On a particularly hot Friday afternoon, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, most folk had already pulled the plug on business activities and begun the mad rush to the mountains, the beach, the ball game, the hammock.
My New Earth Band had an upcoming concert, for which I had to swing by one of my musical apparatus suppliers to pick up an essential item. I was in the store but a moment, and as I emerged, my wife, Elsa, said, “There must be a fallen bird over there, because employees leaving the building keep asking, ‘Is that bird still there?’ ”
I asked Elsa, “Would you like to take a look?”
“Sure,” she responded.
Hunkered down on his little belly, alone on that sizzling asphalt parking lot, was the tiniest baby bird I had ever seen. No bigger than a golf ball, he had no plumage, save a tuft of fuzz crowning his head, just a wisp atop each shoulder, and a teeny stub where he would eventually require a tail. I could see blood vessels through his semitransparent pink and purple flesh. His wings resembled miniature marimbas, merely two little racks of delicate bones. His eyes were closed in exhaustion, and he heaved slowly as he labored to breathe in the afternoon sun.
Scattered around him on the ground were pieces of a broken nest. Siblings or adult birds were nowhere in sight. The little dude was in a pickle.
“This little nipper is being slow-cooked on the tarmac!” I whispered.
“Yes, and he’s apparently been out here most of the day,” Elsa replied.
From an immense yellow wraparound bill we heard a weak cheep.
I remember a time in my life that I had fallen from a lofty height, and the sudden stop at the bottom had knocked the wind out of me. I was broken, alone, and thoroughly exhausted from an extended, fruitless struggle to regain my footing. There appeared to be not a hint of hope on the horizon.
“Maybe I should move him to a cooler spot; maybe in the grass over there in the shade,” I offered.
“We should at least give him some water,” Elsa suggested.
I gently picked up the little fellow, cradling him in my fingers. I laid him in the cool grass on the shady side of the building. Then I trotted back inside the store, where a salesman filled a bottle with cool water. I pirated a small cardboard carton from the shipping department.
Seeking a delivery system for the water, I scanned the surrounding landscape, and there it was: long and slim, like a little bottle brush, with rows and rows of tiny blossoms on a three-inch-long head, perfect for capturing and holding dozens of droplets of water. Dunking the weed into the bottle, I touched the tip to the bird’s bill, which immediately opened for me to shake in a shower of refreshing moisture.
Cheep! he said, which we interpreted as “Do it again, bub!” So I did, again and again. As I stood up Elsa and I looked at each other for a moment, then uttered in unison, “Well . . .”
Cheep! Cheep! came the frantic call from the ground.
Returning our attention to our distressed friend, we were pleased and surprised to see that he had risen from his hunkered-down posture and was now wobbling weakly on his toothpicklike legs.
Cheep! Cheep! translated to “More H2O, please!”
“If we leave him here, he’s sure to become somebody’s supper.”
“Do you want to take him home with us?” asked Elsa.
In the aftermath of my fall, a friendly face had been hard to find. There had been an occasional sympathetic look, a brief word of encouragement, then a rapid exit. My rescue finally came when I called on the One who promised never to leave me or forsake me. He took me in, cared for my needs, restored my strength, and set me on a brand-new path.
I knew we were buying ourselves one serious project, but still, how could we have closed our eyes and tried to sleep that night, knowing we had left the little guy defenseless on the ground? We pulled up fistfuls of grass and carefully lined that corrugated box to cradle its fragile occupant.
“We’ll call you Rocky,” I assured him as I lowered him into his makeshift nest, “because you’re one gnarly little scrapper.”
On the way home I used my cell phone to call some friends who are knowledgeable about wild birds. Karin suggested we grind up some dry cat food for him, because it is high in protein. But her husband, Ken, said, “Nah, he won’t make it.”
Ken’s comment made me all the more determined. I understood that I had elected to interfere with nature’s course, and I was fully aware of the responsibility I had placed on my wife and me. So what’s a guy to do in a situation such as this? Well, he prays! We asked God’s guidance in caring for His precious little critter. Then we knuckled down to the task.
To replenish the water he had undoubtedly lost during his long day in the sun, we came up with a more efficient delivery system: a medium-sized eyedropper. Rocky grasped its intended purpose at first sight, and promptly opened the hatch whenever he saw us approaching with that dropper in hand.
For Rocky’s first meal, Elsa prepared a concoction of crushed dry cat food, mixed with a little bit of raw egg, a generous spoonful of wheat germ, and a goodly measure of a powdered food supplement, along with a small dash of milk. When mixed together, those ingredients morphed into a gritty, olive-green pudding. Aesthetics aside, it offered a powerhouse of nutrition, so I offered the earth-toned muck on the skinny handle of a spoon to the little guy.
Rocky was unable to hold his head up to take food. But in a delightfully inventive maneuver our unfeathered friend wobbled over to the side of the box, rested the bottom of his bill in the corner, and propped his head in an upward-facing position. Immediately that enormous yellow beak opened wide, and Rocky proceeded to wolf down that gourmet dinner mixture!
We took turns feeding our scrawny guest every hour or two, with copious amounts of water interjected between his mealtime blitzes. In just a matter of a few days patches of downy fuzz began to appear on his wings and on his back. In addition, he was beginning to navigate around the box with ease, and soon was climbing up the front of my shirt to sit on my shoulder or nestle into the crook of my neck.
Rocky, whom Ken identified as a European starling, appeared to grow with each passing day. Just a week into his rehab he had outgrown his little carton. So one evening I built a spiffy two-square-foot cage furnished with a network of branches strategically positioned to facilitate climbing, hopping, and fluttering around his new home. Rocky seemed to acquire these, and additional skills, one day to the next.
After three weeks Rocky had grown into a strong, healthy, great-looking super-starling. The bad news was that he loved that olive-drab pudding concoction so much that he had no interest in insects, worms, and more conventional bird fare. Besides, Rocky had become so tame that he permitted us to scratch his belly and rub his head, and he even allowed Elsa to help him pick the dried food from his face!
We knew it was time to take the next step. I phoned a wildlife shelter in the adjacent county, told them our winged amigo’s story, and asked whether they would be willing to prepare him to return to the wild. It was a somber 90-minute ride in my pickup truck that afternoon. Rocky clung to my right hand most of the way, while I drove with my left. There’s no question it was the right thing to do.
Two weeks later we received an e-mail message from the people at the shelter, notifying us that Rocky had been released onto the grounds of the shelter, along with several other starlings, and that he seemed to be doing just fine.
I firmly believe that our heavenly Father led us to Rocky, then blessed us with this living experience so that we might gain a more complete understanding of what He has done for us, and for Adam’s entire fallen race.
Elsa and I still talk and laugh about Rocky, respinning his saga, and showing our amazing photos of the little nipper. In fact, we readily agreed, right from the day we heard that Rocky had been set free, that, given the opportunity, we would do it all again, because of the tremendous satisfaction we received from rescuing a precious life from certain demise; and most of all, because Someone had first done the same for us.