Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Boys

One July morning as I was leaving for work, I noticed the babies in the birdhouse on the front porch were chirping awfully loudly. As one stuck its bald head out of the opening, I thought "How cute" and obliviously drove off to work. Hours later, two small house sparrows had fallen out of the nest and onto the hard concrete. One survived, the other did not. Luckily, my mom was home to put the living bird back into his nest and lovingly dispose of the other's earthly remains.

As the day wore on, it became clear that their zeal was due to hunger. The quartet, now whittled down to a trio, chirped and gaped, crying out for food. For hours, my mother watched from the picture window inside to see if their mother would come back. She never did. At some point, it became clear that she wasn't going to. That is when the feeding began.

I came home from work that night to find my mother perched atop a step ladder, forceps in one hand and a bowl of soggy mush in the other. Not long after that, the bird house was removed from the wall and the roof removed for easier access. The transition to a tissue filled basket in an old fish tank cum incubator did not take long, and the move into intensive care aka the bathroom was really inevitable after that.

Being considered pests, house sparrows are one of few wild species that are not protected in the U.S. Because they are a non-native species, groups like the Audobon Society don't have any interest in rehabilitating them, but we do. They are living things and one can't just let them starve to death on the front porch when they've been abandoned. At least if you live in my house you can't.

The first days were challenging. The boys, Nelson, Jimbo and Johnny as we took to calling them, were not fully fledged and still needed to be fed often. Then there was the question of what to feed them. After much research, a consultation with our vet, and a trip to the pet store, the answer turned out to be a mash of ingredients like catfood (I know, go figure!), hard boiled egg, applesauce, avian vitamins and water interspersed with occasional bread soaked in water to make sure they were taking in enough liquids. This mixture had to be pushed down their gullets about every 45 minutes in the beginning.

With time the boys began to fledge and feedings increased to every hour, every two hours, etc. Along the way Johnny (he was weak and not of this world) was lost. I think the fall from the nest was probably too much for his little head. He survived for a few days, but never really recovered. The other two, however, began to thrive and develop personalities.

Nelson, the bigger of the two, is the extrovert and adventurer. He does everything first - eating on his own, flying. He is active and curious about everything, including people. I worry about him. I'm not sure he's cut out for the great out doors. We try to discourage him, but he's fond of landing on hands and heads, biting at fingernails, pecking at freckles. Jimbo is smaller, shyer, more wild. He has enough fear to do better in the wild.

I think about the prospect of letting them go. They are wild animals, not designed to be caged up in a house. Yet, through the hourly feedings, the discovery that they love watermelon, the encouraging them to fly, they have become family. I am attached. As they sleep in their new favorite place (the light fixture above the sink), I wonder about them and worry what will happen them.

Soon we will have to make some tough decisions - whether to let them go, when to let them go, where to let them go. Still, I wouldn't trade the experience of watching them go from helpless, barely fledged chicks to independant, curious young birds. It makes me realize how miraculous life really is - even the smallest life.


Leslita said...

do you need to let them go? do they care? it's not like they're free birds that you captured. they've grown up with you and you are their people. or maybe I'm just making excuses because I know i'd want to keep them too!

Martina said...

It's such a tough call. They don't really seem unhappy to me (how do you tell with a sparrow?), but how much of a life can you have as a bird locked up in the bathroom? If we didn't have the cats, it might be easier. The other thing is that we only have the one bathroom and they really do make a huge mess. Deep down, I think I want to keep them. I'm just wrestling with whether it's the selfish thing for me or the right thing for them. They're just so darn cute, though.