Bright sun, blue sky, green grass… it was a fabulous day in June… I looked over towards the wildlife hedge I planted with three others in my garden last year – a wonderful mixture of hawthorn, spindle and guelder rose – when I spotted a tiny pink ‘blob’ on the lawn. My cat Harriet was close by and I guessed there had been another ‘incident’. Over the years I have had many of these – birds flung from their nests, injured birds, bird shocked by flying into a window and dead birds - but if there is such a thing as compassion fatigue, I don’t suffer from it!
Those in ‘the know’ say we should leave fledgings and apparently orphaned birds, as the parents will come back. This, I am sure, is true, but in this case, I knew this tiny bird had no chance at all – Harriet cat could be locked in but not forever, and this bird was newly born with not even the suggestion of a feather. What a strange, awkward little thing it was – was it a blackbird or a starling, I wondered. It was just too young to tell. Holding it gently in my hand, one could actually see its internal organs and veins. Despite its predicament, its yellow beak opened wide for food. I have had this scenario before and without expert help and the benefit of an incubator, it would be very difficult for the bird to survive. The best thing to do is to immediately take the bird to a wildlife Centre where there are experts on hand. However, as I do not drive this is not so easy!
I did what I was advised to do by Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital*. I filled a plastic glove with warm water, loosely wrapped the bird in a napkin and put it in a box. Possibly the recommended advice is to keep birds in the dark but this bird was getting cold and I thought the warm sunshine on the shelf in the front room might help. Next came a pouch of Whiskas cat food which I opened, put a portion on to a saucer and mashed down with a little water as fine as I could with a fork – then, taking a fine paint brush I attempted to feed the bird each time it opened its beak. I persisted but not much food was taken down. (I gather that one is not supposed to gently prise the beak open or to introduce too much water, but I don’t know if that is true). Approximately every two hours I repeated this process. The bird seemed to survive into the evening. I went to bed.
The next morning I got up at 5am and with cat safely locked in downstairs, returned to the bird. The little creature was still alive but clearly struggling. At that point I was forcibly struck by its stamina and the force of the life principle. Against all the odds, life has a will to win through. I could see the veins and organs within the dear creature, pulsating and moving, desperately trying to cling on to life. I felt so moved, so helpless. There was nothing more I could continue to do other than keep the bird warm and continue to try and feed with the paint brush. I had to admit though that the bird needed more than I had to give…
A friend took me to Brent Lodge – it was quite a journey and we lost our way, but this was nothing compared to the bird’s fight for life. Eventually we arrived at the Centre and the bird was admitted, put in an incubator and given a patient number. Thank goodness for Brent Lodge and other Centre’s like it. Just what would we do without our wildlife centres whose staff work so hard to protect and nurture our wildlife and to release it when ready.
I was asked to leave it two days before phoning to find out how the bird was. Yesterday I felt some anxiety knowing I would make the call. Picking up the phone I remembered the last time I had done this… the bird had not survived. Nervously I made the call… how was patient 841? The person on the other hand said they would check. There was a short silence and the voice said, ‘I’m afraid the bird died last night’. My heart was in my boots. But I wondered at how this fragile creature had managed to stay alive two whole nights after its admittance. It was a miracle!
As my first love is Philosophy, I would like to introduce the inspired wisdom of Socrates… It is love – not as we might know it – but nevertheless love, which binds a mother bird to its babies and the babies to their mother. In the Symposium (the Drinking Party) Diotima (Socrates’ teacher) says:
‘What is the cause, Socrates, of love, and the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds, as well as beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when they take the infection of love, which begins with the desire of union; whereto is added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to battle against the strongest even to the uttermost and to die for them, and will let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything in order to maintain their young. Many may be supposed to act thus from reason; but why should animals have these passionate feelings? (Socrates replied that he did not know.) ‘Marvel not’ she said, ‘if you believe that love is of the immortal, as we have several times acknowledged; for here again the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal and this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old.'
So all animals love their offspring, not only for the sake of the offspring, but to perpetuate their species in the desire for immortality.
I would suggest that when our beloved cats kill or maim a bird, that we make a donation of whatever we can afford to the BTO. You can do this through my Just Giving page, or simply phone the BTO and make a donation, tel. +44 (0)1842 750050. (If you do, please could you mention that you saw this website.) Given that there are 9.2 million of us, if we each paid a minimum of £1, that would amount to a great deal of money that could be used to support birdlife in the UK, having knock on effects all round the world. Please start now by going to my Just Giving page where funds will be paid directly to the BTO.
Note: 99% of funds raised will go directly to the BTO with 1% covering running / administration / website maintenance costs.
With special thanks to
Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital, Cow Lane, Sidlesham, Chichester, West Sussex PO20 7LN, registered charity, www.brentlodge.org,
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