As those of you who follow me on Instagram will already know, over the last week the Forbearing Husband and I morphed into bird watchers. I don’t mean of the twitcher type though, I mean the full time, close up, feeding with tweezers every hour kind of bird watching.
Meet Frankie. Identity: gender-fluid. Pronouns: Ze/Hir.
I found hir as I was clearing cabbage tree leaves off the lawn in preparation for mowing. I almost trod on the little pink scrap in the grass before I saw what it was. I could see where ze might have fallen from, but that nest was so high, and in such spindly cabbage tree branches that there was no way to get baby back to it. We attempted a family reunion by wedging a spare nest into a lower branch and hoping mum or dad would feed baby there. No such luck. By dusk it was clear that without some help little bird would be dead by morning.
And so it began.
For eight days we did all the things you do for a newborn human baby. Hourly feeds, waking at 6am, sterilising utensils, cleaning up shit, soaking cat biscuits in water and poking them into a wide open mouth with tweezers — oh sorry, that bit probably doesn’t apply to human babies.
Due to the derelict nature of the cabbage tree that Frankie fell from, we have a few spare nests. They fall out all the time; mostly after the babies have left home, thank goodness. Why birds insist on making homes in a tree which any sane DIY nest builder could see is highly unstable and vulnerable to wind gusts I’ll never know.
Anyway, we popped Frankie in one of the spare nests. It wasn’t long however before ze made it clear that hir preferred accommodation was someone’s hand. The Forbearing Husband and I took shifts at carrying hir around as she slept, chirping gently (her to us, and us to her). It was rather comforting for all concerned, but neither of us humans got much work done.
We did revive a few of our old one-handed skills from days carrying around our own babies though. Tea making, watering the garden, pouring gin and tonic — you know, the essentials. After a day of this we struck on lining a bigger nest with wool from our Whiltshire sheep. Frankie settled. Peace reigned. And we congratulated ourselves on creative use of local resource.
The respite was short. After a few days Frankie was developing feathers and starting to get itchy feet. On day five ze began executing drunken-like crawls between nests (the small original nest and larger wool lined nest). By day seven this had evolved into episodes of dangerous teetering towards the edge of the basket we had the nests in. Ze would lurch around, struggling for balance by flapping hir, as yet non-flight-ready, wings. With this kind of recklessness I could understand how ze might have ended up on the grass in the first place. We started talking about whether it was time.
This morning we knew. As I took Frankie for our customary stroll around the garden to listen to the chattering of hir friends and relations, ze sprinted up my arm. I returned for a serious conversation with the Forbearing Husband and made a phone call.
When baby sparrows fledge their parents feed them on the ground as they rest between practice flights. This is a stage of baby bird development which humans like us, who live with two dogs and a cat, are categorically not qualified to assist with. The day had come to take Frankie for a long drive —
— to the Whangarei Bird Rescue Centre.
It’s a fabulous place. When we dropped Frankie off they had three tūī and a kererū in the aviaries outside. They told us they’d just rehabilitated a bunch of morepork/ruru babies, and in the bird hospital was a little blue penguin/korora with a damaged eye. I made a cash donation — and, if you like, you can too. Here’s a link.
As we left one of the bird rescue volunteers mentioned what a good job we’d done raising Frankie, and said that someone had just dropped off a nest with three sparrow nestlings in it. She paused, the Forbearing Husband and I exchanged looks.
We resisted — this time — but let’s just say there may well be some volunteer baby bird fostering in our future. <baby-bird emoji, heart emoji>.
* Our first bird baby was ‘Paul’, who fell out of a tree in our Laingholm garden in late December 2011. After fledging he went to the bird rescue centre in Green Bay to learn to fly and be re-integrated into sparrowdom.