July 31, 2012

Fledgeling

Yesterday I stumbled upon a fledgeling bird. I actually almost stumbled over the little guy, because I didn't see him at first, and he wasn't in any hurry to give up his spot on a piece of rotted lumber.


He didn't make a sound, and didn't seem the least bit scared of me. He just stood there, beak raised in the oddly dignified posture evidenced in the quick photo I snapped. He blinked those big dark eyes at me, featureless black pools that somehow overflowed with awareness and intelligence.

I crouched and initiated a bit of one-sided conversation. "Did you fall out of your nest? Where's your mom?" After a few minutes of this, it dawned on me that I might very well be the reason why his mom hadn't recently swooped in to deliver a worm or regurgitate a morsel. So I told him I'd keep an eye on him, and went inside to do a bit of hasty research.

As far as I could tell, he was a fledgeling, which meant he was just old enough for some ungainly first attempts at flight, but not yet skilled enough to get around with adult grace. I watched him from a window for what seemed like ages, but he didn't move, he didn't chirp, and no feathered parents brought him any sustenance.

The sky started to darken. I began to worry that he would simply sit out there in the open for the night, vulnerable and hungry, thirsty and alone. Since I didn't have any luck finding his nest, I decided to make him a new one. I grabbed some long grass, gathered it into a little halo, and popped it into a birdhouse someone had nailed to a post by a tree.

I padded back up to my little friend, quietly told him what I was up to, and gently encouraged him to climb onto my finger. I was more than a little amazed when he just quietly obliged, and allowed me to gird his body with my other hand while I took long and slow steps to his newly furnished apartment. As I whispered to Mr. Quiet and Trusting on the journey, the little house had a roof, but walls on only three sides. If he wanted to stay and sing and hope mom would come feed him, he'd have shelter. If he wanted to have another go at flying instead, he wouldn't have to squeeze through some tiny entranceway to do so.

In his stoic way, he seemed happy with his new digs. He even startled me by immediately settling in a little, and then emitting a trilling little tweet. In the distance, I heard another bird, perhaps his mother, respond to his call. Back and forth they went, strident and staccato little packets of mysterious information exchanged through the air. I didn't detect any trace of alarm; I like to hope the crux was some avian equivalent of "I'm over here, Mom, and I'm alright."

I went back inside, salvaged what I could of the dinner I'd left on the stove, and settled down by a window with a clear view. I didn't expect much of a show, but I didn't want to miss anything. I worried that there was no way this whole affair could have anything other than a horribly dark ending, but hoped for the best. More than anything, I hoped that I hadn't somehow managed to do more harm than good with my meddling.

Halfway through my meal, movement: a blur of flapping wings, and he was perched on the branch nearest the birdhouse. A moment later, in a flurry of awkward fluttering, he scrambled to another branch a few feet above. Then, off he went on another training flight — straight into a patch of raspberry bushes.

I bit my lip and waited for a while, but when he didn't emerge, I went out to see if he might like a lift back up to have another try. He was unharmed, quietly perched on a bit of bush maybe six inches off the ground. Once again, he let me coax him onto my finger, then accepted a ride back to his tree, where I deposited him on as high a branch as I could safely manage. I wished him good luck, put a small yogurt container filled with water at the base of his tree, and went back inside to keep watch.

As it got dark, he fluttered about from branch to branch, each time seeming to get a little more agile, a little more confident. The delays between sojourns shortened, but it seemed clear that he'd decided to limit his ambitions to that one tree for the time being. Just before it was too dark to observe much of anything, I could see that he'd scrunched himself up into a fuzzy little ball and settled in for a snooze. Eventually I followed his example and trod off to bed.

I went back outside to look for him today, but he appears to have moved on. I saw some droppings beneath where he'd slept, but there was no indication that any predators had gotten their claws on him. And some small distance away, high in the trees of a neighbor's yard, I could hear the treble of the same simple little song he'd sung to his mother the night before.

I don't know that it's him. Hell, it seems to me that certainty of any sort is almost always a delusion. But I'd like to believe that he's happy and well, and that somehow I made a positive difference in his life.

4 comments:

Valerie said...
Thank you, Cam. A beautiful story beautifully told by a very special person about a very special little bird! Thank you.

Greg Lewis said...
Wow, this is such an amazing story, and an even more amazing read how you wrote it up. It shows that you have a such a huge heart. How many people wouldnt even notice, and if they did, how many would care for the little guy as you did. Such an amazing experience Cam. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Cameron Lewis said...
Thanks, Greg. I hope I did the right thing, and that he's happily chirping away in a tree somewhere right now.

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