It was an early March day, and we were returning from a nice long walk in one of our favorite parks. To get to this park on foot requires that we walk along a busy street on the bike and pedestrian path. In fact it’s the same path I run on all the time. But it is along a very busy street, with lots of cars and trucks traversing the blacktop.
All of a sudden, T stopped in the middle of the path. I stopped as well, as I was holding her elbow while she guided me. She seemed to be lost, and pondering where to go. I was really confused, as I’m the one who always gets lost in the middle of places I know!
So I asked her “What’s the matter? Are you lost?”
She didn’t answer me right away. She kept looking to her left, then to her right. I prodded again, saying “What is it? What are you looking at?”
She then said, with a bit of reluctance, “There’s a chickadee just outside the white line on the road.”
I immediately wanted to go get the poor little bird, and said so. But seeing the obvious insanity of sending a blind woman to the edge of a busy street heaving with rushing traffic to try and locate a tiny cloud of feathers, she would have none of that.
She asked me if I was done with my coffee. I said yes and gave her my empty Starbucks cup. She then made her way to the edge of the road and scooped up the little bird into the paper cup.
She put the cup with the chickadee peering out, onto the grass near a bush. I naturally wanted to see it. So T brought me over to see our nearly road kill.
Once I saw the tiny ball of fluffy feathers, I wanted to hold it. With a sigh T said, “Okay, but we are not taking it home!”
I said, “I’ll take it to my mom’s.”
T could see I was not going to leave the chickadee there in the grass.
The little bird was wobbly, leaning to one side, and its wing kind of drooped and splayed out on that side. According to our best guess, it looked like it had probably flown into a car. If it had gotten hit by a car, it would probably have been more dead or disfigured. But since he was still awake and alert, and not too startled, we figured he was probably dazed.
I wasn’t sure if it would even live very long, but I really didn’t want it to die alone or be lunch for a local cat or something. I know, circle of life and all that, but I really have a soft spot in my heart for birds. I raised a sparrow when I was a kid, and I couldn’t leave the cutest little fluff ball here to become an interesting diversion for a playful or hungry predator.
“He shouldn’t die alone,” I said in the saddest, most pathetic voice I could muster. Unable to refuse my puppy dog eyes and plaintive request, T relented and let me carry him to my mom’s.
I held the chickadee close to my body as we walked the few blocks to my mom’s place.
Once there, my mom and I cooed and awed over the bird, encouraging him to try to drink some water and eat some oatmeal. I don’t think he did, but we certainly tried to be persuasive with the menu of presumably attractive (to a bird) items that we had available.
After a bit, T said she had to get back home, but reminded me in her most fervent “tough guy” voice, that under no circumstances was I to bring the bird home.
I agreed, saying I would try to call my friend Vickie and ask if she could care for the bird. But of course (you can see the foreshadowing from a mile away ) when I called Vickie she was not home.
My mind was racing, what should I do? How could I make sure that my little “Phoebe” would be well cared for? You know, I have such a warm glowing feeling for birds in general, and this one in distress made my heart expand, kind of like the Grinch’s heart where it “… grew three sizes that day.” So I asked my mom if she had an old tissue box I could have.
I was going to make my little charge a soft, cozy nest. So with the make-shift nest ready, I put the chickadee in it and set off for home.
My plan was to leave the bird under a spruce tree near our home, where I always heard lots of little birds. When I got to the tree, I took the injured bird out and tried to put it under the tree. But the fuzzy little thing refused to get off my hand.
As I knelt there in the grass next to the tree wondering now what I was going to do, my cell phone rang. It was T calling me. “Hello,” I answered the phone.
“Where are you?” T said, concerned.
“I’m trying to put the chickadee under this tree by Shopko, but he won’t get off my hand,” I said in a somewhat desperate voice. There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Okay, bring the bird home. We can put him in the bushes over by our house,” T said with some hesitation.
“I love you. See you in a minute.” I flipped my phone shut fast as I could so she couldn’t change her mind.
Now let me point out to you that it’s not that T doesn’t love animals. It’s just that she knew that with my vision issues, the job of caretaking this downy delight that I was determined to take on, would eventually fall to her in one fashion or another. And she didn’t really need one more responsibility on her plate.
Back in the Kleenex-box nest the bird went, and I slowly walked the block to home. T was waiting for me on the steps.
So I took Phoebe – that’s what we started to call our chickadee ’cause that’s the song they sing “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee, Phoe-bee” – out of the box, and T brought us over to a bush in the alley near the fence.
As I was going to release Phoebe, a big, barking, black dog approached menacingly towards us. Okay, not a good plan.
I said, “How ’bout under the porch?” T agreed, so once again I tried to get the bird to hop out of my hand. But Phoebe was having none of it.
Again I turned sad eyes on T and said, “I don’t know what to do, I think he just needs a little time to get his strength back.”
T just looked at me for a long moment, then said, “Alright, bring him into the office.” This little fuzz ball had easily wrapped itself around my heart, and was starting to attach himself to T’s too.
Once inside the warm office, I dug out my heating pad and put it on low under the box. I covered the opening in the Kleenex box with a tissue to keep the heat in.
T and I worked on our computers, checking on our little Phoebe every few minutes. He – or she, we don’t really know which – was sleeping. After an hour or so, we heard Phoebe trying to get out of the box. I took the tissue off and Phoebe hopped out.
His wing didn’t seem to be drooping as much, and the fact that he was hopping seemed like a good sign. I went to see what I could find in the kitchen for him to eat. I really had no idea what chickadees ate. I assumed little insects and seeds. Hmmm, fresh out of both. So I had some corn and bread that I mashed up. I brought in some water too. Once again Phoebe refused to eat, but I did get him to take a little water.
By now, his strength was building and Phoebe was hopping all over the room, but he did tire easily. He would go exploring under the desk, then have to take a little nap. His eyes would close for a few minutes. With all the hopping and flapping and his wing back in its normal position, I thought perhaps Phoebe was ready to be set free. So I scooped up my little bird-brained friend, and we headed outside.
Phoebe had been so active, I was sure he wanted to go, but when I opened my hands to allow him to jump off, he just sat there, looked at me for a moment, then turned his attention to his wing and proceeded to preen his feathers. He seemed to be saying, “La, la, la. What? I’m not going anywhere.” So T and I looked at each other and laughed. What a personality this little guy had. So we agreed, Phoebe had decided that he needed more time to recover.
I put Phoebe back in his box, but he just didn’t want to stay in it. I was trying to come up with something I could rig up for him, so he wouldn’t have to be confined to the box, but not hopping all over the office. I was having a hard time keeping track of him, and did not want to squash him.
Pheoebe had hopped up T’s leg, and was resting there. She looked at me and said, “Do you want to maybe get him a cheap bird cage?” I could tell he was working his own little bird magic and casting a spell on her so that she was beginning to fall in love with him.
So T looked up the phone numbers to a few of the local pet stores, and found a bird cage for under $15. She went to the mall a few blocks away, while I was in charge of watching Phoebe. Easier said than done! After T left, Phoebe jumped out of my hand, and I lost track of him.
Then I heard flapping and scratching coming from the space heater in the room. Thank goodness it wasn’t on. Phoebe had managed to hop/fly/I’m not sure how? through the metal grate protecting the heating pan. By the time I bent a few rungs and coaxed him out of his little jail cell, poor little Phoebe was totally exhausted, and I could feel his tiny heart was beating so fast. He fell asleep right in my hands. The trauma of the whole day was taking its toll; he spent a lot of time napping that day.
T came home a few minutes later with a small bird cage in hand. She also got some millet seed and was told that most birds would eat this. T put the swing and perches along with a food and water cup into the cage. Then we put Phoebe in his new home for the time being.
We had decided that if he was strong enough in the morning we would let him go outside. I was still concerned about Phoebe getting enough to eat. I wanted to go to the pet store just around the block to get some wild bird seed. Not seeing the need, since she had just brought home millet from the mall, but noting that I was not going to let it go, she finally gave in and drove me to the store.
The place was just about to close, and the owner was helping some other customers. So we set out on our own to look for the seed. That’s when I heard it, an old crackly sounding, “Heloooow.” I moved towards the greeting, thinking it was a clerk to help us, when T grabbed my arm and directed me away from the mystery greeter. I asked what was wrong. Why was she so freaked out?
She then brought me over to a very bald parrot! Okay not exactly bald, but his entire body had no feathers on it – his wings had a few feathers and his head looked mostly normal, but the gruesome sight of the oddly proportioned “naked” bird still haunts T to this day. I must admit it was not a pretty sight, but I felt bad for the bird.
Eventually we got some seed and left that little shop of horrors.
When we got back home, I filled Phoebe’s seed cup and watched as he went from the swing to the food, choosing to sit in it, rather than eat it.
I kept asking T to look and see if he was eating, as I could not see well enough to make it out. She watched, and to our surprise the chickadee ate a few seeds! I was very happy and optimistic that maybe Phoebe would be okay.
T found an old towel, and we draped it over the back half of the cage, and shut off the lights, as Phoebe had perched on the swing and put his little head behind his wing. Nighty-night.
Now you might think this story had a happy ending, and I suppose, in a way, it does. But the next morning when we went to check on Phoebe, T couldn’t find him. Then she spotted the bird lying on the bottom of the cage…dead…yes our poor little Phoebe had died. Probably the shock to his system, along with the internal injuries were too extensive. He had been doing so much better the night before. We were both surprised and sad that our little distraction from the everyday routine was gone.
But I was also able to look on it as a gift. With my eyesight the way it is now, I am not able to see birds the way I used to. So to be able to hold and look at this little chickadee up close was truly a gift from God.
Even though the time we had with our little Phoebe was limited, he melted our hearts, and we still to this day reminisce about the day a bird no bigger than a chicken’s egg turned our Saturday into instant parenthood.
How ‘bout it?