BIRDS OF A FEATHER

May 25, 2014 by Karin Fuller

I’ve learned there’s a danger in sitting outside and saying out loud that I don’t have anything to write about this week. The danger is that God is listening.

Mere moments after speaking those words, a baby bird on a fledgling flight went face first into the pond just a few feet from me.

My flip-flops and PJ pants weren’t the ideal attire for dealing with such an occurrence, but as I seldom lounge on the deck while wearing hip waders, I made do. I doddered out into the muck to retrieve the floundering baby grackle bird, amid the cacophony of many adult grackles–and one compassionate duck—all calling out their suggestions for how the operation should be handled.

grackleMud oozed up over the edges of my shoes and halfway up my ankles as I yanked my foot out from the smelly muck at the water’s edge and then suck-thwopped my way to the bird, which had managed to fling himself close enough to the water’s edge for me to grab him.

I carried the bird to the deck to assess its condition. Even though the baby was fully feathered, its sparse belly feathers affected something of a comb-over look. While it appeared uninjured, it was so thoroughly covered in a silty black mud that I couldn’t really tell, plus I suspected it might’ve aspirated a good bit of water into its lungs.

It was nearly dark and already getting cold, with temperatures predicted to drop into the 40s. Such a thoroughly wet and traumatized bird, especially one who couldn’t yet fly, would be doomed on such a night, so we took him inside.

My daughter warmed a towel, and we wrapped and held the bird. His breathing became slow and regular, not the fast panting as when he’d first been fished from the water. Soon, he was surprisingly calm and curious. While Celeste held and talked to him, I prepared a box with shredded newspaper and an old towel, and began soaking some dry cat food in hot water to feed him once it softened.

Although it’s been years since I last fed a wild baby bird, I loaded a tiny bit of food on the blunt end of a toothpick and swooped it toward him, wiggling my fingers as I did to mimic a mamma bird flying in. It worked. He opened his beak and gobbled the food. The second time, though, he refused, and then kept his beak clamped shut for my next several attempts. But when I stopped, he reached over and plucked the morsel off my toothpick himself, then with a flip of his head, swallowed it.

Was it just my imagination, or was that an expression of juvenile defiance on his face? I’m pretty familiar with that look. Regardless, he was showing me he didn’t need to be fed. Good sign.

Since baby grackles don’t eat after dark, we closed his box, shut off the light, and left him half-wrapped in his towel. Even though he seemed to be doing fine, I still feared that come morning, the water he’d swallowed during his plunge would’ve taken its toll. I fully expected to find him lifeless.

I was wrong.

As soon as I opened the door, that tough little bird let out a noise that sounded like a squeak of air being released from a tight-necked balloon. He seemed totally fine. Which led to the next problem.

What to do with the bird.

Baby birds need fed as often as every 15 minutes all day, and there was no way to do that at work. (I once successfully raised three orphaned baby rabbits that I took to work with me every day until they were big enough to survive on their own, but rabbits are quiet. This bird was not.)

I opened the lid. The bird flew easily to perch on the side of the box, then onto my hand. He looked me right in the eye, tilted his head, squeaked loudly again. After he gobbled his breakfast without assistance, he flew up to the perch on the sink faucet before moving on to the mirror.

And he punctuated each of his landings with a large dollop of nastiness, which might’ve assisted my appraisal of his condition as being worthy of release.

Almost as soon as I took him outside, he began yelling. The many grackles that hang out in the trees around the pond began to answer.

I put him back in one of the trees, and he immediately flew to a higher branch. There was a flurry of activity in the trees as more birds began to gather. Not just his momma, but a whole extended family of grackles.

And one compassionate duck.

 

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