We went to a friend’s pool party this past Saturday. One of our friends there had found a tiny baby bird–way more skin than fluffy down, eyes still not open, not able to move around too much and even that very unsteadily and unbalanced–on the pool deck.
With no nest in sight to try to get it back into*, the friend left it out for a bit in the faint hopes that the parents would find it and take it back to its nest, as she had seen happen before.
Here, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Meanwhile, the little thing was hungry. Again and again, big open beak at the end of a knobby little head that was bobbing and weaving around unsteadily, straining to get food from whoever, wherever it could.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you: Who would turn their back on such a helpless creature?
Not our friend who found the baby, for sure. Thinking this seemed to be a robin baby (having a robin on our porch column lay eggs a couple of years ago and raise the young until they all left the nest, we agreed, though at a guessed scant 2-3 days old at most, it wasn’t easily identifiable), she duly dug up some worms, cut them up into baby bird bite-sized pieces, and proceed to feed it. Or rather, her. The friend decided the baby bird was a girl. Because why not?
Our eleven-year-old daughter, one of the most animal-loving people I’ve ever met, joined right in with digging and feeding duties, though she was understandably a bit squeamish about cutting up one living creature to feed it to another. Yet another way she’s like her dad.
As everyone started to leave the party, including the friend who’d found the little bird (who gave it the name Fiadh (“FEE-ah”, Irish for “wild”)), it dawned on me that we were bringing it–her–home with us.
So begat a day and a half of keeping the little girl warm–using the only incandescent lightbulb in the house as a heat lamp, and at times a heating pad under/around the large ceramic coffee cup that had been layered with dryer lint and soft bits of baby blanket we use and re-use as eco-friendly tissues–and fed (more cut-up worms) as well as giving her some individual drops of water to keep her hydrated.†
We finally got in touch with Toronto Wildlife Control late the next day to get some insight on best practices in these situations. The outgoing voicemail message said, among other things, that it’s illegal to keep a wild animal in your house for more than 48 hours. And that if you come across an abandoned baby animal you should just leave it alone.
Don’t feed it, don’t give it water, just let it be.
So my wife left a voicemail explaining the situation.††
We got a call back from them after-hours, which we were impressed by, and spoke with a very understanding woman who gave us the number of a wildlife refuge an hour north of Toronto, called Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge. We called them up (again, thankfully answering late) and explained everything and they asked us to bring Fiadh in the next morning.
So my daughter and I got up extra early and made the drive up there today. I called her into school as coming in late–some experiences will stick with her for life and are more important than whatever she may learn in class for half a day–and we took the little one (officially Fiadh but now also nicknamed by my daughter as Fuzz Nugget) up there. We signed her into the refuge along with making a donation, which is how the place, a registered charity, operates.
Some tears were shed by the kiddo, and would’ve been by me as well, but I knew that me doing it would only get her more upset, and she doesn’t like crying. So for her sake I bit it back and did the solid anchor routine and just made sure I didn’t talk much, as the waver in my voice and catch in my throat would’ve betrayed how I was feeling.
Because taking Fiadh there was of course the right thing to do. That place has the people with the experience and knowhow and proper procedures and equipment to care for little beings like this, while we were grasping at straws using makeshift methods and hoping that we even have the right bird species we’re feeding robin food to. The refuge takes in whatever animal you’ve found and will, as their motto says, rescue, treat, nurture, and release it, striving to only interact with it as needed so it doesn’t get too used to humans. They operate on bullfrogs to put pins in broken legs. They raise abandoned bear cubs. If they can treat the head trauma of a kingfisher that hit a window (and they did–see August of their current wall calendar of animals they’ve treated and released), they can certainly raise a seemingly healthy baby bird.
But anyone with any shred of love for animals can’t for a day and a half have taken care of a helpless little creature not long out of her egg–all fragile bones and odd angles on a rolly-polly body, with semi-translucent skin that seemingly grew more grey fuzz by the hour–and then not have been at least somewhat sad at seeing her handed over to someone else. Suddenly this helpless creature that literally relied on you for keeping her alive was entirely out of your protection. More, you made the handing over happen. And that does in some way feel like we’ve let her down, like we weren’t up to it. Like we were washing our hands of the responsibility we’d chosen to take on.
Taking her to the animal rescue was objectively the right thing to do, but subjectively it felt… feels… more than a little wrong.
Sometimes doing the right thing still hurts.
Hopefully time will help heal that wound and I’ll be left feeling more of the positive aspect of doing this than having it be so at war with the bad feeling of doing it.
Hey, the room’s getting a little dusty…
[steps away to get himself some cold water to drink]
As a nice perk, we have Fiadh’s case number and will soon be able to start tracking her progress through the animal rescue’s website, which we’ll be following closely as the unexpected, brief adoptive parents of a tiny bird who touched our lives.
*Fun fact, per some research: It seems robins in particular accept their babies by sight not by scent. While there may be other birds who won’t take their young back after being handled by people as seemingly everyone learns as a kid, robins are allegedly pretty cool about taking the little ones back as long as they look as they should.
†The wrong thing to do, we were later told. If you find a baby bird you suspect is a robin (and perhaps other types as well), don’t give it any water. We read of someone raising a baby robin with a drop of water for every few bites of worm bit and that seemed a sensible way to keep her hydrated. But we got a gentle finger-wagging from the receptionist at the wildlife rescue for doing that. Giving baby robins water runs the risk of their getting water into their lungs which can lead to pneumonia.
††We weren’t elusive about the fact the baby bird was in our house and we were feeding it. To not have done so would’ve let it die, and particularly in allowing that to happen, a little part of us would’ve died with it. So while I appreciate the spirit of leaving nature to nature, letting something tiny and wobbly and helpless suffer and die when we could prevent it wasn’t going to happen. If that risks us getting a ticket, so be it.