EDITOR'S COLUMN: What do you do with a dead bird?

Island County Health Department spared me a vexing problem last week when it declared it is no longer interested in dead birds, at least for this winter. The West Nile Virus scare is over because mosquitoes have quit breeding due to the cold weather. Presumably, they've all taken a flight to Mexico where they can resume their normal activities by acting like American tourists.

My problem was too many dead birds. I didn't know which ones to take to the health department for testing, or even how to get them there. You can't tell if a dead bird has the virus, and if it does you could become a victim simply by touching it. If not a victim, then a carrier. I always felt sorry for Typhoid Mary and have no plans to risk becoming known as West Nile Jim.

The dog is to blame for my in-depth knowledge of dead birds in our neighborhood. I walk the dog and he walks around with his nose to the ground, oblivious to anything taller than two inches. His nose is his eyes. If humans had the same sense of sensory priorities, our whole culture would be different. We'd go smell a movie, set up friends on aromaless dates, buy expensive wedding dresses that smell fantastic, and, when disabled when our nose tragically goes out of joint, get ourselves a smelling nose dog. Optometrists would disappear, replaced by olfactorists, who would prescribe expensive mechanical aroma embellishers designed by Ralph Lauren to hang from our noses.

People walk right past dead birds, but not our dog. He finds them in the roads, in the ditches, in the bushes and in the woods. It's the only trick he knows. He can't roll over, shake hands or wag his tail on command, but if you need a dead bird he'll find you one within minutes. I always thought this was a useless skill, but now that scientists are looking for dead birds, perhaps my dog will finally pay off. Ten bucks per dead bird, but you have to pick it up.

Two weeks ago the dog found a dead crow mixed in with some Oregon grape alongside the road. This was shortly after the infamous dead crow with West Nile Virus was found in Snohomish, only a few miles as the dying crow flies from Whidbey Island. Folklore contains many tales of the wisdom and intelligence of crows, but this was before cars were invented. A crow will get enthralled by the entrails of a dead rabbit and before you know it become a black pancake with feathers sticking out.

I paused at this particular dead crow and wondered if I should notify the Island County Health Department. I didn't know their number, and was hesitant to call 911 and report a dead crow. They know where you're calling from, you know, and this kind of report could get you on their list of loonies. They can't trace cell phones, but I don't have one of those. We need a special dead bird emergency number, 1-800-DEADBIRD, for example, to report these things. Then the dead bird ambulance could come and haul the poor thing off to the coroner for a West Nile autopsy.

Fearing the phone call, I considered scooping the bird up and putting it in a shoe box, and mailing to the Health Department. But the post office has rules about everything, and mailing dead birds is probably against one of them. It might even be considered a terrorists act, as I'd be mailing a virus-infected bird. It'd be just my luck to end up in Guantanamo Bay for mailing a bird. Perhaps the other terrorists would consider me a hero for mailing such a virus and I'd be stuck with the Osama Jim Laden moniker.

For two weeks the dog found the same dead crow every time we went for a walk, and I could never decide what to do about it. So it came as good news when the Health Department said it doesn't want any more dead birds. I can put off the tough decisions until spring.

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