Leaving my house one afternoon I realized I had forgotten something once I was already in my car. My driveway forms a wide Y that runs along one side and the back of my house. The night before when I arrived home the lower half of the driveway had been filled with cars that belonged to my daughter’s friends so I parked on the upper driveway and walked down. Now, all of those kids and their cars were gone and in a moment of laziness I considered driving down to grab what I forgot. Instead I got out and walked down the path. As I crossed my patio I thought I saw something move. Was there something pink on the pink stone of my patio? My eyes play tricks on me all the time now. Every stick in my yard looks like a snake. I stopped, took one step back and looked again. There were three baby birds on the ground so new that their fuzzy baby feathers were still wet. Their nest had fallen 15 feet from its place in a square opening in the balcony wall above us. I had watched this nest take shape over the last few weeks. I had enjoyed the coming and going of the birds while I hung my wash on the clothesline. This afternoon’s strong winds must have blown the nest down. I found it tangled in a bush near where the babies lay on the stone patio. One was dead, one was badly hurt, and one was struggling to breath. I imagined taking the necessary steps to save them. I thought about the appointments and clients waiting for me in the city. In that second I knew that there was nothing I could do. I could not save these baby birds. It felt like an act against nature to turn away, walk back to my car, and drive into town. I couldn’t get the bird out of my mind for the rest of the afternoon.
Six hours later when I came home I again walked down the path expecting to find that predators had taken the babies while I was at work. Instead when I rounded the corner, I saw the huge gaping mouth of one bird waiting to be fed. One other baby had survived but it was unable to hold up its head and seemed to have a broken neck. I found a small box; filled it with the soft parts of their original nest and the stuffing my dogs had removed from one of their toys and placed the babies in their new nest. I tried to put this new nest back where their original nest had been but it was too large to fit into that small space. I was already late for a meeting of canyon women so I grabbed an eyedropper and the box with the hatchling, and went in search of a woman who knew more than I did about caring for wild baby birds. I felt like I had entered into a dream.
At the meeting, no one knew what to do with the birds, but I was told that a local animal rescue expert was due to arrive any minute. For most of the evening, the small square box holding the nest sat in the middle of the buffet table along with the platters of cheese, baskets of chips and guacamole and bottles of wine. The animal rescue expert never arrived. I was unable to reach anyone on the phone who I thought might help me. As I drove home I went over what I knew about one day old chickens – they need warmth and water. I gave the babies both when we got home and looked for instructions on caring for wild hatchlings on the Internet. The Internet told me that hatchlings need protein and that even dog food would work in a pinch. Someone at the meeting had suggested baby food. I opened a jar of toddler chicken sticks I happened to have in the house. I fed the birds with tweezers. I read that baby birds eat every 14 – 20 minutes. I knew I could not do that over night. They looked so frail already. I did not expect to find them alive in the morning. With a heavy heart, I went to bed.
I woke up at first light to the sunrise cacophony of bird song. I heard my analyst’s voice in my head louder than the birds saying, “if you have a choice in a dream always take care of the animals.” I peeked in the box and was surprised to see that same gaping mouth reaching out towards me. Hatchlings do eat constantly but they do not eat at night. The injured bird had died during the night but the other had not been dying after I fed it the night before it had simply gone to sleep. I again put tiny pieces of Gerber processed chicken into its gaping mouth, and put the box outside near its original location in case the parents returned.
An hour later there was still no sign of the parents. I was certain again that the bird was not going to make it. It was barely moving.It did not seem to have enough strength to eat. I did not want to watch it die and so I closed the box. I decided to hike into the state park and leave it’s body and what was left of its nest somewhere off of the trail. Hours later as I was about to head out I opened the box one last time and there was that reaching neck and wide-open mouth again. This baby wanted to live. I picked up my phone and left messages for a local rescue organization. I exchanged emails with another. An hour before all the organizations closed for the day, I heard back from a third facility and got in my car and drove to the Californian Wildlife Center. A volunteer was there who would take the hatchling home and give it the proper food and the attention that it needed. The Veterinarian said that it was a Finch and looked healthy and strong. 30 hours after I saw the almost imperceptible movement of its tiny breath it was on its way to a new home.
A month ago friends in upstate New York was woken in the night by the screams of an animal. They rushed outside to find a newborn fawn that was tangled in its nest. A circle of deer stood around the baby staring with a mix of fear and helplessness. My friends took the fawn into their home but it was clear by the next day that something was wrong with it. For a few days they struggled to feed it and teach it how to walk but it did not survive. I asked one of them why she thought a newborn fawn had gotten tangled up in her life. I am just as curious about why this baby bird blew out of its nest and fell into mine. I’m not sure why I needed to experience this. Had I not forgotten something, had I driven down, had I been in a hurry, had I been looking the other way I would never have seen those babies. They were unimaginably small.
95% of all songbirds do not survive to maturity. These are crazy odds. My daughter told me last week that she and her friends had realized that humans are the only species that could be wiped off the face of the earth without having a negative impact on our world’s ecosystems or on any other species. We humans are not part of the intricate web of interdependency that is true of every other plant and animal on the planet. Even my efforts to save this baby bird were unnecessary. It was sadly being part of the 95% mortality rate of its species. Our paths crossed and for a second our lives became intertwined. It came into my life as a teeny tiny teacher. It showed me the awesome power of the life force and will to live even in something so tiny and new. I learned that my fear of doing something wrong makes it hard to have faith and keep going forward into the unknown without giving up. I learned that even doing everything wrong can still result in a positive outcome. I learned that fate is fragile and beyond my control. It can change with an unexpected gust of wind and that just like that one baby from the same nest lives while others die. I also now have the image of the gaping reaching insistently hungry mouth of this baby forever in my mind to remind me of the needs of others that I cannot satisfy and the needs of my own which I must at least try to feed.