Sparrow in Hand
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
Jose, our animal caretaker, approached me with something cupped gently in his large gloved hands – a tiny baby sparrow. He had found it near the coyotes and was afraid it was about to be eaten. It was fully feathered but still had that large pathetic yellow-rimmed baby mouth that young birds have. He could flutter along the ground but wasn’t quite yet able to fly. I held him for a bit while Jean went to get a bird cage. Its tiny feet clung tightly to my fingers as I cupped him to help him feel warm and secure in the dark. Still, I could feel his heart beating wildly.
We put him in a small cage while I thought what to do. I knew that a large community of sparrows had decided to nest in the space between the roof and the enclosures of the coyotes and foxes. We watched them all winter as they took dust baths in the snow-free badger enclosure and happily poached the chicken food; then in spring as they fought and mated and rushed back and forth in great excitement building their nests- the air was filled with their twitterings. As I write this the air is filled with their twitterings. The air is always filled with their twitterings. They are very gregarious birds with frequent and intense interactions. They have found a permanent home here between the coyote and fox area, and our two lush golden willow trees which are absolute sparrow condominiums. As we sit in their shade endless passionate scenarios seem to be taking place above our heads in that cool green and gold world.
I brought the cage back to the coyote area where it had been found, thinking if he belonged there he would make his existence known and his parents would sense him. I came back a little later finding him most eager to get out and I got the feeling that he knew where he was, where his family was and was trying to get to them. Although I had to let him out on the ground near the coyotes I thought his chances better than if I tried to raise him . . . baby birds are not easy to raise. I released him into the tall grass near the enclosure and instantaneously a female sparrow came flying down, excitedly chirping and hopping over to him as he hopped to join her. They hopped and fluttered around each other in what could really only be described as joyous relief. The whole thing was beautiful to see.
One might be tempted to say “it’s just a common sparrow,” but that sweet little baby bird with the pounding heart was just ready to start sparrow life chirping and chittering and flittering about in sparrow fashion. I was reminded that we all have an urge to live no matter what life form we were given, sparrow, hawk, bear or human; and being common doesn’t make a mother’s anxiety any less distressing.
Another female sparrow flew down to join them with more twittering and fluttering. Who was she? It made me wonder about the relationships in a flock of sparrows. It reminded me a bit of the research Dr. Slobochikoff has done on prairie dog towns. No one would have thought the little prairie dog would have one of the most advanced forms of natural language known to science. There is the mystery of the spectacular behavior of flocks of starling where thousands of birds swoop though the sky in dizzying loops and swirls as one unit. If we did research on sparrow relationships what might we find? There is wonder lying in wait everywhere.
My guess is that the baby fell out of the nest a bit early. Kind Jose thought it might be abandoned but in any case was in danger from the coyotes if it hopped too close. I could only hope that of the several generations of sparrows that have now nested here, somehow they learned not to go into the coyote dens. What will happen will happen but for the moment a mother and baby were joyously reunited?