On New Year’s Day we saw some birds going crazy outside lounge window. Common blackbirds, a male and a female, who looked nothing alike, chirping very loudly, flapping their wings, diving around the big pink-flowered shrub in the far right hand corner of the little grassy area where the clotheslines are. Earlier in the day some young new neighbours had set up camp right near it to begin their celebratory 2015 day-drinking with an unfettered view into my lounge. Bless their hearts, they wished me Happy New Year and offered me a glass of bubbles when I went out to hang my pillows on the line.
A cat, of course, was rummaging around and trying to get at the parent birds’ chick—the day-drinkers were long gone by then. It flushed the chick, which I guess was a nestling because it had feathers but looked like a chubby baby and clearly couldn’t fly. Being weak and sentimental humans, we ignored the law of the jungle and shooed the cat away from window height. “Go! Go go!” yelled G, and so I ran outside and sort of just looked at the baby, which was staying very still right there in the middle of the unmowed dandelion-y grass, looking straight ahead. When G came around with a tea-towel I had some stupid idea that I would sort of, what, find its nest and put it back in? I came towards it but of course the chick hopped away, flapping its wee wings and attaining liftoff for about a second. Its mom saw it and followed it around the corner of our building, where I had never actually been in over four years and which turns out to have several big pink and purple hydrangeas. G followed it at a distance but it was too much for the mom and she flew away.
“It’s going to die!”
“That cat is going to get it!”
“What do we do! What do we DO?”
“We have to take care of it—can we take care of it? Do you want to take care of it? Can we raise a bird?”
“We can’t raise a bird!”
“It will starve!”
“Well, those birds are BAD PARENTS then!”
I went inside to consult the internet and G stood guard. I had sorted out that we were not going to kidnap it but just sort of keep an eye out from our lounge window; by that time the baby had hopped over to another tree and was hiding amongst the exposed roots. I hoped very much that I would not have to watch a cat kill it from the comfort of my 80-percent-of-life-size couch.
I know it’s only a blackbird; they aren’t native or endangered. Probably fifteen species I never knew existed have gone extinct during the time I’ve been typing this and I eat birds sometimes anyway so it’s not right to begrudge a cat for doing what it naturally does. And I like cats! I like that they are hunters! I just really, really wanted this baby bird to be okay. I thought about how lonely and scared it would be and how it had literally no way to escape—G had shooed another cat away while I was frantically Googling—and how its parents didn’t know what it was and it basically just had to sit there in those tree roots until something happened. Did it even know where its nest was?
The site I looked at said that as long as the baby felt safe it will eventually call out to its parents and they’ll find it and feed it for however long until it develops enough strength to fly on its own. It had given instructions on how to make a temporary nest out of an ice-cream container or a shoebox or something (with the suggestion to hang it from a clothesline because cats can’t climb those as easily as trees) but I didn’t think I’d be able to do that. I keep looking out the window in the hope that the baby would calm down and begin calling for its parents, but would that attract cats? Meanwhile the parents—I was convinced it was them, even though all birds look basically the same to me—were hopping around the yard with, like, worms in their mouths, looking for their chick. I tried to beam them the baby’s location coordinates with my mind but they just kept looking everywhere but where he was. Over THERE, I beamed with my mind, putting in a head gesture for good measure in case birds can interpret those correctly. THAT WAY. They ignored me completely, because they are birds. The last time I looked in the direction of the tree roots I couldn’t see the baby at all.
Yesterday I thought I saw the mom bird hop out of the pink-flowered shrubbery with a worm in her mouth. Then I saw her chop up a snail. (Why didn’t I go try to save the snail from the bird, as I’d tried to save the bird from the cat?) I wondered if she had found her baby, if he were alive or dead. I wondered if birds grieve or if they just accept their losses and move on with the business of flying around and eating invertebrates.
I went out to hang some more washing—because I have chosen to clean every single thing in my house whilst on holiday from work—and I peeked into the shrub. It’s pretty dense and tangly in there and I wasn’t sure if I was looking for a nest or for the baby bird itself? But that’s what I saw. The baby was perched quite nicely on a thin branch right in the middle of the shrub, with a similar straightforward expression on its beak. I recognized it by two little fluffy feathers on its head, over each of its eyes like antlers or extremely exuberant eyebrows. I don’t know if it saw me, but I saw it.
It works out, sometimes.