A Bird in the Hand is Worth Thousands in Therapy
I've always had a thing about birds. I don't know if it's a full blown phobia, but it's definitely a “keep those things the fuck away from me” general attitude toward anything that flies. It started when I was about 10, and a sparrow flew full speed into our living room window, splattered on impact and slid down to the driveway in a slimy, spindly pile. I went outside to inspect it, saw the bloody feathers and limp wings, and became scarred for life. Since then, birds=gross.
Shortly after we moved into the new house last spring, JT and I noticed a gathering of twigs and gunk on one of the support beams under our deck. On tiptoes, I peered at the mass and saw it was a robin's nest. Every year, my parents spend endless hours removing such nests from their own deck, as their backyard robin is prone to placing her home directly above their porch table, leaving it dotted with white poo. This nest wasn't close to anywhere we'd be sitting or eating, so I let it be, despite my disdain for its inhabitant. I don't like birds, but that doesn't mean I believe they should be homeless.
For the next few weeks, every time I went outside to water the garden, I'd check on the nest, watching it grow right along with its occupant, Mama Bird. Pretty soon, she was spending less time out gathering in the yard and more squatting on the nest. One day, she flew off and I jumped at the chance to peer down between the two deck boards above it. There, huddled in a tiny furry mass were four babies, their teeny heads swaying back and forth while they waited for Mama to bring dinner.
This was actually pretty cute and frankly the main reason I'd let their mother rent a space on our property to begin with. I was curious. I wanted to watch the progression as they grew before finally departing their home in a moment I imagined would be much like that scene from “Free Willy." Maybe watching all this would help me get over this whole bird hating thing.
The babies continued to grow, and Mama got less and less patient with my daily watering routine. I'd come out the basement door, say hello to the babies, then make my way to the other side of the yard to fill up my watering can. This went on for a week straight until one fateful evening.
I headed outside, as usual, to steal a quick peek at the babies, whose heads were now poking up over the side of nest. Mama was off gathering food, which was ideal as she had now taken to screech-squawking at me every time I was within 20 feet of the nest, despite my repeated efforts to tell her I was not interested in hurting her little family.
I offered my greeting to the babies, then took two steps before Mama swooped down over me, causing me to shriek bloody murder and fling my watering can skyward. The ruckus startled the babies, and in a heaving feathery mass, they propelled themselves from the nest.
“WHAAAAAAAA!” I screeched, as I ran back into the house, slamming the door closed behind me.
“What!!?” JT barreled toward me. “Are you OK? What happened?!”
I bent over at the waist, gasping for air. “The babies!” I heaved. “Committed suicide!”
“Um, what?” JT was not appropriately alarmed, so I grabbed his hand, led him to the door, and pointed at the now empty nest.
“Where'd they go?” he asked.
“I have no clue! I got the hell out out of there!”
“What did you do to upset them?”
“Nothing!” How could he insinuate such a thing? Had I not come this far in overcoming my bird prejudice? Why would I start committing hate crimes now? JT's eyebrows remained raised.
“I swear! I was just doing what I always do and Mama freaked the fuck out! The babies got so startled they jumped to their doom!”
“Well, did they fly away? Maybe it was just time?” JT peaked out the door again, and I spied over his shoulder.
We scanned the yard. Not a single sign of the babies, other than a few feathers gliding across the patio. Cautiously, JT opened the door, and I followed him out. I spotted Mama Bird, perched on the garden fence and squawking to high hell. She was flipping out, jumping from one end of the fence to another, flapping furiously and generally throwing a fit. This was not good. Had the babies' maiden flights gone as planned, she'd likely not be convulsing with hysteria. We peered at tree branches, and eventually spotted one of the fuzzy haired babies, sitting a bit wobbly on a branch. He seemed dazed, teetering awkwardly when a slight breeze blew, but not overly worse for wear. I knew there had been at least three, if not four babies in that nest. So where were the others?
“Found one!” JT shouted, drawing my attention to the high grass on our overgrown hillside. Sure enough, there was one of the babies, the grass climbing higher than his head. He was flapping his wings, but had no room to get anywhere, so he resorted to hopping but even that wasn't getting him very far. I leaned in closer to get a better look when a blur of dark brown flashed within a half-inch of my face.
“Holy shit!” JT screamed as I hurled myself backward. “That Mama Bird is pissed! You better leave her baby alone.”
“But he can't fly! He'll die! He'll be stuck in these weeds until night when a raccoon or cat will come and eat him! I think we need to get him back in the nest!”
“You better get a second opinion on that one,” JT said. “If you touch the baby, won't the Mama abandon it?”
I frowned. Damn, I think I had heard that somewhere. I mean, in my book, touching birds is always a no-no, but I'm pretty sure touching baby birds is like the worst thing you can do in life. I decided to call an expert, one of my best friends, ironically named Robin, who has pet birds. The fact that I remained her friend after learning that she not only loves birds but WELCOMES THEM INTO HER HOME VOLUNTARILY is a true testament to my affection for her, I think.
“Wear gardening gloves, scoop him up, get him back in the nest and get the back in the house. That Mama is going to be mad,” Robin said. “Make JT swing a broom around your head to keep her from pecking your eyes out.”
“Jesus,” I whispered.
“You can do it! I believe in you!” Robin said.
“That makes one of us.” I hung up, grabbed the broom and sucked in a deep breath.
I gave JT his assignment, which he gladly accepted because it meant he didn't have to try to capture the baby. I personally thought picking up a teeny bird was better than essentially using an adult one for batting practice, but what do I know?
It took some doing, but JT eventually found the baby again. He'd managed to make it all the way down the hill and had reached our shed. He cowered between it and the fence, trapped. Do it now! I told myself and with shaking hands and gritted teeth, I reached down. He flapped his wing, and I screeched, hopping backward into JT, who was flailing the broom wildly at the insanely irritated Mama Bird hovering above.
“Try again! You can do it!” JT screamed, a hint of total panic in his tone.
I reached again and plucked him up in my cupped hands. “I got him!” I screamed, then took off. I propelled myself forward and made it up the hill in about ten long strides, screaming, “I got him! I got him!” the entire way. Once I reached the top, I lurched up on my tiptoes, dumped the baby in the nest, then backed away, hands up in the “I surrender” pose. This seemed to satisfy Mama, and she calmed down a bit.
I bent over to catch my breath, and when I stood up, JT was looking at me, awestruck.
“I am so proud of you!” he said, bringing me in for a hug, and I finally let myself relax. I had done it. I did good! Years and years of bird hating erased with one selfless act. As we released, I looked to the nest.
It was empty.
The baby had jumped again, and was hopping his way back to the grass.
“Oh, for God's sake,” I said, grabbing him and putting him back again.
Two seconds later, he jumped again.
“OK, so what the hell was the point of all that?!” I demanded from JT. “I overcome my lifelong fear, give myself multiple heart attacks and for what? Nothing!”
“Oh, it's not for nothing,” JT said, bringing me in for another hug.
“Just imagine the essay you'll get out of all this.”