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LOOSELEAF LAUREATE: Bringing up birdie ... a retrospective

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By Terri Likens, Editor

You’ve heard them — the birds are out in force again.

In a few weeks, major spring migrations will be under way, and the birds that stay put will be courting and breeding.

If you’ve followed this column much, you’ll know I love wild birds, but I’ve never aspired to have one in captivity. I have raised two birds — always with the goal of setting them free. The first was a nestling I found when I delivered newspapers in what seems like a lifetime ago.

The more recent one was Arrow.

The only reason I agreed to take the tiny pink bird at the bottom of the plastic pail was that I was certain she wouldn’t make it through the night. My landlady had come by with her and had no idea what to do. I shrugged off the situation until my landlady said she would just leave it out in the sun. As I’m sure my landlady knew I would do, I reached for the pail.

I scrounged worms from the yard, soaked some dry cat food, got out the tweezers and began to feed the bird. The tiny, naked nestling did make it through the night, but the next night wasn’t so good.

I kept her wrapped in flannel in a Tupperware bowl, and at night, kept her in a closet so that my cats wouldn’t get her. The second night, I woke up around 4 a.m., dreaming she was covered in biting ants. I opened the closet door and she lay still and was cold as stone — but I could hear air wheezing through her nostrils.

I figured this was it, but to keep my conscience clear, I carried her around in my warm bare hand for the next hour, trying to warm her little body.

Somehow she made it through the next night. And the next.

Soon, I was keeping her in a box at my drawer at work. Sometimes she cheeped as the publisher walked by. I think he must have thought he was hearing a bird that had flown in from the adjoining printing plant.

She grew fast, and soon she was travelling with me in a picnic basket. She kept popping her head out of the hinged cover to beg for food — at work, mind you.

Arrow, who was a sparrow, learned to pop out of the picnic basket and ride beside me on the headrest on our commute to work.

She enjoyed the journey, and that’s how we spent the next four weeks of our life together.

Mealworms were the breakfast of champions for my little avian friend, but she would eat a bit of seed now and then.

Soon, she became a teenager in bird time.

I’d let her fly free in my towel-covered home office.

Mostly she liked to cling to my hand as I typed and peck at my moving knuckles. I’m guessing most of you have no idea how difficut it is to type in such a situation.

There was never a dull moment when she was out of the cage I had borrowed to hold her at this point.

One day, in my home office, I casually looked over my shoulder, only to see her pecking at a cat’s paw reaching desperately under the door for her.

As I have said, I never aspired to keep a bird in captivity. It was always my goal to set her free.

We had a couple of dry runs when I first tried to release her.

She’d soar for a few seconds, then fly back and cling to my apartment window screens.  Then I’d take her back inside again. After all, I had grown fond of my little charge.

Eventually, she flew away like the arrow she was named for and stayed gone.

My heart felt that tug-of-war between loss of something I had nurtured and doing the right thing.

And for a few days, this childless woman finally knew what it was like to suffer empty-nest syndrome.