Inside a shoebox on my desk is what likely will be an exercise in futility. One that will probably end up making me cry. And one that has me smelling of savory salmon, since this stubborn little cuss keeps shaking its head with its beak full of food, slinging his stinky mush all over me, his surrogate mom.
I’ve raised baby birds before—just wrote of one we had as an overnight guest a few weeks back—but this little guy seems almost destined to fail. He had likely been lying a long while in the sun on Washington Street on a 90 degree day before my daughter and her friend found him, so dehydrated and weak he could barely hold up his head.
There was no nest in sight, and no mother bird squawking about as they generally do when their baby is near or in danger, so the girls put the bird in a box and brought it to me.
The babies I’ve raised in the past were generally easy to feed, animated and greedy and vocal. This one would just sit with its beak clamped shut until I pried it open and shoved food deep in its throat. It would swallow, then clamp that beak shut again. I’d repeat the process, wait 20 minutes, and then start over. After each feeding of softened cat food, he would get a little peppier, yet he still wouldn’t eat with the kind of enthusiasm that would make me think he stood much of a chance.
Since he isn’t strong enough to perch, he’s nested in a bed of shredded tissues, his few crazy tufts of head feathers that have him looking like the bird version of Kramer.
Even though the effort seems destined to fail, there really weren’t any options. Put the baby outside until a cat or some other creature comes by? Or leave it to starve, or to bake? Those aren’t feasible choices, at least not in my world. And that’s why little Kramer is discreetly tucked under my desk between feedings, and why my office smells like it’s a cat I’m hiding instead of a bird.
The potential pointlessness of this attempt to rescue a creature reminds me of the time a few years ago that, when walking across the grounds at the state capitol, a hawk grabbed a squirrel right in front of me. It only had hold of the tail, and the squirrel was thrashing so crazily the hawk had to land to try and better its grip.
That’s when I began screaming, swatting and stomping, and finally succeeded at getting the hawk to drop its prey. For several minutes, I stood guard over the panting squirrel. There appeared to be no injuries, but it wouldn’t move and was breathing so hard I thought it might die from fear.
The hawk hovered nearby, watching.
The squirrel eventually recovered enough to get to a nearby tree, so I began walking toward the capitol again. Just as I reached the entrance, I turned and saw the hawk snatch that same squirrel off the tree.
My attempt to help had been for nothing.
I was so upset. Not only had the squirrel still been killed, it had to endure a brief intermission of having to fear the human before that awful and inevitable finale. I’d given it a little more time, except that extra time had been for nothing but more terror. It would’ve been over more quickly for the squirrel if I hadn’t.
I wonder if I’m not doing the same sort of thing for this little bird–postponing the inevitable. The thing is, should you only attempt what you know you can win? Or should you do what you can, and hope for the best?
It certainly would’ve been easier to have looked the other way, to have left the bird on the street for a car or the sun to finish. And it probably wouldn’t have been all that difficult to convince myself I wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.
But the more powerful thought was, What if I could?
And the shiny-eyed little bird beside me—the one that’s just started cleaning his feathers and starting to chirp–has me so happy I did.