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Our own personal Wild Kingdom

House_sparrowx_male_2_1 A bird got in our house Monday night. It was quite an adventure for us all.

It began when the poor little thing, a house sparrow, flew into our den window. We were trying to read our backlog of newspapers with the Sugar Bowl game on the TV as background (our own "talking lamp," so to speak), so our attention was somewhat divided.

At first, the noise sounded distant, like something had happened toward the back of our backyard. Being curious, we (and by we, I mean my husband) went to check it out. He opened the back door and almost immediately started shouting "no, no, back up!"

Of course, that freaked out me, who was still sitting on the couch with a pile of month-old New York Times Sunday editions on my lap. Just who was trying to get into our house?

I stood up, dumping the papers on the floor, and turned just in time to see the bird skitter in. It didn't fly, but more stumbled through the entry way. The hubby hadn't slammed the door because the bird was in the door frame and he was afraid he might crush it.

Then the fun began. The bird, apparently dazed from the impact of hitting our window, made it to middle of kitchen floor. Just as my husband answered my confused look with, "it's a bird," the animal confirmed his species (I'm taking the liberty of designating it a male, since it obviously didn't ask for flight directions and that's why it had the navigation trouble) and took flight -- through the den and into living room where he took cover in our still-up and fully decorated Christmas tree. Hey, it's not Epiphany yet. And anyway, I like Christmas!

Well, that prompted us to spring into action. Hubby bounded up the stairs to close the doors to every room up there and I shut the one between the den and living room. At least, we thought, we can contain the creature while we try to figure a way to shoo it outside.

We've been birdwatchers for decades, but this was truly the strangest sighting of our ornithological career, which began in earnest when we were in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Check out D.C. Birding Blog's fine efforts of tracking birds in that area.

Although our tree is an artificial one, the bird apparently thought it a fine habitat. (We're going to notify the company; maybe we can do a commercial for them!) He burrowed deep inside it and we feared he wouldn't leave, or rather he'd leave material we'd rather not have to clean off of our new tree or the floor beneath it.

So my husband got the broom and gently poked at the tree. That did the trick … sorta.

The bird flew, but not out the front door we had opened. Instead, he headed to our dining room. I followed him there, waving a magazine and yelling "shoo, shoo, get out!" And he took off -- back to the tree.

This went on a couple of times, the holiday-happy sparrow going from Christmas tree in the living room to Christmas centerpiece in the dining room with two deranged humans yelling at him. Then he veered, not to the outdoors but down the hall and back to the kitchen.

The mayhem shifted that direction. Hubby followed the bird into the kitchen and yelled for me to get into the den where, before I got there, the bird had landed briefly on the, you got it, holiday festooned fireplace mantel. So with us stationed at either end of those rooms, the back-and-forth yelling at the bird continued as it had in the living and dining rooms.

And here, too, the sparrow refused to go out the open back door!

Finally, the poor thing, looking exhausted, landed in our newspaper basket. It was lucky we had pulled the old issues out to make room for him. As he huddled in a corner, I threw a blanket over him and we carried it to the back porch. After making sure the back door was firmly closed, we pulled off the cover and the bird flew out.

He still, however, hung around the porch. When we went up to bed about an hour later, he still was there. Thankfully, he was gone when we checked the next morning.

We still have no idea why he flew into the window or why he was so insistent on getting into and staying in our house. We do love birds, but we really didn't want this, or any other, feathered fellow sharing our interior space.

We much prefer visiting birds and other wildlife in their "homes." There are lots of inviting places here in the Austin area and we belong to several local and national nonprofit (and tax-deductible donation accepting) groups that maintain these wilderness areas. In fact, one of our first contributions (and deductions) of 2006 will be to these organizations in the hopes that they'll use it to acquire additional acreage that the native creatures will find more appealing than our house!

If you live in a state with an income tax, you've probably had the chance to make a contribution to similar environmental and other nonprofit groups when you file your return. This report and accompanying lists from the Federation of Tax Administrators gives you and idea of what's out there. When we were in Maryland, we always donated to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund this way.

Using the check-off system is easy and you get to deduct the contribution the next tax year. Even better, it's nice knowing that as you make your annual rendering unto Caesar, you're also giving some of your money to a group more to your liking.

TODAY'S TAX TIP: What about those federal returns? Just who has to file one of them? Not everyone does. Check out this story to find out if there's any chance you can get away with not sending Uncle Sam a 1040 this year.

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