The railroad yard's weedy edges provide seeds that House Sparrows love to eat -- crabgrass, ragweed, knotweed, bluegrass, timothy... Our bird spends a great deal of time foraging among these weeds. However, in this railroad yard sometimes even better feeding places can be found.
From time to time railroad cars filled with grain such as wheat or corn are left parked along the tracks. Of course the grain is enclosed inside the covered cars, but sometimes a bird can find seeds on the car's running gear, accidentally spilled there when the grain was being loaded.
Maybe the grain fell there in some far-away farming community, then rode on the car's running gear past dozens of farms and big and little towns, through forests and across rivers, just to end up sidetracked in Yellow Ribbon's town and eventually inside Yellow Ribbon's belly.
One morning Yellow Ribbon and her young companions arrive at the yard to find several newly arrived grain-filled cars; Yellow Ribbon heads for the nearest car. When she lands on the car's running board, she discovers herself near a young male from another flock, tugging at a grain of wheat stuck in a crack.
As soon as the male sees Yellow Ribbon, he knows that he must defend his treasure. He raises his wings over his back into a threatening, shallow V, and flicks them. When this doesn't drive our bird away, he lunges toward her, sending her in retreat around the car's corner.
Once our bird regains her composure she begins remembering the young male's plump grain of wheat. It's not long before she flits back around the corner and lands not far from her competitor.
Once more the young male forms the shallow V with his wings. This time he also gapes wide his mouth, then again he rushes at our bird. However, this time Yellow Ribbon stands her ground. She opens her own mouth and raises her own wings.
It's a bluffer's fight. Just as quickly as the young male hops toward Yellow Ribbon, he hops back without having touched her. Then Yellow Ribbon hops at him the same way, also without touching him. Several times the birds "attack" one another, threatening and bluffing, but never making any contact at all.
When finally Yellow Ribbon bumps the young male aside and begins tugging at the grain herself, her opponent becomes provoked enough to grab hold of Yellow Ribbon's bill with his own. Breast to breast, for about two seconds, they stand pushing one another until the young male lets go. Immediately Yellow Ribbon flies away.
Never has Yellow Ribbon experienced such a terrible fight! Very seldom in her life has she even used the shallow V wing-formation. She flees into the Hackberry tree to preen her feathers until she can calm down.
In a few minutes, the big confrontation is forgotten by both birds. Before the morning is over Yellow Ribbon discovers and devours a few grains for which she doesn't have to fight. With a full belly, around noon, she flies to perch in the open door of one of the boxcars standing at the far end of the freightyard. She is wiping her bill at the door's edge when she hears this:
"Morton, you better close that one up before they get here."
Yellow Ribbon has heard humans make their sounds before. She knows that they don't bother House Sparrows. However, it's always better to play safe in such instances. She hops deeper into the boxcar, intending to wait there until the humans go away.
But then, suddenly, a great rumble shakes the floor and before she can gather her senses, the door slams shut and Yellow Ribbon instinctively launches into the darkness, unable to see where she is going!
Almost instantly a sharp pain shoots across her head and neck as she collides with one of the boxcar's walls. Inexplicably finding herself knocked to the floor, she flies back into the darkness, but once again comes the terible flash of pain, and once again she is knocked onto the floor. Over and over she hysterically repeats her doomed flights until she grows so exhausted that all she can do is to sit on the boxcar's floor, tilted awkwardly onto her breast and wing-tips, panting rapidly and feeling faint.
After what seems like a very long time she notices a little light issuing from around the boxcar's loosely fitting door. This comforts our bird. Gradually she calms down. She raises herself off her breast and wing-tips and stands like a proper bird.
Just as she begins hopping toward the dim light issuing from the door's crack she hears a mighty rumble different from the one before, and this time it's accompanied by an awful jolt that knocks her onto one side. What difference would it make if she understood that this second jarring results from the big diesel engine backing into the long line of boxcars, hitching onto them? Again our bird flies into the darkness and again she is knocked onto the floor. Again and again...
Now suffering through an endless series of rumbles and jolts, for eighteen hours Yellow Ribbon experiences a terror that House Sparrows are not created to endure. Sometimes she makes her way to the crack in the door, and feels fresh air gushing through the crack. Eventually she learns to sit quietly, and simply wait. The hours pass.
When at last the rumbles and jolts end, Yellow Ribbon just sits still, having no idea what will happen next, or what she should do. The light that earlier entered the doors' cracks long since has disappeared. Now inside the boxcar it's very dark and quiet. Now Yellow Ribbon sleeps.
The boxcar's doors rumble open and brilliant morning sunlight floods inside. Without thinking, Yellow Ribbon flies into the air of a new day. And the very moment her mind focuses enough to sort out she understands beyond all doubt that now she is a citizen of a completely new world.
The town that Yellow Ribbon always has known was a small one. Its streets were lined with trees and none of the town's buildings were very tall. In Yellow Ribbon's town there had been the college with its spacious grassy lawn, the Walmart with its large asphalt parking lot, the courthouse with its tower with a clock on it... So, where were all these places now?
Fluttering aimlessly across the freightyard, Yellow Ribbon sees that her friendly weed patches at the yard's perimeter have been replaced by huge, windowless warehouses, and beyond them sprawl car-choked streets and miles and miles of buildings rising higher than any Yellow Ribbon ever has seen. Here no trees line the streets and buildings have no lawns.
Seeing this, Yellow Ribbon grows profoundly dispirited. Dropping earthward, she alights on the eaves of a warehouse roof. Long she perches gazing incredulously at what lies before her.
Yellow Ribbon has never had problems finding food. In her former town, in almost every corner, there had been weeds and insects, and nearly always there was easy food in the Alexander Family's bird-feeding station. However, in this new town, where does a bird find patches of weeds? Where is there even a lawn in which crabgrass seed might be found? Where is Peace Hill and the Alexanders' feeding station?
A week has passed in this new city, and now Yellow Ribbon knows the feeling of being hungry all the time. She finds enough food to stay alive, but just barely.
One day, on a sidewalk, she finds half of a Twinkie. Never has she tasted such a thing! She pecks on it and the sweet goo sticks to her bill. She tries to scrape it off by rubbing her beak on the sidewalk, but the goo only smears across the side of her face. Before she's eaten all she wants, it's also sticking to her legs and wings. Later, atop a warehouse, she must preen a long time to clean herself up. However, despite the mess, the Twinkie was a good fine; if you're starving, even a Twinkie is better than nothing.
Though each day Yellow Ribbon explores her vast new home, never can she find anyplace in which she feels the least bit safe or comfortable. This new town seems to have no boundaries: Everyplace she goes she feels squeezed-in and hopeless. One night she sleeps above a theater's lit-up marquee. Another night she camps on a window ledge. This last night she just perched on a telephone wire until dawn.
If it were in Yellow Ribbon's character to soar into the open sky like some species of bird do, or to simply fly and fly until the city were left behind, and below there would be a swamp or a desert or a grassy mountain side or a small town -- it would be different. However, it's simply the nature of House Sparrows to fly low, and to stay more or less in one place. House Sparrows want to find themselves a nice little home-area, get to know it very well, and each day visit the same places at about the same time. It just never occurs to them to fly far away.
Therefore, for days Yellow Ribbon wanders in her new home. And each day her instincts are frustrated, and her loneliness and hunger and sadness only grow.
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