My PhD was officially perpetrated in the busy and beautiful Barcelona, but actually I did not spend a lot of time in the city. Most of my scientific activities took place in the outskirts, in parks and forests close by, where my little birds live.
For some time, during a behavioural experiment, we kept around a hundred siskins (Spinus spinus) in outdoor enclosures, in one of those forests close to Barcelona.
One day, a colleague and I were cleaning those enclosures when, suddenly, we suffered the painful attack of a zillion very angry Asian tiger mosquitos (Aedes albopictus), who recently had started invading the area.
The situation was dire for us, but much more so for the poor birds! On top of that, in the middle of the itchy mess, we noticed that a pair of siskins had symptoms of a common (but serious) avian disease, easily transmitted between birds by mosquitoes.
It was imperative to move those birds from there, ASAP!!
The sooner we could relocate them to the lab, in individual quarantine, the less likely it was that the disease would take over the whole colony.
We had only a few individual cloth bags and a pair of small transport cages. Trying to cram them all in that little space was out of the question, lest we would be helping the disease, or even risking suffocation.
How were we going to do it?
Fortunately, a childhood exposed to countless chapters of McGyver, the A-Team, and other implausible problem-solving TV shows had prepared us for this moment of need.
There was a shopping centre not too far away, to which we drove, at full speed, skidding in the roundabouts. Once there, we bought a roll of twine, a hundred cheap socks, and many many clothes pegs.
With the twine, we created a mesh that covered most of the inside of my car. We then put each bird in a sock, and hung these improvised transport bags from the twine mesh.
After calling our colleagues in Barcelona to prepare the lab for our arrival, we set off to return from the forest and cross the whole city with a hundred noisy socks swinging everywhere in the car.
Fortunately, we were not stopped by the police on the way (our situation would have been difficult to explain!), and we managed to both safely re-house our feathered tenants and contain the infection.
And I didn’t need any more socks for the rest of my PhD.