By Andy Seifert
“Do you wanna go peacefully, or do you want the handcuffs?” the advancing man slyly inquires to the adversary he’s been chasing around for almost an hour now, approaching the culprit with a Clint Eastwood-like swagger.
The culprit—a white-throated sparrow—looks ahead, unflinchingly, even as the situation worsens. A month ago, he was likely basking in the warmth near the Gulf Coast; now, he’s holed up in a Chicago convenience store, perched atop the ledge over the cashier’s counter, and watching two nets slowly progress to his seemingly inescapable corner. His end is coming, inch by inch, unless he can figure something out, fast. He should have never left Texas.
And that’s when the sparrow takes action, darting off toward the back of the store like a Steve Nash drive to the hoop, narrowly skirting between the ceiling and the fruitless reaches of the nets, and barely missing the Slim Jims and Lays potato chips on the way to the magazine rack.
“It really rapidly becomes like the ‘Night at the Opera’ in situations like this,” says the Eastwood character—John Gronkowski’s his real name. While the bird may have succeeded in creating a Marx Brothers-worthy slapstick comedy in a convenience store at 7am, it’s not doing itself any favors. Gronkowski isn’t there to hurt him. He’s there to save him.
Gronkowski is one of a select group of bird lovers who have volunteered to patrol Chicago’s Loop during the early morning, before even the financial district has its coffee. Their mission: help any bird in trouble, most notably the ones that migrate in the spring and fall through downtown Chicago and whose navigation systems sometimes send them bearing down, head-first, into the glass and steel walls of a skyscraper or a high-rise, an accident that leaves the bird injured and often dead.
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