Monday, June 14, 2010

Adventures in Attempted Life-saving

“Everyone wants to understand painting. Why is there no attempt to understand the song of the birds?” 
~ Pablo Picasso

Before I write another word, I should explain that my sister Terry and I have a complicated relationship with cardinals (the birds, not the priestly kind). When we were growing up, our mother would stand at the kitchen window in the morning and carry on a conversation with a Northern cardinal in our backyard. If you play the audio file at this link, listen for the long slow tweets that start at the 18-second mark. This is the song mom and her cardinal shared. And even today, whenever Terry or I encounter a cardinal, we feel like we've just had a visit from mom. I walked down a neighborhood street last Saturday I was suddenly aware of an infernal screeching. It was a pair of Northern cardinals, hopping up and down in the branches above me. Something made me look down, and there I saw one of these:

Photo credit: audreyjm529, Flickr Commons

It was a fat little cardinal chick, apparently healthy but out of its nest and not yet ready to fly. No wonder mom and dad were worried.

I read somewhere that one shouldn't touch baby birds because the parents might reject them. I also knew that cardinals nest low to the ground, in bushes, so I shooed the chick through a nearby fence and hoped it would find its way to the garden behind it.

On Sunday I went back to that place to see if all was well. Once again, the adult cardinals were hopping from branch to branch frantically. And once again, the fat little chick was on the sidewalk, looking a bit worn from its 24 hours at large. I decided it was time for drastic measures, so I picked up the tiny creature and set out across the street, where the little garden outside the church offered shade and cover. My passenger began screaming — like Brenda Lee, his tiny size belied a huge voice. Mom and dad whirled and twirled around me, a profusion of bright crimson and bitter orange feathers in motion. It was a little like this, but vaguely threatening.

It took only moments to reach the church garden but the journey felt much longer; finally I set the chick down on the cool earth and both parents swooped in to inspect him.

I don't know the end to the story, but I hope the tiny wanderer will have a chance to grow into one of these and enchant some admirer with its song.

“You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness —  ignorance, credulity — helps your enjoyment of these things.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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