Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Birdie 911: Behaving Like a Human

So, taking out trash I came upon a little bird sitting on the walk. Just sitting there, making hoarse little chirps. You know there's something wrong when a little bird doesn't move. I went immediately into "high-voice" koo-kooka-choo, Hey little birdie, where's your mommie? etc. etc. and still the little critter didn't budge, except for a little hop and then another, though his little bright eyes looked terrified. I saw no blood and his wings, folded around fledgling fluff, appeared fully formed. I deposited my bag on the curb and when I turned around, baby birdie was still there, a little puffball, black and white, a nuthatch I think. I bent down slowly so as not to alarm him and just as I did, a big UGLY yellow cat with a half a tail -- one of the feline thugs of the neighborhood -- slithered out from behind my house.

I stood up and hollered, "Don't even THINK about it!" He sneered but moved his evil boniness off behind the garage.

I suspect there was a narrative arc, as we say in the writing biz, in process, but non-human animals don't engage in spoken word to fill the gaps. They don't give a damn about audience, purpose or any other rhetorical niceties. It's all show-not-tell -- they just want to eat. But I didn't want Thug Kat (K seems to suit him more than C) to have this particular baby for dinner right in front of me. I wasn't in the mood.

I went back to the house for a handful of thistle seed and a soft black towel. The birdie didn't go for the seed, but he seemed quite comforted by the towel, and let me pick him up gently and move him to the back of the house, where I thought I'd hide him in some shrubs. At first he didn't like that idea and climbed up my arm. As much as I felt impelled to do an Albert Schweitzer I didn't like the idea of a wild bird climbing up my body, so I nudged him down, reining in my cognitive dissonance, and got him to step off the towel into a branch of the overgrown privet. He seemed at home there and let out a bunch of little mommy calls. Unfortunately I didn't hear a response, though it's common to hear repeated nuthatch spondees on the trunks of old spruce and maple around here.

My neighbor's grown daughter Amy came running out because I'd left the front door open. She wondered what was going on. There've been a bunch of breakins on our street and I think she worried my open door signaled one in progress. It's good having neighbors who care.

No, I told her, only a poor little birdie, maybe fallen from the nest. But by the way, that piece of rhubarb pie you gave me Sunday was fabulous -- still warm, and a flaky crust! She wanted to see the birdie and we located it, up a few more branches. Nuthatch, she confirmed. Big enough to defend himself I think, Amy said. After rhubarb pleasantries, standing around peering into the shrub, we left the birdie there.

What's a person to do? There's no safe place: cats, I know, climb trees. I suspect I held off the cycle of life for only a brief interval. Did I help? I suspect I only helped myself, salving a moment of reflex compassion. On the other hand, I was a human animal, doing what I do, just like Thug Kat doing what he does. It's interesting the universe accommodates both leanings.

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