Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner!

Lately my posts have been a heavy duty bombardment of info for you to digest. Today I’ll lighten things up a bit with a story. This in the hope that it will help my friend Chris over at Chris Wrinn's Whimsical World  who has recently found herself in the same predicament as we did back in May 2009. This is a story we love to share. A story of survival, tenacity and love. Here is the story of Baby.

It was Friday, May 29, 2009. The weather was cool and overcast. While visiting, the husband of my girlfriend spotted what he thought was a dead chicken beneath some of the pine trees in our backyard. Truth be told, I shrugged it off. I assumed it was a causality of war. A war fought daily in our backyard and the fields beyond. A war where our huntress cats played the role of villains, and where one of the countless chipmunks, mice, moles, rats, bunnies and birds fall into the role of hapless victim. The carnage is side-stepped daily.

What an awkward, gangly thing!

Many hours later I remembered this bird, surely gone by now, but I still felt compelled to assess the situation. Upon inspection we saw that it was indeed a bird, somewhat feathered, crumpled on the ground and probably a robin. Upon even closer inspection I realized that it was still breathing ~ cold, so cold, but still hanging on. It had spent hours on the chilly, wet ground just waiting for us it seemed. There was no turning back now.

She has that 'so ugly she's cute' thing going on!

To be honest, I held out very little hope for this critter. Wild animals very rarely survive without their natural parents, or at least that has been our experience. My first order of business was to get her warmed up, having been out of the nest for hours without the body heat of its siblings she was freezing. I was quite surprised that as her body temp rose, she seemed to spring to life. Moving some, chirping a bit. We were all excited by this improvement and correctly assumed she must be starving by this point.

Lol ~ what a sight! Soaking up the sun.

I went outside to hunt up a worm which I then proceeded to mash up into worm soup, much to the girls dismay. It was a very unpleasant job, but someone had to do it, and it obviously wasn’t going to be one of the moaning, groaning girls watching my every move. (Boy, did I ever need to toughen them up! ;) Without too much difficulty I managed to get some food into this little critter with a dropper, and decided it was time to christen her with a name. Since we happened to be watching Dirty Dancing at the time, all the girls unanimously agreed on Baby, after the main character of the movie. I’m sure with a grimace, I agreed.

Wonder what she's trying to say? Wonder no more, she only knew two words ~ FEED ME!! ;)

That night we placed her under a wire basket on a nest of towels with a heating pad for warmth. This was protection from the skulking cats, eyes peering around every corner, waiting for us to relax our guard, even for a moment. I warned the girls she may not make it through the night, but we were encouraged by her obvious spunk. Our fingers were crossed.

All you had to do was dangle your fingers over her and she struk the pose, yellow beak flashing for all to see!

Imagine our delight in the morning to find Baby still with us, warm and hungry. Now, the labor intensive work would begin. After seeing her eat the night before I thought that she may be old enough to handle “worm pieces”, so we began the disturbing job of worm cutting ~ I’ll spare you the gory details. She took them eagerly and with obvious enjoyment. We soon discovered her appetite was voracious and she required food every hour or so. It wasn’t long before she accepted us as her foster parents and would scream in anticipation of food every time we so much as walked by her cage. She was by no means a silent houseguest.  We did not feed her through the night, and so that is really the only time she fell silent, except for short power naps throughout the day. We often wondered how they survived out there in the wild, with that loud, insistent noise. It would seem they were shouting to the world “SEE ME, SEE ME” loud enough for every predator to hear!

She was always happy to perch on a finger. Jordan has her here.

She quickly graduated from the basket to a small bird cage, always under our cautious supervision. With 4 cats roaming around we couldn’t be too careful, and we’d already had a bad experience with a bird rescue once before (R.I.P. Chirpy). She was growing quickly and feathers began filling in that scrawny body quite beautifully. We knew things were in great working order, she was pooping copious amounts. Leave it to a mother to cheer about that! ;)

Snuggling up with me in the afternoon sun.

I figured that I should be feeding her a varied diet, much as her mom would in the wild, so we added in some strawberries, blueberries and meal worms ~ as you can imagine, they were a hit. However, she may have eaten sticks and stones if offered, for all I know… ;) I did read that you’re not supposed to give them water (they probably get all they need from their food) but we did give her a couple drops here and there being careful that she didn’t aspirate on them.

Comfortable enough to snooze!

Within a couple of weeks she had outgrown the bird cage and so we moved her to a large dog crate, with room to spread her wings. She loved to be held and snuggled, a big no-no, I know. The official rehabilitation position on this is that in order to keep them wild and fearful of humans, contact should be minimal. Understood. What is left out in that line of reasoning is that it has been my direct observation that things of all kinds grow and thrive with love and affection, while they shrivel and whither from lack of. And so we loved her. And so she flourished.

This was her 'training' branch. She loved it and would often doze with her toes anchoring her in place.

Once she was fully feathered I knew it was time for her to spread her wings and get that flying thing figured out. (We also realized that ‘she’ was most likely a ‘he’.) We began in the house, hungry cats watching through the glass door, salivating and licking hungry chops. We all remember one day she was happily perched atop the basement door one moment, the next, flying across the room to land directly on my head! It was pretty hilarious except that I happened to be cooking lunch at the stove and had gruesome visions of what could happen if she miscalculated and overshot her landing… ;)

This is the distance from the branch to the deck. Probably a daunting task for a baby, but she had it figured out in no time. After all, the deck was where the worms were! Incentive enough!

From this practice she moved to outside exploration. We’d put her on the deck and leave her, trying to foster independence. She wouldn’t do much at first, just walk the railing and wait to be let in for her next meal. Eventually we moved her a short distance across the yard to the branch of a small tree, not too far from the deck. We would stand there and call her. She would first fly from the branch to a waiting shoulder that mysteriously moved farther and with each successful landing. I think she liked our cheers at each display of courage she showed. Eventually she did make that first solo flight across the yard, and weren’t we just the proud parents.

We all love this picture! Two peanuts checking each other out!

Everyday earned her more time outside and daily her skill increased. It was slightly worrisome for us, there are quite a few cats lurking around, but it’s a danger that all birds must live with. Of course we realized our mistake in introducing her to strawberries quite quickly, as daily she raided our patch, even squeezing under the netting to feast.

Another finger perch

We had a certain whistle, kind of like a dinner bell, that we used to summon Baby. To her it was the sound of MEALTIME! It was so awesome to walk out onto the deck, whistle and wait for this little feathered critter to zip across the yard to land on my shoulder. I will never forget that surreal feeling. It got so that she didn’t even need a whistle for encouragement. One day she spotted me walking across the yard and I think I must have jumped a mile when this little master of the skies hurtled towards me to land roughly on my shoulder!

The sky's the limit! :)

We were still bringing her in at night, but she was needing us less and less, thankfully relieving us of worm duty. Her instincts were taking over. Then simply, one day, she was gone. No whistles brought her back and with wings strong and sure, our Baby had left the nest. It was goodbye, of  the bittersweet variety.

Tons of bugs to be found in the long grasses. She began foraging here.

We learned some things while raising Baby. First, that what we were doing was probably illegal according to wildlife laws, rules, regulations. But, I had two choices. I could put her back under that tree and ensure a slow, cold death. Or we could try. While I understand why the rules are in place, I had to give her a chance, because without us, she had no chance. I don’t believe in accidents, so reason must follow that she had found us, and we had found her for a reason. I’m happy to say that this story has a joyful ending. J

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it (song anyone?)

We also learned that if you are to find a baby bird, fully feathered, uninjured, hopping in the grass, please leave it be. Although seemingly abandoned or maybe a premature flight from the nest, this is in fact normal, and the first step towards independence.  Its parents are somewhere close by, watching and supplementing its feedings still. It needs no rescuing; it’s simply finding its way. The same thing goes for bunnies. And deer. Animal parents are well equipped to raise their young, and although humans usually interfere out of concern and compassion, that interference may likely cost that growing baby its life.

And so, that is the story of Baby. It was a magical time, to be so close and personal with an animal that is usually so reserved and frightened of humans. To earn its trust and watch its growth so closely. To this day I’ll still find myself quietly whistling when I see a robin hopping by, hoping to find that little feathered beauty landing lightly on my shoulder. It hasn’t happened yet, but one can always dream. J

Who's been eating my strawberries? Do I detect guilt?

Nope, belligerance is more like it! ;)

I hope this video will play, it shows what feeding time was like here, every hour for weeks! She was so loud and insistent, I'm glad we have this to look back on. Taylor is taping and Jordan is feeding, with Riley and I talking in the background! :) Enjoy!

Peace ~ Melinda