I opened my eyes to my almost-teen daughter by my bedside early yesterday morning.
“What are you doing here this early?” croaked the frog in my throat.
“Have to show you something!”
“Lemme put something on,” said I. She ran downstairs. Lucy, the feral cat who claims my home as her territory, stretched on the dresser beside the bed. That’s her night’s sleep research spot these warm summer days. This isn’t our usual wake-up time.
“Want some breakfast?” asked I as I headed into the kitchen where my daughter had gone.
“I found a baby bird! On the gravel out front! It had blood on it,” said she. A possible near-victim of a feline resident of her home.
“Can we nurse it, Dad? Look after it until it grows enough to fly away?”
“I don’t know…it needs good care if it’s injured,” said I, knowing where this was heading. I may have to look after one more wild thing! How can I convince her that it wouldn’t be a good idea, especially with Lucy around?
Nothing would change her mind once fixed on the idea of caring for the little bird. She began calling it ‘Birdie’ too. Warning bells rang in my mind. I brought up challenges with feeding Birdie…and she showed me web pages on how to do so, with her phone of all things. In any case, I wasn’t going to change her mind just then. She left for school leaving Birdie in my care.
On her way back from school, she managed to convince her other parent to buy baby cereal for Birdie. She purchased a large syringe too, for that’s what I’d seen professionals use, with a spout fit for a lamb. I mixed the cereal with boiled water and she did her best to feed Birdie. She opened her beak and pushed a bit of the soft cereal into Birdie’s mouth. Birdie seemed to take in a bit of the food…
I worked with my daughter to convince her that our compassion for Birdie mustn’t turn into attachment. We just weren’t the right people to care for an injured wild bird. It would not serve Birdie’s needs well. She agreed, eventually, and resolved to take Birdie over to one of the Bird Ladies in the Valley of The Sun.
I called her later in the night: “Did Birdie get to a rescue place?”
“The Bird Lady did not pick up her phone…we didn’t go.”
“Make sure you keep Birdie fed and hydrated,” said I.
We’d rigged up a soft plastic tube with a fine nozzle into a baby bird feeder she could use. She was thrilled we could feed Birdie now – that meant she may be able to hold on to Birdie! I gained praise from her for my ‘ingenious’ workmanship.
I knew I’d have to take care of Birdie again for another day. My daughter brought Birdie over, early in the morning again. She asked how many squeezes she’d need to feed Birdie with before she left for school. Ten would do, I thought. Birdie seemed quieter but animated enough.
I checked on Birdie every couple of hours. The little thing, resting between folds of a lunch napkin, seemed rather too quiet. A little past noon, something pushed me to take a closer look at Birdie. Resting in my left hand, Birdie’s beak opened to a few squeezes of food…but it spread all over the beak. I cleaned Birdie as well as I could, clearing food away from Birdie’s nostrils.
Birdie’s mouth opened wide, too wide…was it thirst? I tried a few drops of water, but Birdie did not seem to take it in. Head drooping, Birdie rested in my hand. I tried feeding Birdie again when the beak opened wide yet again. Was Birdie struggling to breathe? What could I do? Just hold on gently. Birdie became very still in my hand.
I placed Birdie back into the shoebox between folds of cloth. No movement. I cheeped gently to Birdie that I’d be back in a bit.
“Is Birdie alive?” My daughter, texting me, almost out of school.
“Yes, but just barely…tried feeding her, but couldn’t.”
“I’ll be back as soon as school’s out…”
Birdie was gone. I paused for a moment over the shoebox…a distinct sense of guilt welling up within. Why did I not take Birdie to the rescue place myself? How do I now manage my daughter’s grief and confusion? But she did know – that we weren’t the right carers for Birdie – and did prepare for such an eventuality.
My daughter rushed in right after school – I met her at the door. She saw my face, threw her phone down, and ran into the kitchen.
“But that Bird Lady did not pick up, Dad! I tried again today!”
“I know…sometimes they don’t take calls because of the large number they get.”
I didn’t have the heart to admit my own sense of guilt or tell her that she should’ve insisted the other parent drop Birdie off regardless. We had failed Birdie, and that was that. I suggested that we give Birdie a proper burial as we always do, with flowers and good thoughts. My daughter said nothing and took Birdie back to where she’d found the little thing.
But I’m glad Birdie died resting in my hand.