Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just put it back in the nest

The tiny bird landed on the rim of the flower pot hanging under an eave outside of our kitchen window. In her beak, she clutched a small bundle of twigs and grass. Watching her from the window, I called to Paul "She's at it again." He joined me at the window and we observed the industrious little bird as she constructed her nest in the shade of the geraniums growing in the pot. "As soon as she leaves, we'll have to move the nest," he murmured. "If we leave it, I won't be able to water the plant without harming the chicks." "Alright," I sighed. I went outside, climbed up on a picnic bench and removed the beginnings of the nest. All the while the little bird perched nearby and glared at me, hurling insults. "It's for your own good," I said. "Your chicks will be safer this way."

This wasn't the first time I stepped in to protect the welfare of baby birds. I got into the chick conservation business at an early age. I think I was 6 or 7 when my younger sister Sheri and I came upon two little, naked chicks peeping in the grass at the base of our large lilac bush. We carefully scooped up the small birds with their eyes still closed and nary a feather insight. We ran inside the house to show our mother who, of course, would know exactly how to care for them.

Baby Bird Trivia - Back in the day it was it was thought that handling a baby bird would cause the mother to reject it because of the human scent. However, Mother birds will not reject their babies because they smell human scent on them, nor will they refuse to set on eggs that have been handled by a person. Many birds have a limited sense of smell and cannot detect human scent, or if they can detect it, do not react to it.

The first step in aiding young birds is determining whether the little ones are nestlings or fledglings. Nestlings are featherless or fuzzy and belong in a nest. Fledglings have feathers and are old enough to leave the nest and be on the ground or in a shrub. Replace nestlings into the nest they have fallen from, but leave fledglings where you find them.

But Mom didn't know that, and being a mother with two small children looking on chanting "Can we keep them? Can we keep them?" gently took the chicks and sent us for a shoe box and a clean, dry wash cloth. When we returned, she lined the box with the cloth and placed the peeping, birds inside. She then cracked an egg into a small bowl, and stirred it with a fork to break up the yolk. Then from the medicine cabinet she produced an eye dropper and proceeded to feed the chicks the egg mixture a dropper full at a time. Sheri and I were transfixed as we watched Mom drop the slimy, yellow liquid into the gaping mouths. Finally, they were sated and drifted off to sleep. We looked on as their little chests rose up and down with their breathing and their eyes twitched beneath their transparent lids. "Leave them be," said mom. "They need to rest now. You can show them to your father when he gets home."

Waiting for Dad to return home required a lot of patience, something that was in short supply as we peered out the window watching for his car. Finally, we saw it pull into our driveway. We ran into the kitchen, where the shoebox with the birds nestled inside sat on our old roll top desk. "Dad's home! Dad's home" we shouted to Mom. "Can we show him the birds?" "Alright, alright, you may carefully carry the box to the front door and wait for Dad," she replied. I picked up the shoebox and gingerly carried it into the hallway to wait by the door. Sheri stood next to me vibrating with excitement. Our dog Sam ambled in to see what all the fuss was about.

I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee.

At the last minute, I held the box behind my back in order to add a bit of panache to our big reveal. The knob turned and the door swung open. Dad stepped through looking surprised at this unexpected welcoming committee. I brought the box around to my front and held it up for him to inspect. "Look," I said "We have baby birds and Mom said we can keep them as pets!" Dad looked into the box with a puzzled expression. "Where are they?" he asked. Sheri and I looked into the box, then all around us. The birds were gone! Then we spied Sam, who had not left our side. He was licking his lips with a contented look on his face. "WAAAAAH. Sam ate the birds!" we cried. Sure enough, the birds were gone and the only possible explanation was that they gone down Sam's gullet in one well-timed gulp. My Dad sighed and consoled his two heart-broken girls as his thoughts of a peaceful evening after a hard day's work slipped away. 

It would be a few years before I again tried to raise a baby bird to maturity. I successfully raised a fledgling starling to adulthood when I was 10 or 11. I recall the day we set it free. With it perched on my finger, I opened our back door and stepped out into the yard. It flew off circling once around the backyard before coming back and resting briefly on my shoulder. Then, in a moment it was gone again, this time for good. 

Nowadays, I put baby birds back in the nest and away from the family hound.

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid:
Wetting his Whistle - auction ends on Sunday, May 7th at 9:00am PST. 

The phrase “Wet your whistle” means to quench your thirst. This mule is doing just that, quenching his thirst as the tip of his tongue protrudes below his lips to let the excess water dribble out.

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