Story: Free Bird

I was already ten minutes late when I left the house. Construction had started on the main route I take to work; the cop directing traffic was checking Facebook on his cellphone causing a lovely back up before I could even get to the highway. Extra cars were on the road for the first day of school. It was not a great start to my day.

By the time I got to the office, all the spots in the covered garage were taken and I had to park further away in the back of the building. The morning was cool since it was still cloudy, but it was going to be hot later.

Loading myself up with my backpack and economy-sized lunchbag (I bring 3 bottles of freshbrewed iced tea with me, so it weighs a ton), I hurried up the cement stairs.

My mind already on the workday ahead, I almost didn’t notice the small green bird laying on it’s back on the hard stairs. Her wings splayed out, I could see she was quivering. The iridescent green feathers helped me identify her as a ruby-throated hummingbird; she lacked the rosy red throat feathers of male.

Right above me the reflective windows of the office building mirrored the sky. The little bird must have flown into the false sky and stunned herself; I could imagine her plummeting to the ground, where she lay until I found her.

I dropped my bags and gently lifted her and turned her over. The tiniest feet tried to grip my fingers as she fought to keep herself stable.

I had rescued a bird in this same spot about a year ago–in the same place. He was less injured, as he stayed in my hands for only a few seconds before he flew off. I wonder if hummingbirds have started their migration; I wonder how many of these wondrous creatures are stopped by glass-enclosed hives of humans in office and apartment buildings.

I resisted the urge to stroke the bird’s delicate feathers. I knew it would just add stress to a creature already in crisis. Instead, I marveled at the perfection of this minute being that I held in my hand. I watched her breathe, I saw her tiny tongue taste the air. She blinked at me, unsure of where she was and what had happened.

“It’s okay, little one,” I whispered. “Take your time. You’ll be okay.”

By now, I was a half hour late for work. The hummingbird didn’t look like she would recover quickly. I called my friend Ed, who works with me. “You got  minute?” I asked. “I know it sounds weird, but could you grab a box and meet me by the stairs at the back of the parking deck?” I explained to him that what I had found.

In a few minutes, Ed showed up with a large box. He didn’t comment on what I must have looked like, standing on stairs, my hands cupped around a teeny bird, my bags at my feet. Ed’s like that–a good soul with a kind heart. He apologized for the size of the box. “I know it’s too big but it’s the best I could find quickly.”

I gently placed the bird in the box. She flapped her wings, which I took as a good sign, but I could see she didn’t have the speed necessary for her to take flight.  Ed held the box while I figured out what to do next. It was warm but not hot outside; the clouds were keeping temperatures in the 60s, and it wasn’t supposed to get hot until much later.

I needed to get into the office to see what my day looked like. I figured I would step out as soon as I could and take the bird to The Raptor Trust, one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the US, which luckily enough is about fifteen minutes from my office. I have dropped off many injured birds for treatment at that facility over the years–and since they also take in other animals, I’ve brought them an injured turtle and a large bullfrog as well.

I put the box in my car, covered it with a blanket so the bird couldn’t get out, and Ed and I went back to the office.

Luck was with me and my first meeting of the day was cancelled. I grabbed my keys and ran back down to the parking lot. Before heading to The Raptor Trust, I decided to check and see if the bird had improved; maybe all she had needed was a warm safe place to gather her wits. I drove to the back of the parking lot, to an area where there were trees and bushes and shade–and no buildings or windows.

I placed the box on the grass under the shade of a scraggly tree and opened it up slowly and quietly, trying not to startle it’s inhabitant. The hummingbird was sitting upright, her wings outspread. She flapped them a few times, like an airplane’s propellers just getting started.

And then she flew.

She flew.

And landed about twenty feet away on a small branch.

I’m grateful I was far from our building because my cheer of pure joy might have seemed awfully bizarre to my coworkers–or at least the ones who didn’t know me well.

I took a few pictures of my free bird, and thanked her for giving my day some meaning.

With tears in my eyes, I drove back to my parking spot, headed up to the office, and back to work.

Reflections in the windows of tall buildings can be dangerously confusing to birds.

This photo, taken later that afternoon, illustrates how confusing window reflections must be for birds.

 

Holding an stunned ruby-throated hummingbird in my hand while she recovers.

I only took a few pictures–with my cell phone. I didn’t want to frighten her any more than necessary.

 

Hummingbird in the tree

You can just make her out; look for the first small branch shooting downwards off the biggest limb in the picture. Follow it down and to the left, past a small clump of dead leaves–and you’ll see her.

 

Hummingbird in a tree

A slightly better photo. It was hard to take pictures, as I didn’t have my SLR with me–only my little point-and-shoot–and the wind was blowing the branches around.

What to do if you find an injured bird

  • Find the number of the closest wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization–before you need it. Store the number in your cell phone. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association lists several ways to find rehabilitators on its website.
  • Observe, don’t disturb. If you find an injured bird, wait before you act, unless it’s in immediate danger. If it’s spring, the bird may not be injured, but may be a fledgling–and Mom may be nearby, waiting for you to leave. Is the bird able to move? Wait before you do anything. Unless the bird has to be moved (for safety reasons–yours, your pets, or the bird’s), leave it alone for awhile.
  • Call your local rehabilitator with information; he or she can give you the best advice for your situation.
  • Only handle a wild creature if you have to (to make it safe) and with some kind of barrier between you and the animal (like gloves, a blanket, a box).
  • No, you can’t keep her. It is illegal in most cases to keep wild animals, even if you intend to release them. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to care for native creatures; it’s best to let them nurse orphaned or injured wildlife back to health–and hopefully release them back into the wild.
  • Read what to do if you found a baby bird from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
  • If you aren’t able to reach an expert, and
    • you find a nestling (a baby bird with no feathers), try and find its nest to return it to. If there’s no nest, try to make one (I once made one from a basket), and secure it in a tree. Watch from a distance to see if the parents come back. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
    • you find a fledgling (a baby bird with feathers, but might not be able to fly), leave it be, unless you need to move it to safety in a bush or tree. It’s normal for fledglings to spend a few days hopping around on the ground and in bushes–with Mom and Dad feeding her–until she can fly.
    • you find an injured bird, or determine that the baby is truly orphaned, use your gloves to put the creature in a secure box. Never touch a wild animal with your bare hands. Keep it warm, quiet and safe until you can reach someone who can tell you what to do.

 

Have you had a close encounter with wildlife that touched your heart?

 

You may also like:

  • Keeping Wildlife Safe from Your Dogs
  • Dog vs. Groundhog
  • Yes, there are flying squirrels in New Jersey


10 Comments on "Story: Free Bird"

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  1. Kitties Blue says:

    What a heartwarming tale. Thank you Susan for saving the life of one of God’s special, tiny creatures. We have saved several birds. My favorite story is the one of Edith, a robin we rescued after a dog had broken her wing and leg. She lived with us and our two dogs for a very long time. We built a perch for her on the side of the house, and she would go outside and sit on it, fly around a little but always want to come back inside. Then finally one day, she took the plunge and flew across the street into a huge stand of trees. We were sad and elated at the same time. Hope you will join us for our Sunday Selfies Blog Hop. XO, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  2. What a wonderful story! I’m so glad you were there to help that sweet hummer. I love hummingbirds…they are so delicate yet powerful at the same time.

    I had an experience with some baby bunnies that I found in a nest under a bush in my yard. But unfortunately, the story was not a happy one…none of the babies survived. This was a couple of years ago and still bothers me to this day.

    Island Cat Mom

  3. Brian Frum says:

    That truly wonderful save makes my heart smile, ya done good!

  4. Ruby says:

    YEA!! I loves that story!! Good work! I can see how that burdie got all confused by those windows though. So glad it was only stunned. And I am super glad you kept it safe til it came to it’s senses again!
    High Paw!
    Kisses,
    Ruby ♥

  5. Sandy says:

    Thanks for making time in your day to help the hummingbird. Boy, that must’ve felt so good (to you and the bird) : )

  6. Awww, you are a hero! I love my hummingbirds each summer. There is something that glass buildings can put on the outside to deter birds from flying into them. I recall seeing it on the news one night. Thanks for a cool story. ☺

  7. What a wonderful story! We love the freedom photo.

    Many years ago, the head peep raised a young squirrel she found in the road. There wren’t enough wildlife rehabilitabors, and they were willing to give her advice to save the little guy. When he was big and strong enough to live on his own, she gave Darth the squirrel to the wildlife rehabilitator who could release him safely. The cats at the time were confounded because they were sure that she had been fattening him up for dinner just for them!

  8. Wow, what an amazing story. Thank you for saving the little hummingbird. If she could understand, I’m sure she would be thankful too. Maybe she does understand! Anyway, that story made my day :)

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