Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Does One Bird Matter?

I have often been accused of wearing my heart on my shirt sleeve and openly displaying my emotions, sometimes to a fault, especially when it comes to wildlife and conservation issues.

I often find myself attempting to help an injured Robin as passionately as I oppose senseless habitat destruction to a local planning board, or blocking oncoming traffic for crossing geese and on the same day dealing with issues concerning protecting nesting Bald Eagle.

Some folks tell me as President of Bergen County Audubon Society I need to think in more scientific terms as far as what is more important to the conservation movement, the life of one bird or protecting the environment for all birds. Some tell me that conservation money may be better spent elsewhere than funding wildlife rehabilitation centers that can only save one bird at a time.

Since I am not a scientist and rarely do what others think I should do, my persistent answer to them is that “every bird’s life is important.”

This has been a week of watching videos of policemen, individuals and friends rescuing ducks from storm drains which still warms my heart to watch. And sadly it has been a week of seemingly endless calls to my home from concerned folks with dead or injured birds from window strikes.

Situations that may be unrelated as far as conservation issues are concerned yet still a demonstration on the fight for survival. Sometimes it’s hard to decide where to turn or what to think.  But there was an unforgettable situation that made me realize that every bird deserves and wants a chance to survive.

A few years ago we discovered a scared, badly injured Broad-winged hawk with its wing hanging down, panting, and panicked on the floor of a wooden walking bridge. The Broad-wing is a magnificent raptor that is usually seen migrating high in the sky in “kettles,” which can number in the thousands. Grabbing my jacket I threw it over the hawk to keep it calm. To avoid those nasty talons, I wrapped the covered bird in my arms like a baby and then scrambled to find a box or container to carefully transport the injured hawk to safety

As I held this bird in my arms images went through my head of it flying with thousands of others of its kind, encircling the clouds like tiny mystical flecks in the sky, and then I thought of birders, masses of birders, counting their numbers from far, far below where they can only gaze up and imagine what it might be like to soar in the heavens as only they can.

Perhaps this hawk had been seen by hawk-watchers and counted in many places along their perilous migration route and now, right here, I held an individual creature that is sometimes only appreciated in large numbers in my arms. There was no question that this hawk was an individual, and as worthy and deserving of as much help as anyone could give it.

As I unwrapped the Broadie and gently attempted to lower it into the box it turned over and dug its talons into my jacket, as we had our kind of Mexican standoff.  I could see its eyes, frightened and at the same time noble, scared but unwavering, and gallant, fearful but just as determined to survive. There was no question, no second thoughts or any speculating on whether this was the right thing to do.

Through the help of many good people our injured hawk made it to the Raptor Trust, the premier and legendary raptor rehabilitation center in Millington, New Jersey. Sadly, it did not survive, but we sure gave it a chance it would never have had and it did not have to die alone.

Some question whether or not we should interfere with injured wildlife. Some say we should turn away, let nature takes it course and focus our conservation attentions elsewhere. Maybe this would have some credence if man didn’t build giant buildings with windows that cost millions of birds their lives every year.

We possibly could ignore birds needing help if we didn’t destroy much of the habitat they need to survive and poison what is left of it. There is no reason why we should or need to choose one or the other. We can do both, protect the places that birds need to live and thrive, and save the individual that need our help.

Will the life of a single bird matter in the great scheme of things? Probably not, but doesn’t the life of a single creature deserve our help? They all fight to survive despite our unending onslaught of habitat destruction .They still endure even though we pollute their air and water, and they continue to withstand the cars and tall buildings that get in their way of continuing their migration and ultimately cost many their life.

There is one modest, unscientific and unpretentious reason why we should help. It is simply because we can.

7 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Does One Bird Matter?

  1. Dee

    Thank you Don for your compassion and insight. A very beautifully written and eloquent piece truly from the heart. I see each bird as an individual and each special in his or her own way – every bird matters.

  2. Dr. Roselyn Rauch

    I would love to see something done, on a GRAND SCALE, whereby no new buildings or replacement windows could be such that they cause such large avian demise.

  3. Icram

    Sad to hear about the broadie passing. What a beautiful bird indeed. I am of the same mindset; save them all!

  4. Louis Discepola

    I always enjoy and look forward to reading your Meadowlands blog. This one has now become my favorite. It captures the true meaning of what it means to be an environmentalist / conservationist. Thanks.


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