Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A baby bird fell out of a tree: on learning to fly

 We've become familiar with our feathered neighbors this spring: the hummingbirds who are always vying for ownership of the feeder, the little brown birds who fly around in a pair making high-pitched cheeping sounds, and the scrub jay family who are nesting in the tree on the west side of the yard, near the fence.

I was pottering in the garden yesterday afternoon when I noticed something tiny and fluffy flapping and cheeping on the ground in the fallen leaves near the fence. It was a baby scrub jay, fallen from the nest. One of the parents was hopping around near it, looking concerned. The little chick can't fly yet.

We didn't know what to do. They looked like a family in crisis, a nestling on the ground and the nest so high up. That little bird just a ball of dandelion fluff. I didn't believe it would last the night.

We did some research and contacted some wildlife rescue people. They said to leave the bird where it is, that it is a fledgling and often they spend a few days on the ground before they learn to fly. The parents will watch over it and feed it, and they will hear the baby call.

We kept an eye on it yesterday, concerned because we didn't see the parents around much. We kept the cats inside and hoped a raccoon wouldn't find it. I am so tender-hearted, even worse than usual these days, and that scared little chicky made me so sad. It looked so vulnerable, sitting on the ground in its tender baby fluff, about to spend its first night out of the nest.

I keep thinking of Pema Chodron's passage about the baby bird:

...Another image for maitri or loving-kindness is that of a mother bird who protects and cares for her young until they are strong enough to fly away. People sometimes ask, "Who am I in this image--the mother or the chicks?" The answer is we're both: both the loving mother and those ugly little chicks. It's easy to identify with the babies--blind, raw, and desperate for attention. We are a poignant mixture of something that isn't all that beautiful and yet is dearly loved. 
I feel like that baby bird a lot, since becoming a mother: vulnerable, uncertain, and completely ill-equipped for life outside the nest . Sometimes I lose the mother bird part of me, and all I feel inside are those hungry chicks, cheeping cheeping. Now I have to take care of my own inner baby bird, and my outer baby bird who always needs physical and emotional caretaking. (And my husband's baby bird, who I love as much as my own.)

But I can see what that baby scrub jay outside in my back yard can't: the parents are there, watching out, and so am I, a benevolent gardener. This is what's supposed to happen. This happens to all baby birds learning to fly: they spend some cold nights on the ground. It's lonely and painful, but a part of the process. This bird is lucky it fell on our side of the fence, and not the neighbors' side where the pit bull lives. Its feather will grow in and it will learn to fly. 

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