with birds, wild birds, than with people, and not just because birds are so stubborn about submitting to sensible treatment regimens, resting in the nest and plenty of fluids and so forth. Flu is a bigger deal with the birds because it attacks them in their basic nature.

Their purpose in the scheme of things to sing and be happy, to flit around and bring joy to the other fauna, showing us the harmoniousness of Intelligent Design. But a bird with the flu just can’t do that. Just about the last thing a warbler with the flu wants to do is warble. It hates the very thought of warbling. It would rather die than warble, its eyes little crosses, its feet straight up in the air. The same thing with a lark larking.

Or can you imagine what all that hammering does to the congested head of a woodpecker with the flu? Even blue jays, ordinarily irrepressible, turn sardonic when the flu strikes. The crow with the flu is the most sullen of all the woodland denizens. It will sit on a limb indefinitely, frizzed and miserable and apathetic, looking like Abraham Lincoln did in 1864. Big old bags under its eyes, its heart filled with a kind of cosmic contempt.

A robin with the flu loses all its enthusiasm for being the early bird that gets the worm. You couldn’t even give it a worm. It’s a pitiful spectacle, and like a bent link or kink in the great chain of being. It’s true you can’t pluck a flower without troubling a star, and it’s just as true that you can’t give a bird the flu without sending a shudder through the universe, one that may reverberate eternally.

Especially here in the migration season. You don’t want to travel with the flu. You certainly don’t want to fly. And you certainly certainly don’t want to fly 2,000 miles nonstop, doing your own flapping, drawing the will and the courage for it from that well of animal determination that is always the very first target of the flu.

But you might as well save your breath advising any of them, hummingbird to pelican, to put it off for a few days until they’ve recuperated a little and got some of their strength back. When that seasonal alarm sounds inside their numb skulls, they’re going to light out, even knowing there’s no way they’re going to make it as far as the other side of the yard.


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