Healing My Heart
The Time I Cared for an Injured Bird
I noticed the fledgling blue-faced honeyeater flapping helplessly on the ground.
Loud chirps alerted me to his plight. Adult birds were swooping and diving, calling loudly.
He desperately flapped his baby wings, too young yet to fly. Air bound just briefly, he kept plummeting back to the ground. His baby feet and unformed wings scrambling to right himself.
I picked him up. Instantly he was chirping in alarm, and his mother swooped in close.
I could feel his heart beating wildly under my thumb. Bones fragile, weight so slight it barely registered in my palm. His feet gripped around my fingers surprisingly tight — feathers, so downy and soft and a few wing feathers, longer and gleaming brightly.
Black eyes huge in his still oversized head for his little body. Gazing with inky curiosity, fear and what I believe is confusion — at me.
I went inside and lined a shoebox with a hand towel, softened with age and use.
I made a phone call to a wildlife carer.
“Put him back on a tree branch, the adult birds may come and feed him until he is ready to fly.”
“It’s his only hope.”
I do this.
Your feet, clawlike, so delicate and thin have to be pulled like chewing gum where they are wrapped tightly around my fingers.
I worry I am hurting you.
You instantly dive bomb off the branch into the undergrowth on the other side of the fence. The adult birds swoop and call in response to your cries of alarm.
As night falls and the dark descends I spot you huddled and still, under the bush, barely noticeable even by torchlight.
I hasten next door to claim you, barefoot in my haste, unkempt, paint splattered. I clasp your close between my breasts, safely ensconced against me.
You chirp and then settle, a fragile living delicate puff. But alive. Dark eyes gazing silently.
I look up online to find out how often parent birds feed their young who are about to leave the nest. It is every 15–20 minutes. A whole day has now gone by.
I attempt to get you to feed — a grevillea flower and then honeyed water. You refuse to open your beak despite my best efforts.
I put you back in your box for the night, unsure if you will survive until morning. At 5 am I wake, cold, blankets on the floor.
I peak under the lid, and your head bobs up. I lift you, and you snuggle onto my chest. I lightly cover us both with the sheet, but you struggle to move away. I pull it back, and you settle back down. I have learned something about you.
At about 6 am you start softly chirping, I realize you can hear the other birds outside, as can I.
I try and get you to eat but again your beak clamps shut. Your chirps are weaker. Softer. Less frantic.
You’re happy to sit on my shoulder as I make my morning coffee and toast. Hunched down, a tiny warm, fragile little bundle, eyes darting, looking around.
You hear your parents outside and suddenly squark answering calls. Agitating. I realize your only chance is to return you to your tree and hope they will feed you. You won’t survive another day of not eating, inside with me.
The instant we step outside half a dozen amazingly beautiful adult honeyeaters swoop all around. Your answering calls again match their own in intensity.
I lift you onto the branch. You teeter but stay. The other birds swoop in circles around you.
All day I peak out. You sit alone. Eventually, your cries stop. You tuck your head under your wing and are silent.
At dusk your head moves around, looking around at your family group swooping around you. You are silent. I am unaware if they have been feeding you during the day while you have been sitting on the tree branch.
It feels unbearable to imagine you perched alone and hungry on the branch.
Are you being ignored? Have you been unfed by your clan? Have you been rejected, ejected deliberately from the nest, or accidentally fallen?
I may never know the answers to these questions. The harsh reality of the cruelty of nature strikes me. In contrast to the beauty and fragility of life is its impermanence.
Your clan cares, their swoops and desperate cries indicate an awareness of you and your plight. But they operate according to the pulse of the universe and ancient instincts passed down through generations.
Who am I to interfere? Should I have hastened your death, ended your suffering with a blow? I couldn’t crush your life that had been slowly ebbing away over the past few hours.
I left you — a tiny silhouette on the branch.
My human heart personalizes your pain. I realize it’s just a reflection of my own perceived abandonment.
The next morning I exit the house to go and look for you. I hardly dare look.
You are sitting on the branch. As I approach you, I feel a rush of wind as the flock swoops past me. Suddenly, you take off with the rest of them. Your little wings flap so fast but you are keeping up, and you are right with them.
You are off! You are flying!
You all swoop across the road to a tree in someone else’s garden. My heart soars. You have survived.
Sweet dear little bird, may you keep flying high.
Deborah Christensen is a writer, artist, and published author. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia. She lives with her husband, a rescue dog named ‘Lily’ and has six adult children (and one amazing grandchild) who live scattered throughout Queensland. She’s on Twitter @Deborah37035395 and Pinterest and is the author of the best selling and Readers Favorite 2014 award-winning memoir Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery From Abuse and a Religious Cult.