First, it was one nestling sparrow and then there were three. The pre-monsoon winds gusted through and sent each of the scantily feathered babies plunging 20 feet from the top of the barn into the horse corral below. Miraculously, they all managed to escape a barrage of hooves and a serious fall only to find themselves in my care.
The first one was found by a youth worker. The sparrow looked done for. There wasn’t much movement but we tried feeding oatmeal through a syringe anyway. The bird barely ate and continued to weaken. Next, all of us were Googling what to do with orphaned birds. Turns out cat food is a good substitute for parental regurgitation. I volunteered to take the baby home, after all, I already have three dogs and a broken air conditioner so my house was ideal habitat for baby bird care, warm and caring. I must admit, at first, I was reluctant to take him home. I caught myself stuffing my emotions so as not to get attached. I didn’t want to witness the slow death of a helpless creature.
Once at home, I liquified some dog food in the blender since I didn’t have cats. I reasoned, at this point, it was worth the gamble. Astonishingly, he guzzled it down chirping for the first time. I continued to feed him whenever he chirped which ended up being about every 20 minutes. As the nestling regained his vivacity, I began to feverishly research baby sparrow care to maximize the recovery process. The next morning my coworkers were relieved to see him alive. Astonished, they remarked that more feathers had appeared overnight. Soon after, a couple of clients appeared with two more birds cradled in their hands, and then there were three. Was a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? If you add them up it makes three birds anyway, and that’s basic nest-making addition.
Soon the dog food was a flowin’ and the babies were a chirping and squawking indignantly. Their little gaping mouths asking for more. I had become a bird mom overnight. A therapist coworker called me “The Mother of Sparrows” with a chuckle, and then commented, “this was clearly a lesson in attachment.” I laughed nervously, it was apparent I was becoming fond of them. However, I knew it was unrealistic for me to feed birds every 20 to 45 min so I reluctantly phoned all the wildlife rescue places in town. No one wanted three orphaned sparrows. As it turns out, sparrows are a non-native species, and therefore, not protected, so it was up to me.
The weekend came and I needed to run errands. Sadly, I knew this arrangement wasn’t going to work. After another search, I found a domestic fowl rescue where the woman reluctantly agreed to take them. I think she had less time to care for them than I did, but I had no clue how to teach them to fledge or take seed. I hid tears as we drove away; my heart was broken. I felt a little ashamed that I was so saddened over some birds and I couldn’t understand why this was affecting me so much. I seriously considered returning the next day to take them back.
I’ve continued to feel sad about giving them up in ways that I can’t make sense of. I think about them every day and wonder how they’re doing. I miss peeking in their box and watching them wake up in the morning squawking for their breakfast with a sense of entitlement. I liked watching their feathers grow so quickly. But, mostly I felt sorry for them because no one wanted or appreciated them as much as I did. Just three sparrows who don’t belong among “real wildlife.”
Rescuing has been the story of my life. As a kid, my mom and I would save toads from vehicular manslaughter after night time rains. They would gather under the street lights to catch bugs, refreshed by the desert moisture. I couldn’t stand seeing their smashed warty bodies so we’d drive around scooping them up as they tried to hop away from our headlights. We’d gingerly put them into our five-gallon bucket as they peed on us in fear, but it was worth it. We had a nightly assembly of toads on our back porch sucking in insects like a bar serving free rounds. And, then there were box turtles galore, also rescued from malevolent tires. The neighborhood kids would gather to watch them mate; all of us ogling turtle pleasures under the bushes. My mom once saved a murre from fishing line who became a temporary resident, and we always had a shelter dog or three.
As an adult, I believe whole-heartedly in adopting unwanted pets. I can’t stand animals, children, and plants that are thrown away or otherwise rejected. It upsets me that life can be so invalidated, objectified, and taken so flippantly. Maybe I can relate more than I like to share; at the very least, it’s easy for me to imagine life from their perspective. I am compelled to look after any sad creature in need (it seems almost a cliché, at this point, why I was compelled to become a therapist). Completely powerless, they have no voice to speak their needs; they are at the mercy of circumstances they find themselves in. In fact, this is also the state of wilderness in general. Without a voice, all of nature is at the mercy of circumstances often dictated by greed and thoughtlessness, conditions I feel overwhelmed and powerless to change. To cope, I discover I’ve shut down. I’ve unwittingly become more detached, and as a result, I’ve placed distance between me and caring; between me and my heart. Clearly, it seems a bird in the hand is worth much more, a lesson in compassion and an appreciation of life no matter how paltry. Now, when I spend time outside, I find sparrow melodies are easily discernable from the raucous refrains of other birds. Motherly love is the bridge that effortlessly spans the gap between species.