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Doesn't Everyone have a Bird in Their Earring?

by Roberta McReynolds

Children were walking to school, chattering to each other over the sound of their shoes scuffing across the surface of the pavement. One street over morning traffic droned past the neighborhood. The woman next door had her window open to catch a spring breeze, allowing me to eavesdrop on her favorite television game show. All normal sounds; the kind you hear so often you don’t really tune in to them. I was enjoying them, however, because they weren’t the sounds I normally heard this time of day.

I had the day off from work. Instead of the assaulting clamor of printing presses, typesetting equipment and bindery machines, I was listening to a much slower pulse while watching my young son run off to catch up with his school friends. It was a treat to stand on the front porch and feel a wave of maternal bliss swept over me; a pleasant trade for the hat I wore at work.

Maybe being in the ‘mother-zone’ had something to do with what I heard next. A faint, brief cheeping broke through the layers of human noise and caught my attention. My head turned quickly to the side of the house, waiting during the pause to pinpoint the source. More cheeping … and my ears reported to my brain that it wasn’t coming from a nest up in the branches, but from the ground. I was reluctant to step off the porch without knowing where it was safe to set my foot down.

The baby bird called out with urgency as I inched my way toward his voice. I discovered him half buried in leaves that had blown up against the house during a storm. Perhaps the same storm had tossed him out of his parents’ nest of twigs and warm downy feathers.

The bird couldn’t have been more than a day or two old; his gray skin was naked except for the tiniest bits of fluff. He was cold to the touch. So cold, I was surprised there was still enough life in him to cry for help. He responded to the warmth of my hand by settling down over his legs and pulling his head close to his shoulders. The cries of abandonment transformed into soft, regular peeps of relief mixed with exhaustion.

I looked for the nest, listening carefully and hoping to locate his parents and siblings, but without any luck. I obviously had just become a momma bird. Whatever plans I’d had for my day off had just flown out the window, so to speak.

While I carried the bird in one hand, I arranged a towel in a shoebox with the other. I placed the box over a heating pad set on low and transferred the tiny baby to my nest. He voiced his disapproval with loud, frantic cheeping. The security of my hand, contact with another living creature, was as essential as food. I scooped him back up. He and I were going to have to figure this out together.

My two cats entered the kitchen in quick response to what their feral ancestors regarded as a quick, easy snack. I knelt down and let them examine the tiny fellow with a few closely supervised sniffs (my scent was now mingled with his), so feline curiosity would have the edge dulled a bit. The cats seemed to grasp the idea that this odd-looking little creature was in trouble and I was guarding him closely. No negotiations!

The baby was going to need food very soon if he was going to last long enough to solve the problem of making a nest where he could rest. I soaked a pinch of wheat bread in warm water and mushed it up into the smallest particles possible. Using the fingernail of my little finger as a beak, I held a baby-bird-sized portion next to his mouth and did my best imitation of a momma bird delivering lunch. I must have had a terrible accent, because he didn’t understand a word.

Many minutes passed before I successfully got anything inside that tiny beak, but once it hit his pointy tongue he swallowed it down. The day passed slowly as I chirped and offered food several times an hour, but by evening we were beginning to understand each other. He was responding to my pathetic attempts to vocalize and greeting me with his beak wide open, head wavering eagerly on the stalk of his out-stretched neck.

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©2010 Roberta McReynolds for


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