One of my little rules is that I don’t work on Friday nights. Not job work, not house work, not errands. But I have a pretty busy weekend planned, and I knew I wouldn’t get up early tomorrow to do grocery shopping, so I set out to do so tonight. I really didn’t want to go, and I put it off, knowing, and dreading, that I was going to have to walk through the nightlife part of town. There would be a lot of people out, it would be noisy, and leftovers from happy hour would be stumbling around like revenants looking for a second life. I mumbled. I grumbled. I took the trash out. Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate.
I gathered my things and got to the elevator before I realized I didn’t have any tissues with me. I carry them not so much for myself, although there’s that, but also because sometimes I find dead birds. I cannot bear to leave them on the sidewalk or street, where people will step around them with a look of disgust and maybe kick them aside, kids will poke them with sticks, and dogs will chew them up, so I pick them up with a tissue and lay them to rest under trees or shrubs. My mood darkening yet further, I went back to my apartment and stuffed a few tissues in my bag.
About ten minutes into my walk I hit the strip. Sure enough, there were what seemed like a million people out, and good on ’em. They were seeing friends, having dinner, window-shopping, getting ice cream…and stepping around a little round bird. She was tiny, barely the size of a golf ball, a fledgling. And she was trying over and over to fly, only to crash into storefront windows, parked cars, trash bins, and a tree. People were pausing, watching, saying “awwww,” moving along.
Normally, when you find a fledgling—a fully feathered, or nearly fully feathered, baby bird that is learning to fly—it is best to leave it where it is. Its parents are nearby and will continue to take care of their little one even if it’s grounded. I looked for the nest and couldn’t see one. I listened, and I didn’t see or hear any parents. Sometimes parent birds get frantic in situations like that.
Flutter, crash, flutter, crash. The little one was exhausting herself. More people came. Some had dogs, and I got between them and the bird. She landed on a tree trunk and tried to climb, only to flutter to the ground.
I took out my phone and looked for local wildlife rehabilitators. I left a message with one and the recording said they would call back in 30 minutes.
Fifteen minutes went by.
Flutter, crash, flutter, crash.
Some guys came toward us with their dog. I asked them to stay back. When they saw her they said “sure” and “absolutely,” and asked me if she would be all right. I said I was trying to get her help. As they walked away one looked over his shoulder and said, “Thank you for doing that.”
I began to get out my phone to look for another wildlife rehabilitator. As I was digging through my purse, I looked down at the little one, told her I wouldn’t hurt her, and asked her if she was okay.
She looked at me, and then she flew up toward me, right at me, so help me, right toward my heart. I held out my hand and she landed in it. Just landed in it all by herself. She was cool to the touch—not a great sign—and she hunkered down into my palm to warm up, so I held her. Here she is:
I sat on a bench and another fifteen minutes went by. Baby birds need to eat every half hour, and I was getting worried. She seemed content nestled in my hand, and she gave me quite a fright when she closed her eyes and took a little nap because I thought for a moment that she had died.
So there I was, empty grocery bags strewn out beside me, my glasses askew on my head, trying to find a wildlife rehabilitator on my phone with one hand, holding a precious fledgling in the other, trying not to cry and failing. A mother and her daughter came out of the ice cream shop, asked me how the little one was doing—which was just enough interaction to force me to compose myself—and left. The only two wildlife rehabilitators I could find worked with mammals, so I called the first one on the list, who worked with opossums.
We spoke for about five minutes, and she said that the tragedy in these situations is that with so many people around, even if the parents were around, they wouldn’t have flown down to their baby. We both knew this little one would not have stood a chance, especially as there would soon be drunken revelers filling the sidewalks. Someone would have stepped on her, either accidentally or deliberately, so once she perked up and started getting squirmy in my hand, I put her in one of my reusable shopping bags, called an Uber, and took her to the lady’s house.
Once she saw the little one, she knew it was the right thing that I removed her from the area. She said this wee one was sufficiently developed that she would probably eat—any younger and they often won’t eat from anyone but the parents—and she would take care of her and eventually release her in a park behind her house.
Funny part is, after we got to talking for a few minutes, it turned out that this woman grew up in Manhattan and her mother’s best friend is from my hometown on Long Island, so she knew my hometown well. It is indeed a small world, and we’re all connected somehow.
I called another Uber and texted a few friends on the way home. It’s a running joke that I’m the one who talks to birds, not unlike how Linus Van Pelt in Peanuts used to pat Woodstock and other birds on the head. And I just had to share the story.
The ride home made me a little carsick, and by the time I got up to my apartment the evening had begun to catch up to me. I washed up and took care of my own bird, making sure to apologize for coming home without his nanners. After a few more texts, one of my friends said “your heart must be so full right now,” and it’s a good thing I had those tissues nearby.
Indeed my heart is full in a way it hasn’t been for a very long time. That this sweet, fragile little bird trusted me enough to fly to me for help is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Holding her, watching her settle in, knowing that she knew I wouldn’t hurt her and that I would do my best to help her, sensing the gratitude coming from her even in her exhaustion—if I could share that feeling with the entire world, I would.
Little one, I don’t know what your parents named you, but to me you seemed like an Emmie, so I hope it’s okay that I think of you with that name. I hope you have a good night’s sleep, and that you will grow to have a happy, birdie life. Thank you for trusting me and allowing me to help you, and I hope that somehow your parents understand that you came to no harm in my hands and are now safe. Wherever you may fly, you will always be loved.