Baby birds are ugly. I mean well ugly. Only their parent’s could love them. Cuckoos are the ugliest of the lot because their parents dump them in someone else’s nest and disappear. Baby birds are ugly.I’m talking about those poor little mites that hatch naked, blind and utterly defenceless looking like something a child made out of Play Doh.
These two sparrows were slightly prettier when they arrived in my kitchen – but only slightly. Largely bald, with just the tips of their feathers poking through, they sat quietly in a covered basket to recover from the shock of plummeting from my neighbour’s eaves.
That’s the last time they were quiet.
For the last eleven days I have left my bed at 5am to blend a mixture of cat biscuits, water, mealworms, apple and vitamin powder into a gunky, smelly sludge and syringing it down their little throats. I do this every forty-five minutes or so until about 9pm. I am quite tired now and the incessant cheep-cheep-cheep coming from their ever open beaks is really quite nerve-shredding.
(And before anyone tells me off for holding the bird lest it becomes ‘imprinted,’ I could not get the little horror to gape for me.)
But all life is precious and deserves a chance and I could no more leave these guys to their fate than I can stop myself apologising when I hear and feel the tiny explosion of snail, and shell, under my foot on a dark, rainy night. So I nurse them. And I worry about them. And I teach them. And I let my niece name them EggBert. (I would not allow her to call them Jedward!) They eat, shit and grow. And cheep.
But that’s not all they do. From the first day, Egg, the smaller, younger of the two, was easier to catch and to feed. Bert always played hard to get. He would not open his beak for me and escaped my clutches many times. On day three of our acquaintance, I had the following text conversation with my sister at 8am.
Help! Bert has escaped. He’s in the sofa!
Shit! is he OK? St F asked.
Yes but he’s in sofa. Can’t lift it by myself.
Just getting dressed then on my way.
It’s OK. Got him with feather duster. Now fed and back in basket. Phew!
It’s lucky for Bert that Eric the Dobermann is no longer around because he’d have disappeared down the dog’s throat in a single gulp. Roger, had he bothered to get out of bed, would have stood frowning over Bert and looking worried.
The next morning I saw Bert fly for the first time. He was heading for the patio doors until I caught him. Two days after that, Egg got his first lift off. I felt so proud.
They spend their afternoons in the garden watching other sparrows on the feeder, while I keep an eye out for next-door’s cats, and their nights on my kitchen table. From a wicker basket lined with a fleecy pyjama top they’ve graduated to a huge rat cage via a friend’s cockatiel cage that St F wrapped in paper and duct tape because the bars were too far apart. And yes, before you ask, it was Bert that demonstrated how to escape that cage in less than fifteen seconds.
Today, a wet and boring Sunday, I took the brave decision to open the cage door. Only in the front room, of course. They are far too young to leave yet. – they aren’t fully weaned or feathered. I had visions of them getting into hard to reach places but, as it turns out, they couldn’t find their way out of the cage. I lifted them out and placed them on the top. My main idea was that they should exercise their little wings a bit. They can flutter about in the cage but the more they practice the better. That was the theory, anyway. Mostly they sat on the cage and cheeped at me. Their characters have swapped now. Egg is difficult one. He’s also a messy eater and usually ends up wearing much of his meal. Bert is getting that ‘puffed-up’ fledgling look and has adopted David Brent’s dance from The Office as a way of informing me that he’s hungry. Can you tell that I’m a little in love with them?
I don’t know how things are going to turn out for EggBert. I don’t even know what gender they are (or identify with) but I’ve given them the best I have to offer and I continue to socialise them with their own species in the hope that they will become successful and happy members of the sparrow community and raise lots of little hatchlings of their own.
In the meantime, I thank God that they are fast asleep now and … quiet.