Alice Coyle: Close encounters of the bird kind

Alice Coyle

At first I was going to blame it on my son Christopher — the infernal banging noise that woke me up at 6:30 a.m. last Friday. 

Christopher had the day off from school, making it a really good Good Friday for him. I, too, had taken the day off and was looking forward to sleeping in. But Christopher bounced up and out of bed by 6:20 — after all, there were cartoons to watch and video games to play. Had it been a school day, I would have been hard pressed to drag him out of bed at 8:30, moments before we have to leave to beat the morning bell.

But back to the banging to which I was so rudely awakened. My husband heard it, too. Out of my still partially closed eyes, I watched him walk into the bathroom and look out the window, then back across the room to peer out the bedroom window. He was trying to pin down the source of the early morning banging, which was now sounding a little more like knocking and scratching. He also thought it might be our son drumming on a book or tapping his DSi stylus, but fully exonerated Christopher after finding him sitting quietly in his room reading. And then he promptly left for work, satisfied to leave the mysterious noise a mystery.

But I could not. As I stood brushing my teeth, the scratching, knocking and banging was coming to a crescendo right there in my bathroom. With my heart beating fast in my chest, I threw open the shower curtain expecting to find a family of squirrels setting up house in my shower. To my relief the tub was empty -- in need of scrubbing, but squirrel free. 

Still, it sounded like the scratching and banging was coming from behind or beneath the Jacuzzi. How is that even possible, I wondered? My next stop was the walk-in closet, which sits behind the bathroom wall. Could some varmint be cuddling up in my cashmere sweaters? I opened the door slowly and turned on the light. Again, to my relief there were no rats or raccoons in my closet, nor skeletons.

I discovered from whence the racket came while doing laundry in the downstairs bathroom. As I reached in to pull clothes out of the dryer, the location of scratching, knocking and banging became clear, right overhead in the bathroom fan. The bathroom fan has an exhaust vent high up on the back of the house and the scratching and banging was going on right inside that pipe.

I looked up through the plastic light/fan cover and I swear I saw fur or feathers or maybe it was just dust, but something was in there and it sounded like something big and likely to do some damage if allowed to remain there.

I called my husband to let him know I had discovered the source of the banging and scratching was an uninvited houseguest.

“I’m going to have to call an exterminator,” I told him in a panicky voice. “It sounds like some pretty big animal, maybe a squirrel.” 

“OK,” he replied nonchalantly.

It was clear by his distracted and unconcerned tone that the moment he left the house that day, my husband had put the banging and scratching noise out of his mind. 

“You’re going to call an exterminator?!” Christopher demanded, with all the concern and worry my husband lacked.

“Exterminators kill things!” my son exclaimed. “We should release the animal safely into the wild.”

”Yeah, yeah,” I muttered under my breath while flipping through the Yellow Pages under pest control. I scanned the ads looking for local companies and what they kill — I mean release -- into the wild. 

Ants, termites, roaches, bees, mice, rats, even bed bugs, but what about squirrels or birds or other larger critters? I called one company that told me they’d have their guy call me back sometime later that day. Another pest control firm told me they couldn’t get to it until after the weekend. 

“We don’t do squirrels or birds,” the lady at the fourth company I called, said. “But we use a company that does. I’ll have them call you back to set up an appointment.”

Now we were getting somewhere. The scratching and banging had subsided; maybe the critter had worn itself out and drifted off to sleep, I surmised. The phone ringing startled me from musing – it was the pest control company that does squirrels, birds and other large critters.

“You’ve probably got a bird in there,” the man on the phone told me. “It’s spring time, they like to build nests inside those vent pipes.”  

“Okay, so when can you come and get it out of there,” I asked.  

Not until tomorrow, he told me. They were all backed up with birds nesting in people’s exhaust vents. 

Who knew this was such a widespread problem.

When my husband got home, I filled him in on the bird-in-the-vent situation. And of course he decided to take action immediately by climbing up and banging on the bathroom ceiling like a mad man. In addition to scaring the bejesus out of me, my husband succeeded in driving the intruder from the vent. The small black bird flew out of the pipe like a bat out of hell, he reported. 

But the next morning at the crack of dawn the bird was back up to its old tricks, scratching, banging and making a lot more noise than a small bird ought to. Another round of ceiling banging cleared the pipe and before the bird could fly back in, the pest control guy installed an exhaust vent cover designed to keep it and other winged creatures out. We were lucky, he said. We caught it early before the bird had built a nest and destroyed the pipe.

The bird was lucky, too. Other than the frustration and the hard plastic vent cover it experienced when it tried to return to his nesting spot, no injury came to our winged intruder – it has been released safely into the wild.

Alice Coyle is the managing editor of GateHouse Media New England’s Raynham, Mass. office. She can be reached at