On Tuesday (or was it Wednesday? Yes, it was Wednesday), I noticed something on my front door steps. It was something small and freaky looking. It soon registered that it was a nestling, a featherless baby bird who had fallen from its nest in the curved Spanish tiles above the steps. Its eyes weren't even opened yet.
It wasn't the first time there had been an accident on those steps. Last year, an egg dropped from the same tiles. A half-formed, but beaked, baby bird remained, surrounded by broken eggshell. Dead, of course. The year before, just broken eggshells and yolk. No actual bird. You'd think the birds would learn not to build a nest in our terracotta roof slide.
I called out to my 15-year-old daughter, SJ, to help me think the situation out. Is it dead? ("I don't know!") Oh my gawd, it's moving. Did she think it had broken its neck too? ("Maybe…?!") Should we bury it? ("MOM! It's still ALIVE!") But, I don't want it to SUFFER! ("Mom, no.") Yes, it was alive. Struggling, but alive. It was difficult to determine if there were injuries but, as its beak opened and its legs squirmed, burying it no longer was an option.
Panic set in. We couldn't just leave the little guy there. This tiny creature suddenly seemed much bigger as I realized that I'd have to deal with it. I'd have to be the one who has to do something with its fleshy three-inch-long body. I grew up in a rural area and saw a fair amount of wildlife mishaps in my childhood but I was never the one charged with "cleanup." But here I am, at nearly 50 years old, still learning how to do grown-up things.
What to do? I texted a friend who understood the urgency of the situation. She pointed me to an Audubon page on how, and when, to rescue baby birds. They say to try and get the bird back to its nest. I learned from them that old rumor isn't true — bird parents don't reject their babies after humans touch it. But, the nest was too high, and too wedged in the roof tile to do that.
Ok, what next?
"If the nest is nowhere to be found or simply out of reach, just craft one yourself," writes Audubon. SJ's makeshift nest was created by cutting up an egg carton and padding it with clean bedding originally meant for her rat's cage. Audubon then suggests putting the fallen bird inside the artificial nest and placing it up high near where it was found. The best we could do was to place it on the ledge of our second-story bedroom window. We cut up some cardboard so the nest wouldn't fly off the ledge.
Then it says to wait an hour for its parents to arrive. It was getting late, and colder. So, while we waited, I called a local wildlife rescue place in San Rafael. I explained the situation and they said to drive it over immediately to Walnut Creek to the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital. Google Maps gauged the drive would take half an hour. I mentally noted that the same non-sheltered-in-place, rush-hour drive would normally be 2+ hours. Still, they were closing in an hour, so we had to hurry. I personally didn't think the bird would last the night without professional help.
Our drive over was quiet, except for the pre-selected Hall & Oates playlist we were too in shock to swap out. The bird, in its egg-carton nest, sat on SJ's lap in a small box. During the ride, it squirmed around, opening its beak occasionally. "Rich Girl" played softly.
Watching its every movement, SJ asked, "Mom, which do you like better, 'Lola' or 'Champ'?" "Lola the Champ," I answered. She nodded in agreement.
Because of coronavirus restrictions, we weren't allowed inside the hospital. Signs instructed us to leave the animal in the outdoor sheltered area they had set up in the parking lot. I filled out the form, placed the box with the nestling on the table, rang their doorbell to alert them of the new patient, and then we started walking back to the car.
About halfway back, an older bearded gentlemen came out of hospital and started heading to the shelter to see what we deposited. He yelled across the parking lot to us, "Is it a Goldfinch?" I said, " I don't know… I don't think so!" He responded, "We've already had FIVE of THOSE today!" Oh. I just yelled back, "Thank you!"
We left, understanding we'd probably never know Lola the Champ's fate. Our drive home was even quieter.
Maybe the whole exercise to try and save it was moot, but it felt right. And in this uncertain time, it gave us purpose. Later, I got to thinking, if we aren't here to care for the delicate living beings on this planet, including ourselves, what ARE we here for?
Hope this finds you safe and healthy out there, all you happy mutants!
photos by Rusty Blazenhoff