A tale of tragedy, love, growth, freedom… and worms.
I got the most unique gift for Mother’s Day this year: an abandoned baby robin. It actually fell out—or was pushed out—of its nest on Saturday. From my living room window I saw this fluttering orange thing and had to take a closer look. “That looks like a bird…” I mused. And sure enough, it was a baby bird, gasping and panting in the sun (and looking a wee bit sun-burned).
My gallant husband fetched the extension ladder and bravely leaned it against the upper branches of our gangly pine to return the poor thing to its nest. On Sunday, it had been ousted again, but this time it was perishing on the hot cement of our driveway.
“What do you want me to do with it?” Husband asked.
“You can either put it out of its misery or bring it in. I can’t bear to have it die a long and terrible death on the driveway. On Mother’s Day, no less.”
So he brought it in. It was not a pretty sight. It reminded me of the creatures in the old fantasy movie Labyrinth.
|About 4 days old|
Only the quills and fuzz kept it from looking entirely like a dragon. Thanks to the invention of the internet and web browsers, I was able to look up information that told me its age (4 days in this picture, as near as I could tell) and how to care for it. My grandson, now an ancient three months old, eats about every 3-4 hours, but this tiny tyke requires food every 15-20 minutes. Earthworms or mealworms were the preferred natural food, but moist kitten chow and hard boiled eggs were also supposed to be quite good for it. (Cannibal!) My daughter decided to name it “Nugget” (as in chicken nuggets). I strenuously objected.
Well, guess who turned his beak up at kitty food and eggs? Mm-hmm. I learned something new, though. Put a worm in the beak, and you get an immediate return on your investment. We lined a small round plastic dish with strips of paper towels and discovered that these itsy bitsy beasties have a built-in instinct to lift their (very bare and completely featherless) bums over the side of the nest to poop. This probably works better in a nest built to fit the bird, but we had moderate success. And it didn’t take the bird long to decide that moist kitty chow and hard-boiled eggs (Whites only. Must have been listening to my daughter or something) were perfectly acceptable foods to consume. By about the third day in our care, there were suddenly small, fluffy feathers on the chest, and the tail was produced some stunted, quarter-inch long attempts at feathers that did absolutely nothing to disguise the bareness or aid in balance. The quills on his wings started sprouting barbs. You could almost watch the bird growing, it grew so fast! It was utterly fascinating.
|9 days old|
We’d kept the little bird and its nest in an ice cream bucket, but now it had begun lurching about. Sometimes it got stuck between the “nest” and the bucket. My darling Husband had also grown tired of digging for worms and stopped at the grocery store for a container of night crawlers. Those things are huge (at least when you’re talking baby birds!). They had to be cut in pieces.
Hubby got that job, which was a little more than I could handle, though I had no trouble feeding the Worm Parts to the baby with a set of surgical tweezers. The little fuzzball was quite hilarious. All you had to do was touch the bucket, and he’d go from quietly snoozing to Full Alert, beak open, neck craning upward, cheeping like crazy.
|11 days old (love the eyebrows!)|
Since he was getting fed extremely well, and seemed content, we lengthened the times between feeding. Every half hour until dusk was taxing enough. We moved him into a large laundry hamper and introduced some sticks for him to start learning to perch. Unable to figure out how to get down, he’d sit there until we felt sorry for him and put him on the floor. About a day and a half later he was hopping up and down from the branch like a pro. We’d put a board over the hamper to prevent an unexpected escape, but he still surprised me when I lifted it up one day and he hopped up onto the rim like he knew what he was doing. We thought he’d never learn to peck bugs from the floor, and my husband got frustrated. But, like all the other incredible things our little guest learned, pecking and feeding himself came quite naturally, and swiftly. It took him about a day and a half to figure it out, but he didn’t like us watching. (Again, hilarious.) We started putting him out on the back deck to acclimate him to the weather, then we let him run around a bit. Mostly, he just stuck close to me. Except when he ran under the deck where we have motorcycles and the lawnmower stored under a tarp. Getting him out of there was interesting…
But I confess, I was enchanted. He knew my voice, and he let me pick him up, even though I stoically resisted petting him and playing with him, knowing that he needed to be on his own in a matter of days.
|14 days old|
A little more than a week after taking him in, he was spending his days and nights outside, though we still fed him some. The weather was chilly and wet. I worried about him. Talk about being soft-hearted… On Memorial Day he helped me in the garden. I kid you not, it was just like having a little toddler underfoot. As I was bent over, using a digging tool to uproot weeds, he was running back and forth underneath me or perching ON my tool. He was quite happy about all the bugs I disturbed for him. He also took a fancy to the diamond on my wedding ring. Oo, shiny! I warned him that he was going to get himself whacked in the head—and sure enough, he ran into my hand as I was pulling a weed free. I thought for sure he’d fly away, but he just shook his head and looked a little cross-eyed for a minute, then went right back to what he’d been doing.
|16 days old – posing for a portrait|
Our neighbors took a shine to him. They brought worms they were digging up in their yard while they worked. Their dog chased the bird, who by this time we’d dubbed “Waldo” because we had trouble seeing him. He was awfully well disguised with his speckled breast. And no, we don’t actually know if it was a he or a she.
|19 days old|
He joined us for breakfast at the picnic table. When my husband sat on one of our deck chairs, Waldo took a seat in the one next door. If we walked across the yard, he followed. If we left him alone for awhile, he scolded us severely when we returned (scolding before eating, even!). When it was time for a little extra worm supplementation, all I’d have to do was go out on the deck and call him, and he’d crash his way up to me. He actually liked snuggling. He’d nestle right down in the palm of my hand—and take a snooze. He’d been doing his flight practice and bug hunting in our back yard, but on Wednesday I walked over to a friend’s house, and when I came back he was waiting for me in a bush by the front door.
On Thursday—Well, he never showed up. I’ve looked for him several times today, but alas, no Waldo. There are no tell-tale feather poofs in the yard indicating an untimely demise via kitty, so I have decided that he is off for greener, wormier pastures.
I hope he comes back to visit….
So guess what????
The virtual book tour for As the Crow Flies begins this Monday, June 3rd! Tune in for interviews, reviews, guest posts, and a giveaway!
And if there is anyone who would like to help out by providing a slot on your blog, it’s not too late. I’ve been meeting some awesome writers and bloggers, promoting them and their books as well as mine—and I’d like to get to know you, too! Please drop me a line or comment here. It’s a win/win situation! What are you waiting for?