Sunday, May 3, 2009

The short but meaningful life of Baby Bird


I was at the family farm in North Carolina this weekend - just a quick trip down to check on the parental units. My nephew drove up from college (the other Carolina) and early Friday evening, we set out for a walk around the perimeter of the huge yard. We hadn't gone far when I saw something on the ground ahead of me. Drawing closer, I realized it was a baby bird. 

My first thought was that it had fallen out of its nest. But there weren't any trees nearby. I bent down to study the poor creature, noticing that it was kind of funny looking. I've heard that sometimes animals will discard offspring that have any sort of defect, and as I studied the little bird (whose gender I don't know, but for some reason I thought he was a He), I noticed that his beak looked really strange. It was like he had a fake beak around his real beak. The fake beak was yellow, with a rubbery consistency. He also had really, really, REALLY long legs, but he couldn't quite stand on them. Whenever he did try to stand, he quickly fell over. 

Have you ever seen a baby bird? It's not always possible, if ever, to identify what type of bird a baby is. This one was really young, too. We called Mom (ever the wise one) over, and she said it probably hatched within the last few days. I looked around again, and seeing no sign of a bird parent, I decided to pick up the little fellow and check him out.

And then he did it. He opened up his eyes, looked me straight in my eye, and asked: "Are you my Mommy?" OK. And I thought I had no maternal instincts. I guess I was wrong. The mother in me kicked into action, especially after the little fellow leaned its head back and opened its little flip-top head while chirping a really cute chirp. "I'M HUNGRY," it seemed to be saying. "FEED ME!" That's when the real fun began.

We all sprung into action. OK, so really it was my nephew and my Dad who sprang into action. I was busy holding Baby Bird in my hand (it fit just perfectly in my palm, but it wanted my other hand over it, too, as if drawn by the warmth). My Dad ran to his storage building looking for his cricket container, which he said was the perfect size to put Baby Bird in. My nephew ran off to find a shovel, then ran through the very dry garden turning up stones and bricks, looking for worms. He found three earthworms, which I dusted off and offered to Baby Bird. "I'm sorry but I won't regurgitate it for you," I told him (while my parents and nephew laughed their butts off).

Baby Bird hungrily swallowed the worms, then "drank" a couple of drops of water. In the meantime, my Dad went inside to shred some paper to use in the cricket box as nesting material for his new Grandson. Then both my parents got out their bird books and tried to identify Baby Bird's species. We all agreed that he had to be some type of seabird, with legs that long. In the end, we agreed that he must be a Blue Heron or at least a member of the heron family.

We had planned to go out to dinner that night, and as the time drew nearer for us to depart, Dad helped me find a place to hang the cricket box. Baby Bird was exhausted by then and needed to rest. He lay down in the shredded paper and closed his eyes. I watched him breathing, up and down, as if he were my child.

I checked on him as soon as he returned, and he spoke to me, once again opening his flip-top head. Once again, my nephew went worm-hunting. This time he wasn't as successful, only finding three baby earthworms to offer. Still, Baby Bird was happy to get whatever we gave him.

As we started to bed Friday night, Dad said to me: "You know the chances are slim of Baby Bird making it through the night. He's just too young, and that's just how nature is." Yeah, I knew that. On Saturday morning, the first thing I did was go out to the garage to check on Baby Bird. He made it through the night! But as I gently lifted him into my hands, I could tell that his breathing was more shallow. He didn't seem hungry or thirsty. But . . . OK, maybe it's my imagination, but . . . he did seem happy to see me.

I knew that Baby Bird was going to die, and that there wasn't anything I could do about it. So for the next hour or so, I held him in my hands, sent him Reiki energy and images of him flying, and talked to him. You probably think I went off the deep end or something, but as strange as it sounds, I had a connection with this glorious creature. When he died I cried a little. It was the first time in a very long time that I've cried over anything. I cried because I was sad, but also because sometimes life just sucks and there's nothing we can do about it. We'll never know the reason Baby Bird appeared on the ground in the yard, or why its parents dumped it (if that's really what happened). But I have to think there was a reason that I came across him, and I feel special that I was the one who spent his last hours with him.  

How many people can say they've fed a worm to a baby bird with a flip-top head? Not many, I'm sure. My Mom wonders if perhaps this is what killed him (thank you, Mom) . . . she says that the worms should have been - I don't know - put through the food processor or something. But I don't think that's why Baby Bird died. I think it was just his time. Even though the timing sucked. 

Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.