This is how we got a duck out of the house: You may want to know how a duck managed to find its way into our house in the first place. How am I supposed to know? These things simply happen.

Now, then. How did we get the duck out of the house?

The first thing I did was notice a sudden clattering over toward the wood stove. Initially, I dismissed it as a routine inexplicable whim of the stovepipe. The stovepipe does occasionally make odd noises, shifting about at the point where it passes through the piece of sheet metal that covers the fireplace.

Having discounted the noise, I promptly heard it again, and this time it gave me pause. Could a piece of the chimney liner have fallen in? No, the sound seemed somehow--animate. There was something urgent about, and a bit unnerving, as if a little creature were beating at the sheet metal.

It came again--a flapping insistence. Flapping?

It was at this moment, a moment charged with proud discovery, that I announced to my wife: "There's a bird behind the wood stove."

My wife acknowledged this news with an "Oh? Oh?" that betrayed her skepticism. She knows that, when it comes to hypothesizing about enigmatic natural or mechanical phenomena, my faculties sometimes fail me. (It was I, after all, who decided that the loud chirps in the basement staircase last winter came from a trapped cricket--an explanation that stood through two months of wakeful chirping, until a friend told us that the sound was our smoke alarm declaring its battery almost dead.)

My wife's skepticism vanished, however, with the next startling burst of flaps. She agreed it must be a bird.

Note: "Bird" here means "sparrow," one of the few species that graced our feeder and that we could imagine in our fireplace.

We set to work. First, I removed the clumsy stovepipe while my wife, wielding a flashlight, took up a position beside the circular hole left gaping in the sheet metal. Just the sort of hole through which a sparrow might dart, emerging into our living room, where he would no doubt reside, nervously defecating, for who knew how long.

We peered through the hole, then carefully removed the sheet metal and peered some more. No sign of bird. He must have hidden up behind the flue damper, we concluded. We replaced the sheet metal.

The problem now was to defend the gaping hole, preferably in such a way as to catch the bird. Improvising like good interdisciplinary hunters, we got out the crab net and taped the net portion over the hole. Then we left for dinner, returned home to find the situation unchanged and went to bed. It was reassuring to know that if any crabs wandered down the chimney during the night, we would catch them.

At about 6:30 the next morning I heard the flapping again. Having puzzled over the problem all night in my subconscious, I had an inspiration. I jumped out of bed, fetched some old screening from the basement and hung it over the fireplace opening after delicately removing the sheet metal. The bird, thankfully, had hidden again.

Then I cut a little doorway at the base of the screening so that the sparrow could walk right out onto the hearth. I threw some bird seed into the fireplace, making a trail to the doorway. Then I got a grocery bag, laid it on its side, and pushed its open end flush up against the screening, covering the doorway. The bird, you see, would follow the seeds out the door and into the bag. I retired to the kitchen to wait.

Sure enough, in a few minutes I heard the flapping again. I tiptoed into the living room. Silence. I pictured the little bird, dipping at the seeds. I held my breath, expectant.

Suddenly, a giant, flapping form burst through the bottom of the screening, lurched into the air not four feet from my face, wheeled and made for the window in my study. There, it bumped against the glass, dropped to a shelf by the radiator, leaped into the window again and finally came to rest on the shelf.

Cool-headed observer that I was, I yelled crazily to my wife: "IT'S A DUCK!"

Soon we were both gazing at the thing and he, somewhat dubiously, at us. We proceeded to try to lure the duck toward the door the only way we knew how--by beckoning to him with bread. Instead of responding, he hopped over to my desk and up onto my typewriter. I did the only logical thing: ran to look for my camera, stopping abruptly when I realized that I'd left it in my study, on my desk, next to my typewriter.

This seemed unfortunate at the time, but actually it was the key to getting the duck out of the house. For in my bustle, I confused the duck, who--and this is the absolute truth--jumped off the typewriter, lost his balance and slipped from the desk, falling, as luck would have it, into the grocery bag that I use as a wastebasket.

The rest was easy. I calmly walked into the study, picked up the bag, took it out into the yard and set it down on its side. I lifted the back end of the bag to tip him out.

Before I even had a chance to see the creature fly forth, he was in the air, flapping freely toward the trees, at ease in his element, climbing, strong. In a moment he disappeared.

And that is how we got a duck out of the house.