Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Early the Bird

It was an odd, sad day around here today. Upon waking in the morning, my housemate found a baby bird lying on the throw rug in front the kitchen door. One of the cats must have found it and brought it in, as it was bleeding in a few places but still very much alive. I made a nest for it out of tissues in a plastic container. As you can see from the photo, the little guy's head was mostly beak, and his eyes had not yet opened onto the spectacle of nature.


Once in the nest, the tiny bird started craning its neck and opening his beak wide so I could see right down his translucent gullet. I found a small worm in the back yard, which I cut in half and fed to him. He gobbled it down eagerly, making little peep-peep noises all the while. As I held him in my palm I could see right through his rice paper skin to his miniature rib cage. It was like a row of whiskers or filaments that heaved with each breath.

It was only later that I realized I probably should have cut the worm into little pieces--mashed it even to simulate the semi-digested worm and bug pabulum that mommy birds regurgitate for their young. Maybe this bird didn't even like worms. I'm still not sure what species it was. But eventually the bird started heaving as if he were in pain.

Possibly its stomach or another inner organ was already ruptured from the treatment of the cats, but I still felt like it could have been my fault for the bird's discomfort. I looked like it had a lot of internal bleeding, but I couldn't tell if it had started before or after I fed it the half worm. I kept the bird close by for the rest of the day, feeding it sugar water through an eye dropper. It got weaker and weaker as the hours passed, and eventually couldn't even lift up its head to sip water or eat any further pieces of worm.

Then my friend Vlad dropped by, so we went for a walk down by the water. We were out for an hour or so and, when we returned, the bird had passed away. In the morning I had been so happy thinking that the bird might make it. He seemed strong and full of will to live, and I was excited while searching the local corner stores for dew worms. The guy who sold them to me said that they have gone up a quarter in price due to the dry weather we've been having.

When it became apparent the bird wasn't going to make it, and that it might have been partly my doing (for feeding it the still wiggling worm), I got sad. I was too cowardly to try to put it out of its misery (though I was bravely cutting up worms--unnecessarily it turns out), and I didn't want to give it back to the cats as they would likely only maim and kill it slowly. So I sat with the little creature and tried to make its last hours as comfortable as possible. Life is so mysterious, incredible and melancholy at the same time. The will to live will live forever, but no single creature can contain it for that long.


ANONYMOUS 1 said...

Nature is amazing. The picture of the baby bird makes one realize how fragile every living creature is - some of us just have thicker skin. You tried to help and that's what counts.

Dr. Flavour said...

That was a beautiful journal entry. It reminded me of Scriptural passage, "Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing." (Matt 10:29). An early and prominent Christian theologian, St. Jerome, said you couldn't take this remark literally, since God would never actually care about anything as insignificant as the passing of a bird. Jerome was under the influence of Platonism, and the neo-Platonic critics of Christianity, who thought the Christian God was not suitably dignified if concerned with the muddy minutia of the material world. But the whole thrust of the Gospel message points to the truth of that statement. That is, the humiliation involved in the caring for what is slight and fragile is a kind of greatness, the right kind. That may not help your sadness, but it's why I thought the story was beautiful even though it was sad.

flatlander said...

Hi Dr. Flavour! Thank you for the illuminating words.Perhaps the bird would have died anyways, but I feel like my own clumsiness and lack of knowledge on how to care for baby birds might have been partly to blame. He was a real fighter though! And it broke my heart to see him slowly fading during the course of the day. Still, I feel lucky to have gotten to witness such a marvel. When he lifted his head and opened his mouth to be fed, he was like a strange little flower.