Simply walking down the street
found a fledgling at my feet.
Tiny baby on the hot asphalt
from where’d you fall? By whose fault?
What left you in the middle of my street
wobbling on your new, new feet?
Yellow beak wide in a silent cry
flailing wings so small to fly.
Should I touch you?
Dare I try?
Baby bird, what can I do
to keep harm from befalling you?
How long could you last
if I just walk past?
Wait—I think I’m hearing
—yes, your mother nearing
and your father, too,
—they’re both here, calling you.
They won’t come very near
as long as I am here.
How wretched it is to back away
my wrenched heart will break—it may
—but from back here I see them land
see you hop-hop toward them, and
—you’re not too steady
—don’t know if you’re ready.
But to think I know more than a bird
about what’s best for birds, is absurd.
So I turn and walk, fighting my fears,
fighting my instincts, fighting my tears
—it’s a hard, hard thing, just walking on
praying, Baby, you’re soon up and gone.
I have seldom felt so helpless or torn as I did on encountering this baby bird one late afternoon. Although tall trees line the street (a quiet cul-de-sac), I couldn’t possibly guess which one held the nest, if I could even reach it, for returning the bird. I thought about my Aunt Jack, who found a baby blue jay when I was very little; she took the foundling home and raised it to adulthood (he was never caged, had free rein in her house, and here’s a post if you’d like to read about him: Kilroy). I wondered: Should I take my fledgling (I think it’s a finch) home, too? Could I raise it? Or would I be tempting fate, tampering with nature when nature knows far better than I about taking care of itself? How long had the baby been struggling here on the road when I (heaven help me) nearly stepped on it as it flailed? Should I scoop it up carefully and put it by the side of the road in the grass… where there are cats… and snakes… then, the frantic parents showed: Which side did THEY want their baby on?
I walked back and forth a while, not too close to the scene, until the parents and their baby were gone. Where, I do not know. I didn’t see. Seems I could hear their voices somewhere in the lush pines… all I know is that, after a bit, there was no trace of birds on the street any more.
Yet I remained distressed. I had done nothing to help the baby bird. It was so tiny, so frail. Was it really so helpless? Was I? Had I been wrong? I had to face the truth, even it if it was ugly… so, later on my phone, I searched things like What to do if I find a baby bird and Should I touch a baby bird? National Geographic had an interesting take: “It depends on how cute it is.” Meaning that a mostly featherless pink baby bird not capable of hopping or flitting is a nestling and should be returned to the nest. A fledgling has feathers, can hop, and is “generally adorable and fluffy with a tiny stub of a tail.” National Geographic (bless them) says “It’s not a good idea to put a fledgling back in the nest—it will hop right back out.”
I can rest a little easier. I guess. I do marvel at the parents both coming to rescue their baby, both of them chirping and hopping, looking back to see if the baby was, too. Which it was, in its zig-zaggy way.
—They better be giving that baby some quality flying lessons now.
Special thanks to Catherine Flynn who’s hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core. Drop by to check out her wonderful post and the many other poetic offerings.