Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Fledgling

Like many Florida houses, ours has a screened aluminum cage built over and around our pool to keep bugs, rabbits, leaves, gators, snakes, frogs, and other undesirables from falling into it.

Four days ago when we opened the door to let the dogs out, Rupert and Russell immediately ran to the far side of the cage and began sniffing and barking. We assumed they had found a rabbit. Russell, in particular, hates them and spends hours each day patrolling the perimeter of the cage to scare them away and remind those silly wabbits they are trespassing on his territory.

But the dogs hadn’t found a rabbit. They had found a baby bird covered in fluffy gray down. The bird was trembling. Every so often he -- I’ll call it “he” but I may be wrong -- waddled a few inches to, fro or from side-to-side, and emitted tweets (but not mean ones like Trump.) He was the size of those bright yellow chicks once sold at Eastertime in dimestores, but his coloring and face resembled one of the babies in “March of The Penguins.” 

My wife and I assumed the bird had fallen out of his nest. We looked but saw no nests in nearby trees. Our first inclination was to pick him up, place him in a shoebox, bring him inside and feed him with a medicine dropper until he was capable of surviving on his own. Either that or call the Audubon Society to take him away to wherever it is that Audubonners take birds in distress.

I went online to see what the experts recommend and learned that the best thing we could do was … nothing.

I learned that he wasn’t a newborn. Newly hatched birds — nestlings — are scrawny, pink, featherless and helpless. This bird was a fledgling, a couple of weeks old. Fledglings have feathers and can hop around and forage for food themselves. Their parents kick them out of the nest to force them to learn to fly on their own. In all likelihood, the fledgling’s parents are nearby, checking on him every few hours. It may take up to two weeks for the fledgling to figure out how to fly. Until then, he will remain on the ground, a few feet from our pool cage.

Kicking your kids out of the nest so they can figure things out on their own is Mother Nature’s plan for all living, breathing creatures with the exception of Dryden dogs, who have come to expect food imported from Denmark, bottled water and who spend most of their days curled up on microfiber throws we keep atop our upholstered furniture to prevent drool stains. They couldn’t survive a minute in the wild.

MN (Mother Nature) expects parents — human and otherwise — to force their fledglings to learn how to take care of themselves so that, once mom and dad have gone to that aviary in the sky, the kids can survive on their own. MN never foresaw a world in which human parents can call or text offspring who have left the nest ten or twenty times every day to find out if they got up, went to class, what they had for lunch, or to give them advice they feel the kid needs. Technology has made it it possible for parents to hover over their children long past the time those children should be able to take care of themselves and their parents should have let go. It hobbles kids while making their parents feel virtuous and/or useful and still in control when the kid should be learning how to navigate the world on his or her own.

Reluctantly, because our every instinct told us the fledgling needed our help, we decided to leave him alone, though we’ve been checking on him every few hours, taking care not to frighten him. We have no idea what kind of bird we’re dealing with. He may be an owl  — the shape, coloring and feathers look like pictures we’ve found of owlet fledglings. On the other hand, we’ve seen a black bird nearby who swoops over him several times a day.  Whatever type of bird he is, the Audubon Society says we are doing the right thing by leaving him alone. 

We discovered him Thursday morning. By Friday morning, he had moved three or four feet away from the cage. That afternoon he hopped back. Saturday he moved 10 feet south. This morning — Sunday— we woke up to a violent thunderstorm. When we checked, he was still there, his wet downy feathers clinging to his little body, but he had had the sense to move himself under a tree. He looked pitiful and it was all I could do to refrain from bringing him inside, drying him off and offering him a morsel of my Pillsbury Grand Biscuit. 

By noon, when the above picture was taken, the sun was shining, his feathers were dry and he was fluffy again. Over the last few hours he has moved three or four feet to the east, and is starting to flap his tiny wings more often though he remains, for now, grounded.

I hope that if he sees a snake, rabbit or other predator coming — a real likelihood in Florida —  he will flutter his wings and, to his surprise, fly away to safety. 

I don’t know if birds are capable of love but I do know that if you love something, you need to let it go and the fledgling’s parents have done that. Hopefully we can too until, one day -- maybe tomorrow -- we will go to check on him and he’ll be gone.

I hope he’ll leave his number so we can text him.