“God finds a low branch for the bird that cannot fly.” - Turkish proverb
I am a sucker for animals in distress - always have been. The tough thing about helping an animal is I never know how it’s going to turn out. Some rescues have happy endings, others are very sad; the point is I have to try.
My latest rescue is a male House Finch who, up until recently, I called Blind Bird. Like all House Finches, he is social, spending his time in a small flock that nests in the trees near my side porch. And, like all House Finches, Blind Bird loves bird feeders. His favorite feed is sunflower seed, so I keep one feeder full of those, just for him.
I think Blind Bird hatched this year, because when I first started noticing him, he was small and brownish gray. As the summer progressed he got bigger and his head and chest turned a pretty shade of dark red. According to the bird book, male House Finches are typically more orange-red, but since Blind Bird looks, acts and sounds like the other House Finches I’m sticking with my theory that he is one of them.
I first noticed Blind Bird because he was slow to fly away when I came up to replenish the feeders, and even from a short distance away, I could see his eyes were matted and dull, like he had some kind of eye infection. Having suffered the heartbreak of watching baby bird after baby bird die, after falling from a nest and being “rescued” by me, I resolved to let nature take its course, so all I did in an attempt to help Blind Bird was make sure finding food was never a problem for him.
Blind Bird seemed to function alright. He could flit from his bird feeder to the nearest tree and he had a voracious appetite. Maybe his immune system just needs extra time to tackle whatever’s wrong with his eyes, I thought week after week, as Blind Bird came and went, always with same sick-looking eyes.
Then, last week, Blind Bird’s health took a turn for the worse. When I went out to refill his feeder, I found him sitting completely still, puffed up like a very sick bird does. His eyes were crusted completely shut and he didn’t seem to be able to hear because he didn’t move at all when I got close enough to see how bad the situation was.
A short debate in my mind followed. Try to save Blind Bird from what looked like certain death? Or, just let him be like I had so far. The decision was quickly made when my old tom cat slinked around the corner – health-wise, Blind Bird obviously had nothing to lose and if something didn’t intervene, he’d be cat dinner tonight.
Because these things unfold the way they do, I was, of course, due to cover a school board meeting for the paper in less than an hour… Clothes not changed, hair not combed, no makeup on, I threw the cat in the house and ran up to the attic to retrieve the cage I keep for bird rescues. Wash it, line it, fill the water and food then rush back outside hoping Blind Bird had flown away. Nope, there he was, still sitting there completely still, as if quietly waiting to die.
I grabbed Blind Bird and put him in the cage, shut the cage in a bedroom safe from the cats and dogs, changed my clothes, combed my hair and makeup-less but on time, made it to the school board meeting. Thankfully it was a short one, because all I was focused on was getting back home to start Blind Bird’s treatment plan.
After washing all the gook off, I dabbed some antibiotic ointment on each eye, put a drop of antibiotic syrup in his beak, gave him some water and put him back in the cage. Then I wrapped the cage in a thick dark towel and stashed Blind Bird on the upper porch, safe, secure and warm for the night.
The next morning I was hesitant to lift the towel, so sure a dead Blind Bird is what I’d find. But, there he was, hopping around, looking a whole lot better than he had the night before. Another treatment and out went Blind Bird to hang in the cage near his favorite bird feeder for the day.
This was my routine with Blind Bird every day for the past five days and today he’s looking pretty sharp. His eyes are all cleared up, he’s active and he’s regained his cheery chirp. Tomorrow, after one last morning treatment, I’m going to let him go and in anticipation of this, I’ve started calling him Free Bird.
Of course, there is no guarantee that my tom cat won’t get Free Bird or that he won’t fall victim to some other peril; nature offers no guarantees. At least he’ll face whatever lies ahead with a healthy body and a pair of good eyes. He’ll also have the comfort of being back with his friends. All during Free Bird’s recovery, other House Finches perched on his cage and chirped to him, as if offering encouragement. I like to think that made all the difference.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.