Friday, July 16, 2010
Jill and I went out to play tennis during one of the rash of hot, dry days we've been having around Philly this summer and as I approached the baseline, this clump of gray detritus shot it's head up in the air, mouth agape and let out a shrill salvo of peeps.
Lying just court-side of the hurricane fence and a bunch of neighboring hedges, this little nestling had escaped his tipped-over nest, which lay on a broken branch at the top of the hedge, and crawled onto the court as a last act of survival. And there he collapsed in an awkward heap, prone with nonworking legs and wings outstretched frying on the hardtop court. Without intervention he wasn't long for this world.
Our first instinct was to try to return him to his nest, but the nest was clearly abandoned as it contained the withered, maggot-ridden corpses of his two siblings. So we turned to the Internets which advised a shoe-box nest lined with an old shirt coupled with a tweezer-administered diet of warm water-mushed dogfood.
Within hours our nestling was responding well to our therapy and gaining strength. Every time we approached the shoebox, his little head shot up, mouth wide open, and the stream of peeps came out soliciting gobs of dogfood gruel. From then on he was literally an eating and guano-shitting machine. Which quickly became gross as the bloom wore off the rose of our do-gooding hearts.
Then he started to look ugly, sickly and skeletal without plumage and a voracious appetite and white, nitrogenous, toothpaste-like oozing guano in abundance sullying his shoebox nest and we started to wonder what kind of animal we had saved. Nestlings are hard to identify and we weren't sure if we had gone to so much trouble just to ensure there's one more crow or grackle in the world.
Plus which it was now Sunday and what would we do with our professional schedules with a bird who needs to eat three times an hour during daylight?
Rearing him in our Center City apartment wasn't a savory prospect, nor one that looked promising for the bird. Fortunately, a little more research on the Web revealed the Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research organization in nearby Newark, Delaware. They happily take in rescued nestlings, regardless of the bird's exotic appeal, or mostly, lack thereof. (They get 25 birds a day, mostly robins and grackles.)
We drove him in to this secret facility tucked into the woods surrounding Newark and found a rootsy, but seemingly well-funded little operation like you'd expect Jane Goodall to be running on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, only instead of chimpanzees it's suburban birds in plexiglass containers being nursed back to health and then released in netting-covered woods.
The receptionist confirmed that our nestling was a robin, which, better than a grackle, but by no means the rare exotic we'd envisioned when deciding to rescue. But hey, we did a good deed shored-up on some karma and went on our way.