It was Christy Pennington’s fault, the big softy. She ran into my office and said “Angie, we have to do something! What do we do? We can’t let him die!” I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I didn’t know what to do, and that he was most certainly going to die. So I did the only thing I could, the only thing one can do when a situation is hopeless: act as if it is not.
She had just discovered a baby bird that couldn’t have been more than a few days old. It had fallen out of a nest which was perched precariously along a ledge of the canopy covering the entrance to the dealership where we worked. Small, almost naked, frail, and looking like it was dead already, the bird was Christy’s crisis, and therefore became mine, as well.
A quick call to one of my animal-rescue friends would help me realize my predicament. Once a baby bird is out of the nest, mama bird doesn’t want it any more, but in order for the infant avian to survive, it has to remain warm at all times. “Seriously, Ang, you have got to keep that bird close to you.” My friend warned. “Hold it always. If something happens and you have to set it down, a heating pad on low can buy you a little time, but your best hope is close contact.”
Armed with this advice, I wrapped the little guy in a small cloth and kept him in my hand all the way to the pet store, where I purchased baby bird formula, syringes for feeding, and a small cage with stuffing for warmth. Christy and I got through his first feeding in the dealership ladies room, mixing the powder with warm water and offering it to the creature through the small syringe.
I don’t know why I decided the bird was a boy, but after we got past the first hour, it was definitely clear that he was a fighter. I called him Fred, as I called everything back then, and immediately went to work falling in love. I was enamored with his adorable ugliness, his vulnerable neediness and his voracious appetite. In addition to his temperature requirements, his meal needs were frequent, every few hours.
Christy helped with Fred, holding him when I had to talk to a customer or cover the switchboard, but it was clear from the start that I was committed to seeing this bird crisis to the end. When he made it through the first day, I knew that Fred was going to be with me until he could sprout some feathers and learn to make it on his own.
Driving home, I remembered that I had 4 pet cats in my apartment which might pose a threat to Fred’s safety. After securing them in the living room, Fred and I nestled in for the night, and I alternated between feeding him and watching him be adorable. Fred slept in my hand, which was jammed into the opening of the cage, and I snuck in short bursts of sleep between his meals. We made it through the first night with me and Fred on the bed, and several cat paws trying to reach under the door as my felines sensed something was of interest in the other room. I talked to Fred, asking him where he was. “Where Fred?” I asked in a high-pitched voice normally reserved for asking toddlers what kind of cookie they want. I tried to reassure him that he was going to be ok, and that I was going to do all I could to help him.
My days at work were a blur of trying to get things done with one hand as I refused to set Fred down. I walked around the dealership with him, talked to co-workers with him and typed on my computer with him. My boss, a normally notorious hard-nosed tough guy, never said a word. I think he knew I was on this path as far as I had to go. Christy still helped during the work day, but once I left the dealership, that bird was in my hand through everything. I didn’t care about walking through the grocery store with him, and he was so small that the clerks didn’t seem to mind, either. Until you looked closely, you would have thought I just had an injured arm or something. I talked to Fred constantly, asking him where he was. It began sounding like I was saying, “Where Fwed?”
Soon “Fwed” was sprouting more feathery fuzz and becoming stronger. It became clear that the little guy might just make it. It was not clear if I would, though. I was completely attached, and began envisioning my life with a pet bird. When Fred started losing interest in the formula feedings, the pet shop people informed me that I needed to start giving him bugs and worms. I bought live baby crickets and fed them to Fred with a pair of tweezers. Our arrangement was starting to become more and more impractical, but I refused to change course. Fred in hand, I continued my daily routine for 2 weeks, with Fred looking more and more like a real bird.
One night in my apartment Fred took flight! He flew to the window ledge, to the light fixture, and then came back to me and rested on my shoulder. I realized he couldn’t come to work with me the next day, as I might lose him when he took flight at the dealership. I left him securely locked in the living room with food and water. All day long, I thought about him, wondering how he was doing at home. I worried that something might happen.
Finally, the long day ended and I rushed home. I entered the living room; it was warm and silent. My heart beat as I feared the worst. I didn’t see him anywhere. His usual spots were vacant- the windowsill, the light fixture. He was such a small creature, I imagined he could very easily hide or escape. Finally I asked out, “where Fwed?” immediately Fred flew out of the hidden corners of the room, and landed right on my shoulder. I was elated and sad at the same time. In that moment, I knew he loved me back, but I also knew it was time to set him free.
The next day, I bought him a bird house and took him to my Dad’s yard, where there were many bushes and trees and birds and feeders. It was the sort of neighborhood I would choose for myself, if I were a bird. Dad was with me when I put him on the ledge of the birdhouse, which was safely nestled in a quiet patch of bushes near his house. Fred immediately flew off. He was gone.
The next day I went back to the birdhouse in the bush at Dad’s and asked loudly, “Where Fwed?” , fully expecting him to emerge from nature and land on my shoulder. He did not. I would go back a few more times, always asking where he was, and saddened by the fact that he was gone. I felt in my heart that I did right by Fred, getting him strong enough to take off on his own. Even though I only had him a few weeks, I never forgot my little fighter, and have always been grateful to Christy for being such a big softy.