Written by Lana Winter (Ontario, Canada)
Published on: March 2nd, 2012
On a late afternoon last May, my partner and I were walking home from a friend's house when we saw an older man standing on the sidewalk, looking down at something lying there. As we approached, what we'd thought was perhaps a piece of gum or other small bit of trash started to move: it was a tiny baby bird, completely featherless, with its eyes still sealed shut.I immediately scooped it up into my hands, and we told the man that we would take it home. It was only then that we realised that he was developmentally disabled, and seemed to have been guarding the little one. He nodded, said "OK!" and walked off, and we just stood there with this tiny, fragile little life cradled in my hands.For the entire walk home, I think I prayed to every power out there that we'd be able to save the bird. Before we left the area where we'd found him, we had looked around for a nest that it may have fallen out of, but the closest possibility seemed to be an overhang above a storefront, and that was a good 12 feet above our heads. Both sparrows and starlings were flitting around, so we guessed our little foundling was one of those species, but there was no indication of which it was.
Once we got home, we made a little nest for it: just some layers of arctic fleece nestled into a bowl. The wee one snuzzled down into the warmth and got comfortable, as we did our research on how to keep it alive. We found www.starlingtalk.com, which offers a comprehensive guide on how to raise baby birds, and we quickly whipped up a baby formula out of soaked, mashed cat kibble, avian vitamins, hard-boiled egg yolk, and mashed fruit. We fed that to the bird from the end of a chopstick every 20 minutes as its beak stretched open and it "meeped" plaintively for food.
Not knowing the gender of the bird, we defaulted to calling it "him", and decided on the gender-neutral name of "Robin". According to the starlingtalk website, he only had a 2% chance of surviving, as not only had we found him the day he was hatched, but he had likely been tossed out of the nest because he has a couple of deformities: a club foot, and a twisted wing (probably from having been stuck to the inner membrane of the egg while he was developing). Still, we fed him 3 times/hour for several days, and once his eyes opened and his pin feathers started to develop, we realised he actually had a good chance of surviving, and we started to add more protein to his food, and to only feed him twice an hour.
His feathers developed quickly, and it then became obvious that we had a little House Sparrow on our hands. Though he had difficulty standing because of his deformed foot, he managed pretty well and learned how to compensate and balance. He also turned out to be incredibly affectionate: he'd curl up in the palms of our hands for a nap, or snuggle into the hollow between neck and shoulder while we worked or read on the couch.
After a couple of weeks, our little boy took his first flight, and the sheer joy that poured forth from him was unbelievable. As soon as we'd walk into "his" room, he'd flutter towards our faces, beak wide open as if to say "Mom! Dad! Look at me! Look what I can do!!", and then he'd do his awkward little flap-flight around the room. His twisted wing doesn't allow him to fly too well, but he can get around a room fairly easily. Since he's a "special-needs" bird, he wouldn't be able to survive in the wild, so he'll be a true house-sparrow for life.
We've learned how to communicate quite well, having learned what his different chirps and meeps mean, and he understands most of what we say as well. Once his adult feathers started to come in, we learned that he is indeed a male, and like most human boys, he likes to play with toy trains and balls, and likes to "play-fight" with us. He's made a little home for himself in a cubbyhole of our Victorian writing-desk, though he also likes to spend time behind a clock on our mantle. He'll steal broccoli from our soup-bowls, loves quinoa, marzipan, and cherries, and will fluff up and meep in delight if we share mango juice with him.
I never imagined I could love something so small so much, but he's one of the greatest joys in our life, and we are grateful for him every minute of every day.
Will You Help Rescue Others? You'll LOVE Our Work! Before: scheduled for euthanasia at the pound. After: His new family has a huge backyard!