Thursday, June 9, 2011

Parenting Passer domesticus.

And so it was that on a sunny spring day in May, Nathaniel and I found ourselves to be the foster-parents to a baby sparrow.

Around 3pm on May 28th, N and I were on our way home from a friend's house when we decided to take an alternate route back to the house, and as we walked along Dundas street east of Runnymede, we saw an older man standing very still, staring at something on the sidewalk.
We approached slowly to see what it was he was looking at, and discovered that it was a tiny baby bird--pink and transparent, probably just hours old (if that), flailing helplessly on the concrete.

I immediately scooped the little thing up into my hands to warm it and told the man that we would take it home with us. He said "ok" and wandered off, and we made our way home with this tiny, fragile little life cupped protectively in my palms. Once we got home, some research was needed to sort out what species it was and what its needs would be, and at once, care for the little house sparrow began.

("Robin", 3 days old)
It's a very surreal experience to hand-feed a pink, cheeping little creature every twenty minutes from sunrise to sunset, but to see the changes in this little life in so short a time span has been nothing shy of miraculous: within a week, the little one (whom we've named Robin, as we don't yet know its gender) has opened his/her eyes, began to sprout feather-stalks, and is starting to look more like a bird than a nugget of chewing gum with a beak on it.

We have discovered that s/he likes to be held in one hand and sung to sleep, that one type of chirp means s/he's hungry while a different tone means that s/he needs to poop, and that blackberries mashed into his/her meals makes for a very, very happy birdlet. As his/her eyes are now fully open, there's a great deal of looking around at the magical new world around his/herself, and the little pink tongue that flicks out to taste new foods is so cute that my heart nearly breaks every time I see it.

It is a very strange, very beautiful experience to parent something so tiny and fragile and helpless. I've cared for human babies since I was in my early teens, and though they're also small and delicate, there's a hardiness to human infants that is completely incomparable to this small little life. At first, s/he weighed less than an ounce, and was completely bare-skinned and blind: the most helpless, vulnerable life form I have ever encountered, and one that was entirely dependent on Nathaniel and I for everything, from regular feedings to encouragement to relieve itself. 
Since then, s/he has doubled in size, changed colour, opened his/her eyes, and sprouted little spikes all over his/her body that are beginning to erupt into soft brown wisps of feather. It's now been 11 days since we found our little friend, and his/her personality has been developing more and more each day.

Despite all of the fears and neuroses about accidentally injuring or otherwise scarring the wee birdlet, this has been an incredible experience, and I am eternally grateful for this adventure in foster-parenting. Never would I have imagined that I'd be getting up at the crack of dawn to mash berries into baby bird food, or stroking a little head the size of my fingertip to calm the wee one to sleep. Among the many lessons I'm learning in this journey, I think one of the most important ones is absolute presence in the moment: for the first week of Robin's life, s/he was so fragile and vulnerable that the possibility of death was very probable. In fact, 98% of orphaned birds don't survive their first 48 hours, so it was with bated breath that we checked on the little one every morning to see if s/he'd lived through the night.

All of this is certainly a lesson in appreciating every moment and cherishing its sweetness. Robin has changed so much in the last week and a bit, and each change is an irreversible one: s/he will never be a blind, pink, squiggly thing again, nor will we ever re-live the moment when s/he opened his/her eyes and looked around at the world for the first time. Every sensation is a new one, and we get to live them through him/her--right down to the bliss s/he seems to feel when we blow on his/her little back and s/he spreads wings to catch the draft around them.
With any luck, this presence of mind will expand to other aspects of life, and we can spend more time in the moment, appreciating it fully, and seeing it for the beautiful, ephemeral wonder that it is.

(Super soft sparrow-kisses)
I've always had an incredible affinity with birds, particularly the wee ones like sparrows and wrens, and I think it's strangely (but wonderfully) poetic that I am learning so much from one that's now sharing its life with us. I am honoured to be part of its growing process, and beyond delighted at the magical set of random circumstances that brought Robin to us.

S/he is unbelievably special, and so, SO loved. 


Anonymous June 10, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

Thank you for this.
Thank you for you both.

Anonymous June 10, 2011 at 1:17 PM  

From Nana

Unknown June 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM  

I'm so happy for you! Of course you have a wee baby sparrow; it was meant to be. Wish we could exchange baby meetings sometime.

Sarah June 11, 2011 at 12:01 AM  

Thank you for sharing this incredibly moving story. You are a very generous and kind soul. That bird is lucky and s/he gives you back by teaching you the importance of now. The present. To savour and cherish every second of life.

Anonymous December 21, 2013 at 12:12 AM  

That's pretty damn awesome, but not surprised you got that experience. Thanks for sharing. Guess I'll remain anonymous, but i'm sure you can deduce who this is. Grats on all the good things i see you've found. xx