It was a lovely, springlike day at Fairyland, sunny and warm. Flowers were blooming, butterflies were flying. One little brown bird had made the very bad decision to fly into our puppet theater — right before showtime.

Randal Metz, our master puppeteer, has thrilled millions of kids over the years with his whimsical shows. He was not thrilled, however, with this feathered visitor.

Randal has dealt with numerous hummingbirds entering his space over the years, and has always removed them easily with the help of a 12-foot ladder and a butterfly net. But this was a much bigger bird that had flown in — through the door that opens to the shores of Lake Merritt — and it presented a much bigger challenge.

Let’s set the stage, so to speak: Children’s Fairyland has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, as well as a certified monarch butterfly waystation. We rescue squirrels and baby birds. We are a very soft-hearted lot, and we love all creatures great and small.

But a bird in the theater was simply too much, especially after it flew into the storage space that houses 45 years’ worth of scenery. Randal was afraid that it would die in there, and that he’d have to spend forever searching for its lifeless little body.

He called for assistance, and the word went out over the park’s walkie-talkie system. Maria Rodriguez, Brian Woo and Hector Gallardo arrived to find Randal in a panic, flailing about with a broom as he tried to herd the bird out the door.

That’s when I showed up, hoping to use the park’s only non-public bathroom. Acting like the smart and fearless leader that I am, I immediately assessed the situation, turned around and left.

The situation was this: The bird was lost somewhere in the scenery, roll drops, lights and rigging. Also, the show had to go on. And not just any show, but the premiere of “Mrs. Witherspoon’s Busy Day.” Any premiere is stressful. This one, with a lost bird hovering somewhere in the theater like the albatross of doom, was shaping up to be a real nail-biter.

Mrs. Witherspoon's Busy Day, the current puppet show at Fairyland

Mrs. Witherspoon’s Busy Day, the current puppet show at Fairyland

Nevertheless, our merry troupe did its usual first-rate job. At the end of the show, Randal glanced up… and saw the winged gatecrasher. It had been quietly watching the performance from the rafters.

Then, says Randal, “the whole game started again.” But this time, Maria — who, let it be noted, has fostered baby squirrels in her spare time — had an idea that didn’t involve loud sounds and brooms. She suggested that Brian and Hector leave and that Randal retire to his computer to work on a script. She would take over.

Here’s what she did: She grabbed some saltine crackers and goat chow she keeps at her desk (don’t ask) and placed them on a plate perched on a ladder that was close to the level of the bird. She then turned out all the lights, opened all the doors and waited.

In only a couple of minutes, the bird — which we now think was either a California thrasher or a house wren — took a couple of bites of the food, then flew out and away.

Depending on whom you ask, Maria either shouted “Score!” or “I won!” Randal had to admit she was right. He also acknowledges that one could see it as masculine versus feminine strategy. Here’s how Maria put it: “I am man — I bang things and swing brooms. I am woman — I turn down the lights and put out a buffet.”

Yes indeed, Mrs. Witherspoon had had an even busier day than she had expected. And so did we.


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