by Thalya DeMott
On a briskly windy day, while visiting a friend, they showed me a shoebox containing a tiny, disheveled creature with closed eyes and chest heaving rapidly. “We just found it under the tall mango tree with ants crawling on it. What do we do?” Realizing my friends knew even less than I about infant bird care, I scooped up the box and went straight home.
The famished nestling chirped pitifully as I frantically searched the web on the proper feeding of baby birds. After this basic self-education, I committed to do feedings every half hour for 12 hours daily. But with the protective membrane still covering its dark eyes, the critter couldn’t see the dropper of life-sustaining gruel and its beak was clamped as tightly as a clamshell. Prying open its beak with one hand while holding the feeding syringe with the other, I apologized profusely for the invasive but necessary maneuver.
I kept the box at my bedside to check on the baby a few times during the night. Its tiny chest rose and fell with each breath. I was filled with awe at the fierce survival instinct of this fragile creature.
Force-feedings continued the next day, and then — a miracle! The bulging eyes opened, its mouth gaped, and from that point onward it gobbled down food like a greedy goldfish. Survival now seemed more likely and it was time to choose a name. “It might be a sparrow,” I thought, “but I don’t know if it’s a Jack or a Jill Sparrow. So, your name is JJ!”
I assessed JJ’s injury from the initial fall. The left claw curled under, with toenails pointing upward and JJ kept falling over, but he/she was alive! JJ and the mush-filled eyedropper went everywhere with me for the next six weeks. Bare patches of pink flesh slowly filled with downy feathers, and the little one was soon able to stand on the one good leg. When JJ was strong enough, it was time for weaning. JJ stayed home to eat seeds and fruit while I was out, but I still received a hero’s welcome whenever I walked in the door!
A birder friend suggested I seek advice from Wild Bird Rehab Haven, a compassionate local nonprofit organization. Their website is a valuable resource to guide those who’ve found an injured or baby wild bird, whether native or otherwise.
I emailed photos of JJ and learned, “That’s not a sparrow, it’s a papaya finch!” I was referred to a bird rehabber with a back yard aviary for rescued finches. I knew my little feathered pal needed to be with its own kind. This kind woman gently held JJ and examined the malformed foot, then said JJ might not survive in the wild. She asked softly, “Do you want JJ to live in my aviary?” My eyes filled with tears, but I knew this was the best thing. “JJ needs to be with other birds,” I said.
In that moment our journey together as rescuer and rescued had ended. In a rush of emotion, I realized that over the past few months my heart had opened in a new way.