The outdoor cafe at the Hirshhorn Museum is one of the more charming luncheon spots around. But there was nothing charming about an incident there this summer -- or about the unwillingness of Hirshhorn management to take what seems to be an obvious step.

The incident involves a bird that snared itself on a statue.

The statue, called Space Sculpture, is one of several that have been placed among the cafe's tables for decoration. At the very top of Space Sculpture, about nine feet off the ground, are several stainless steel rods. One day in July, a bird somehow got caught among them.

Emily Frye of McLean was working as a hostess at the cafe on the day the bird got trapped. When she learned of the bird's predicament, Emily sought help from Hirshhorn guards. They said trapped birds weren't their problem, according to Emily.

Next stop, the gift shop, where Emily borrowed a stepladder. Emily couldn't reach the bird. But a bystander who is taller could -- and he did.

However, the bird was seriously injured. "One leg was entirely in pieces, almost not there -- and there was blood on the sculpture," Emily writes.

The bird survived, at least long enough to fly away. But Emily feels Space Sculpture should be moved indoors. "It is clearly a hazard to birds," she says.

Sidney Lawrence, a public relations officer for the Hirshhorn, disagrees.

"It's such a totally rare occurrence that it {the statue} couldn't be a real menace to birds," Sidney said. A bird got entangled in the statue only once before -- in 1974, Sidney said. The museum has no plans to move Space Sculpture inside, he added.

That's stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness. Why can't the Hirshhorn keep a third bird from snagging itself, remote as that possibility may be? Two snags are more than enough.

Old business . . . .

PETS ON AIRPLANES: Many readers wrote to praise Continental Airlines for refusing to carry a pet in the baggage compartment of a jet on an extra hot summer day (I described the incident in my column of Sept. 9).

"The man {who insisted that Continental carry his dog to Denver, even if the trip proved fatal to the dog} should be barred from air travel," wrote Kermit Jenkins of Alexandria. "Continental deserves a medal," said Harriet Jerosick of Burke.

In case a similar incident happens again at National or Dulles International airports, here's an important point for airline personnel to remember. Many thanks to Katherine Coleman of the Humane Society of Loudoun County for letting me know.

"Cruelty to animals is a class one misdemeanor in Virginia, subject to fine and/or imprisonment," Katherine writes. Airline folk should plop that morsel of info onto the next passenger who says fly-Rover-because-I-tell-you-to.

BARRING BICYCLE COURIERS FROM DOWNTOWN STREETS: I proposed this in my column of Sept. 4. I described bike couriers as "dangerous menaces." I also said that the next ticket one of them gets will be the first.

It took about one instant for a U.S. Capitol Police officer to call and invite me to the corner of First Street and Independence Avenue SE. "I nail a bunch of them there every day," he said.

Jerry A. McCoy of Northwest agrees that cyclists get tickets. His complaint is that recreational cyclists such as Jerry A. McCoy get them when couriers, who are far more dangerous, don't.

Jerry also points out that bike riding on sidewalks is prohibited in the heart of downtown. A lot of police officers aren't aware of this, Jerry says. They should be. But so should bicyclists.

Matthew Reingold, a board member of the Washington Metropolitan Couriers Association, notes that WMCA has urged the D.C. Council to regulate the courier industry. WMCA advocates diligent enforcement of existing traffic laws, training for couriers, identification and helmets. Matthew points out that the council is studying these and other recommendations, including licensing. He thinks this is more constructive than chasing couriers out of downtown forever.

I think couriers are such a pressing problem that we should bar them first and study proposals second. But, yes, I'd rather have some action by the council than no action by anyone.

Lisa Gurney, director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, writes that "the average noncyclist can't tell the difference between a commuter and a courier. All you have done is target a lot of anger at bicyclists in general."

I sincerely hope I haven't, Lisa, and I sincerely doubt it. You really think people can't tell couriers and commuters apart? Try this for a rule of thumb: Couriers break laws. Commuters don't.

Last word goes to an anonymous courier who wrote: "Bicycle couriers are people, too, and not all of us are crazy."

Then the letter touched all the bases by adding:

"And the ones that are crazy have a right to be."