Saturday, April 16, 2005


Everyone who has a wild bird living under a Pyrex container in their house, please raise your hand.

Oh, we’re the only ones?

I have no one to blame but myself: I took a nap. One of the big laws of the universe is that if Mom sleeps in the daytime, weirdness must inevitably follow. So I was poked awake by Consort:

CONSORT: Uh…Sorry to wake you. You can go right back to sleep in a minute, but the cat brought a baby bird into the kitchen, and it’s alive, and it doesn’t appear to be hurt, and what should I do?

Wow, not sleeping now. In the kitchen, Daughter was levitating with excitement over a bunched-up rag in a Tupperware container as Consort ejected the cat through the back door. Peering into the container, I saw a small, half-grown bird, possibly a sparrow. It had a few adult feathers, a bit of down left, some featherless patches, and the foulest expression I have ever seen on anyone not going through menopause. Still, if anyone had a reason to complain about how their day was playing out, it was my little bald friend here. It was just as Consort said: no blood, no marks. It could have internal injuries but, at least on the surface, this wasn’t an animal needing to be put out of its misery.

However, this did not mean I was looking forward to a houseguest. I found a website which indicated any wild baby bird should be returned immediately to the wild (Hooray!). Unless -- it mentioned almost parenthetically at the bottom of the page -- the bird was brought in by a cat. Then, you had to take care of it. (Un-Hooray). Living in a big city, we are less than three blocks from a place where one could buy formula for orphaned sparrows. Daughter joined me as I drove there and I listened to her plot her new Life with Baby Bird.

Finally, I said as gently as I could, “Kiddo, the bird might live. But you have to remember that it was in the cat’s mouth, and no one in this family has experience raising a baby bird. It’s probably going to die”.

She thought for a second and said cheerfully “I’ve never seen something dead before!”

Okay. So she was good either way.

The reconstituted formula smelled just about as you would think something that had to appeal to someone who eats bugs would smell. Consort fed the bird using a small plastic syringe device he kept in his tool box for… I don’t know; teeny caulking emergencies? The cat, having snuck back into the house, watched this all in fascination. From her perspective, we were Super-Sizing her Happy Meal.

Lacking anything resembling a birdcage, Consort put the bird in one of Daughter’s old sandbox toys, wrapped in a towel, and placed the toy in our wicker hamper for darkness and protection against feline torture. It peeped a couple of times in there, and then got very quiet. I prepared myself to officiate at a bird funeral in the morning. Shockingly enough, the new day found it alive and glaring.

Consort re-caulked the bird, now called Peep, and both of them seemed to get the hang of it in a food-all-over-the-place sort of way. I didn’t know how much brown goop had actually gotten into the bird until a few minutes later when Daughter glanced in at the bird. “I think we should call it Poop”, she observed.

It seemed like a positive sign that its digestive system appeared to be up and running. When Daughter and I got back from morning errands, Consort had created a sort of cage from an upended Pyrex bowl over a vegetable steamer lined in a cloth diaper. It was really clever, in a MacGyver sort of way: he proudly pointed out that the holes in the steamer allowed air in, and the glass of the Pyrex kept it nicely warm in there. I’d have complained more loudly about my steamer working as an avian recovery room, but I have had it for years, and have steamed vegetables exactly twice -- each time after seeing an unflattering picture of myself in a bathing suit. I view steamed vegetables as the punishment for having eaten ice cream for breakfast. It was going to a better use now, and from now on I can say things like “Well, I would look better in a bikini, but we had to throw away our steamer after the bird pooped in it!” My feeling for our involuntary houseguest warmed into the affection you hold for something upon which you can assign blame.

Lulabelle, the cat, had been nearly frenzied in her pursuit of Peep Under Glass, which led to a policy of keeping Lu outside most of the day. Yesterday, however, I forgot and left the door open so the dog could get outside. A few minutes later, I saw the cat dart past me across the kitchen floor: I have never seen a cat tail look criminal before. I raced after her, and saw to my absolute horror that she had a bird in her mouth. That same instant, Consort, arrived through the back door to hear my scream “Oh my God!” and the sound of a chair being overturned as I scrambled after the now super-nimble cat.

I think “Hi, how was your day?” is so overdone, don’t you?

Consort ran to the living room, where I was trying to separate the cat from her prize. I saw in an instant that her catch was not our guest. This new playmate was a larger bird, and easily capable of getting away, as evidenced by its flight to the top of a curtain rod. After a few aerobatics, Consort was able to shoo Peep the Elder out the front door as I checked on Peep the First, which glared at me through its Pyrex dome and pooped on the steamer, again just missing the diaper.

In that second, I was filled with a rush of pure affection.

I am used to domesticated mammals, which we’ve bred to remain, psychologically, babies forever; endlessly trying to curry favor from the clumsy bipeds who feed them. Our house is filled with affection and attention, but mammalian interaction can get complicated and fraught (I have actually been heard to say: “The dog is feeling anxious again. She’s eating paper. Did she see that crazy terrier when you walked her?”). There was something sort of nice about a taking care of a living thing that viewed us with total, feral indifference.

It’s been several days now. Both Consort’s and my hands are chapped from constant hand-washing. Peep, briefly renamed Poop, then Squawk, is now called Stink-Eye. It sleeps through the night, but has a slightly more stringent definition of “first thing in the morning” than the rest of us. It prefers to be caulked by Consort rather than me, and takes any glimpse of him as reason to stand there with beak agape, waiting for food. If food doesn’t come, Stink-Eye complains at length: put a track suit on the bird, and it would be a retiree on a weekend cruise to Mexico. The bird has considerably more of its adult feathers, and is trying to fly. Like many adolescents, however, Stink-Eye has greater faith in Stink-Eye’s abilities than they merit: right now, the bird hops around and falls a lot. Without any specific knowledge avian maturity, we’re guessing our houseguest will be ready to leave by next Wednesday.

I will then try to convince the cat that soy hot dogs are delicious and, uncooked, put up quite a fight.


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