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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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To trap a sparrow
Avian adventures, fraught with panic

Our son Tucker's laugh is a manic, fluttery yodel. Like the sound of a cuckoo clock being thrown down a flight of stairs. When he's startled, which happens easily, his scream sounds almost exactly the same as his laugh.

It was the scream version that came up from the basement.

The holidays are times of hilarity and horror. Tucker turned the basement into his winter-break bunker. Until now, things had been quiet down there.

"A bird! There's a bird! Flying around in the basement!"

There was no question I would draw the short straw on this. Down the steps I went.

From upstairs came the frantic voices of Peggy, Tucker and our other son, Riley, calling out instructions. The gauze of focus and fear inside my head caused their voices, yammering away in a three-part run-on sentence, to sound like they were a block away:

"Don't let it fly upstairs. Get a blanket. Keep it downstairs. Where is it? Did you see it? Have you seen it yet? Is it big? Did you find it? Look in the laundry room. What is it? Is it a bird?"

The basement, unlike the kitchen, was still. I was convinced the bird would fly from a dark corner directly into my face, so I kept my gaze high. I toed open the bathroom door like a vice cop packing heat.

Nothing. Upstairs, the insane voices.

"Get a tennis racket! You want a tennis racket? Don't hurt it! Is it down there? You want a bat? Get a bat. Don't hurt it!"

They're not called house sparrows for nothing. A tiny dot of movement caught my eye and WHOA! There he was! A little, brown-feathered coffee cup. He looked at me. "Tiktik," he said.

I can scream, too. And that's by God what I did all the way up the steps. In a flash I was in the warm embrace of my family, who were still shouting instructions even though I was standing right there. "Warm embrace" is not altogether accurate, since as soon as I launched myself into the kitchen, six hands were pushing me back to the mouth of the staircase, the portal to the crazed bird who would do God knows what before leaving me a pecked pile of carrion.

My first attempt at a blanket throw was close but no cigar. After that, the sparrow abandoned his air campaign. What a dumb-ass. He was now locked in a ground strategy that gave me and my arsenal of covers the upper hand. I stalked the Serengeti and soon spied him hippity-hopping into the laundry room.

I sat down in a chair. I was getting a little throw-uppy. Instructions continued unabated from above.

"Where is it now? Do you have a blanket? What do you have? Do you need a blanket? What do you need? What's it doing? Where'd it go? What's going on? Do you see it? Are you using a blanket?"

Like the arrival of the cavalry, Tucker appeared at the bottom of the steps.

"Here," he said, and handed me a medium-sized plastic basket and a large piece of cardboard. Then he aimed himself across the space. "I'll flush him out."

Proud? Damn straight I was proud. There are father/son moments in life, you know. To see him disappear into the danger of the laundry room? Well, I choked back tears. And vomit.

The house sparrow is found in nearly every region of the world. That helps explain why the species comes with significant folklore. In Indonesia, for example, a sparrow flying into your home portends good luck. Not so elsewhere.

In Europe, a sparrow flying into the home is seen as a sign of impending death. One variation decrees that the catcher of the sparrow must kill it or else he will be the one who dies.

I looked this up for your benefit. After the fact. If I knew about this when the bird came in, I would have simply put our house up for sale and waited it out at the Aloha Inn.

Tucker's effort paid off, even though the sparrow's reappearance caused my hunting partner to rocket back upstairs. But I had birdy cornered. He wore a beard of dryer lint.

"Tiktik," he said.

The next 60 seconds are a heart-bursting blur of adrenaline. The basket and cardboard trap worked like a charm, but Monsieur Sparrow didn't like it one bit and rattled around like firecrackers under a coffee can.

Peggy and Tucker watched him standing out in the snow until he spread his wings and took flight right into the oncoming grill of a car. That caused Tucker's cuckoo-clock scream to go off.

But the sparrow made it across the street, where he landed, resplendent in his new down coat made of lint.

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