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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals

Selections From The Ark Number 197 - Summer 2004

By Ariana Windle

One beautiful May afternoon as I walked my daughter home from school we stopped to visit a friend who was having some building work done. As she and I chatted over tea my daughter suddenly shouted through the open window for me to come quickly. There on the stone terrace below the scaffolding like lost marbles were three pink shapes.

With a head that is half mouth, purple buds where there should be eyes, veins pulsating across the skull and a pink featherless body, a newly hatched baby bird is not a pretty sight! You can at once see their prehistoric heredity.

Of the three babies one was dead and two nearly so. But with the insistent optimism of my ten-year-old we walked home, pink prehistoric creatures cupped carefully in hand.

From an extensive collection in the tree house, Christina chose a blackbird’s nest to put the babies in. We placed this in a long handled basket which I could carry around if necessary, put them under an angle-poise lamp, and daughter went to dig for worms while I prepared human dinner.

Thus began hourly rituals of daytime feeding and several anxious nightly sojourns. Surprisingly they survived the first few days on our chopped worm and chick-crumb concoction dispensed from tweezers. But despite my best attempts at fair feeding, the weaker one was found one morning trampled to death by what was clearly the most tenacious little creature. This thing we called ‘Bird’ for want of imagination.  (To enlarge the picture of Bird feeding, click on the picture or link)

Within days her feathers sprouted in downy grey tufts, eyes opened, gaping beak began to yellow and take shape. We were guessing blackbird or starling. But we just called her Bird.

And Bird she’d answer to. She soon grew to recognise my voice and when I would appear in the kitchen in the morning and say good-morning to my husband a sudden cheeping would start from under the cover of the lamp by the computer in my study next door. I would say ‘Good morning, Bird’ and dutifully shove some food down her until Christina appeared and did the same.  (To enlarge the picture of Bird, click on the picture or link)

One morning, as I opened the study door to Bird’s usual frantic a.m. peeping, the nest was empty! Now my study is chaos at the best of times, so finding one small dark grey creature in the clutter was no easy task.

Our border collie bitch Binkley (don’t ask) was remarkably tolerant of yet another small eatable creature. After all, she’d forgone the culinary delicacy of numerous rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters – in favour of mothering them. Why not this feathery flapper? So Binkley became our sniffer dog. Each morning I’d say ‘Where’s Bird?’ and she’d eventually point and whine.

Christina was in school most of the day, and I was busy with a variety of the usual domestic errands, so if I was to be gone for very long, I would have to carry the basket-nest with me. Bird clung on. She sat in her nest on the passenger seat until, fed up with the lack of view, would flap up onto my shoulder to look out the window and peep her comments at the traffic. We would arrive at school to pick up Christina and a rush of children would come over to see her. I’d carefully roll down the window, Christina would put out her finger and bird would perch politely to the adoring crowd.

Her best trick soon revealed her breeding. At home in the garden, Christina and friend seated at the picnic table, Bird would perch on Christina’s shoulder and peek into her ear, then open her beak looking for grubs! Or ruffle her hair in search of food. Bird’s quick jerky movements were very redolent of a starling’s. And dear Binkley would lie quietly while Bird hopped all over her on food searches. Bird even clung on as Binkley, fed up, would stand up and walk back into the house.  (To enlarge the picture of Bird and Christina, click on the picture or link)

On beautiful spring days, whenever I gardened, Bird would hop around my digging – her instinct to chase and eat creepy-crawlies standing her in good stead. We taught her to fly by holding out a hand with her perched tightly on a finger, and suddenly dropping the arm. Her wings would automatically flap. A day or two of this and she let go and flew. She’d fly to the bird bath and splash about madly. And then Christina or I would call, and back she’d come – usually landing on our heads.

She continued to hitch rides on Binkley, whose search area had now expanded to include most of the downstairs of the house and the extensive garden. Somewhere I have a photo of Christina sitting in the sun reading her RSPB magazine, Bird perched on her shoulder.  (To enlarge the picture of Bird and Binkley, click on the picture or link)

But she was a wild creature and, although we had brought her in at night, during the early June days she began to fly to the top of the chestnut tree and not come back when we called but only when she was good and ready. One evening she would not come down. We left her nest-basket on the table on the porch and the next morning there she was demanding breakfast. This went on for a day or two.

Then one day she did not come back. She had felt the call of the wild – but Christina and I felt quite bereft. We could only hope that she had met up with a starling flock and realised her true calling. And to this day, whenever we see a starling we smile and think of Bird.

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