Being a cyclist who rides more than 1,000 miles a year, I’ve definitely seen a lot of things while out on the roads. And also, considering the fact that I’ve wanted to be an ornithologist since about the age of 7, I’ve seen a good share of unique birds and unique situations involving our little feathered friends. Still, it’s always a little surprising to be casually biking along only to see a hungry cat burst from under a bush, dart in front of me, and pounce on a bird.
Naturally, because I love birds so much, I skidded to a stop and fought back the cat, trying to be gentle as I pinned him and got him to spit out the bird. Thankfully, being the playful and gentle kitty that he always has been, he didn’t fight back and burped the bird into my hand. I’ve rescued many birds from cats or tangled netting, but lying in my palm was the tiniest sparrow chick I have ever had the occasion to get hold of! What a sweetie he was! I folded him into my hand and walked my bike to the side of the road, then gently walked him home. Once I got there, I grabbed a bowl, lined it with some soft tissue, and left him to rest a bit while I called the wildlife rehabilitation center.
I could tell that he was very weak, and his breathing was too fast for a little chick. Unfortunately, the rehab center staff were not working and said that, if it was an emergency, I should leave a message. What’s up with that? So anyway, I knew that a decision had to be made, and I didn’t have the time to wait for the rehab staff. I brought him into a cool room to help him cool down and breathe easier, although I can’t blame him for his panic — he was about to be cat food! After a while, he nearly rolled onto his back, and I was afraid I was losing him. I don’t like to have birds die on me, but it’s happened before.
His eyes were not open yet, so I could tell that he was less than two weeks old and still desperately in need of his mother’s warmth [baby birds do not typically open their eyes until between 10 and 14 days after hatching, although some may open by day 5]. I picked him up gently, enfolding him in both of my hands in an attempt to imitate the warmth of his mother on top of him. He calmed down, his breathing slowed, and his wings splayed out a little; I was both relieved and worried, as he could be either relaxing or dying.
Thankfully, as he took in the warmth from both of my hands, it seemed like a little life came back into him. He began moving his legs and trying to turn. Occasionally, his little beak would dart forward into my hands as he stretched his neck. I gently walked him back to where I had left my bike down the road, and he became livelier by the moment. Finally, I got back to the bush where his mother and his nest were waiting for him.
It is a myth that a mother bird will disown her young after a human touches them, so I opened my hands on the ground under his nest and tried to let him go. He didn’t budge. I gave him a little tap on his pink, featherless butt, and he swaggered forward to my finger before finally leaning down into the dirt and twigs under the nest. With his mother nearby, I felt I’d done my best to save the little guy.
Based on his condition when I released him, he was a happy little chap that I believe has a fairly good chance of survival. Mission accomplished!