Column: Helping our feathered and furry friends in need

  • Ryan Hodnett photograph -- Wikimedia Commons Ryan Hodnett photograph — Wikimedia Commons

  • Becky Sabky. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 3/28/2020 10:10:13 PM
Modified: 3/28/2020 10:10:11 PM

The “Crooked Half Mile” is my favorite part of my morning commute. It’s a section of a Norwich road that twists and turns like a roller coaster. There are no houses on this part of the road, but rather a rambling stream, some tall evergreens and a steep riverbank. On this particular day, though, there was something else on the road. And it needed my help.

At first, I drove past the chickadee, thinking it was already roadkill. But with a 25 mph speed limit, I noticed movement in its chest. After passing the bird, I couldn’t help but turn the car around.

After a quick examination through the car window, “Chick,” as my son named him, was breathing, had some movement, but clearly wasn’t able to fly. With two toddlers in the car, I knew I couldn’t safely drive while taking care of him. I stepped out of the car and placed the bird in a seemingly safe section of the woods. Then, I headed to my sister’s house nearby and borrowed a sock and a shoebox from my nephew’s room. (I washed my hands as a safety precaution.)

When I returned, I called VINS. With their advice, I lifted the bird with the sock and placed him in the (hole-punched) shoebox. Then, I drove to Quechee.

This wasn’t the first injured creature I’ve seen on an Upper Valley road. I’ve watched a skunk hobble off an Enfield road to disappear into the woods. I’ve seen a deer with an apparently broken leg struggle on a Norwich roadside. And I’ve seen more than one Lebanon squirrel that struggled to live after impact.

I’m an animal lover. But I’m not naive that roadkill happens. In my nearly 30 years of driving, I’ve taken a few small animal lives with my automobile. During my local morning runs, it’s inevitable to find myself a few steps away from a dead animal. On rainy days, it’s the frogs. On hot days, it’s the snakes. On unlucky days, it’s a deer or, worse, a heartbreaking spotted fawn. Yet, if given a (safe) opportunity, I try to help the critters.

I’ll stop and move a painted turtle. I’ll throw my hand out the window to signal to an oncoming speeder to slow down for the wild turkeys. I’ll install my “turtle crossing” sign on my shared driveway every hatching season. And I brake — if safely possible — for anything with a heartbeat. Of course, I’ll call the local police if the creature situation is more than I can or should handle.

One of the things I love about the Upper Valley is that my neighbors seem to share this sentiment. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, community member to drive an injured bird to VINS. I’m one of many neighbors who takes great care in slowing down near the “groundhog bush” on a local road. And I’m not alone in my concern for the commutes of my fellow humans as well as our fellow woodland creatures.

I’m surprised we don’t have better technology to prevent roadkill accidents. While most of these events are harmless to humans, there are crashes that can be devastating, and deadly. According to the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, there can be more than 500 moose-related traffic crashes in New England annually.

I don’t have the answers to better protect ourselves and our animals against automobile impact. But I do know that being more alert, slowing down and signaling to other cars can help to lessen local accidents. (Obviously, we need to keep our human passengers alive before worrying about our feathered or four-legged friends.)

Thankfully, Chick the chickadee had a happy ending. VINS gratefully accepted him into its bird rescue center, and after inspection, believed he might have minor, recoverable injuries.

Caring for the chickadee took more than an hour of my time on an already busy day. But protecting the bird taught my toddlers an invaluable lesson about sympathy and kindness. Handling him reminded me of the delicate nature of our natural world. And saving him meant our community keeps another feathered friend.

I might not be able to swerve for every frog on a rainy evening. But if given the chance for a creature in need, I’ll always turn the car around.

Luckily, it seems my Upper Valley neighbors do the same.

Becky Sabky lives in Norwich.

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