We’d been on vacation for a week or so. I took a break from unpacking to go sit on the back porch, soak up the sunshine, and relax. With some irritation, I noticed my daughter’s rollerblades had been left out on a green plastic chair. They’d probably been rained on, and that was probably all that had kept them from being stolen. I sighed and rested my elbows on my knees, head on my hands, contemplating nothing much. That’s when I noticed the egg: Tiny, broken, its once-runny yolk dried and baked on the concrete. How on earth had it gotten there? There was no nest. There was nothing overhead but a little overhang. Where had the egg come from? That’s when I saw the second egg, just inside the lip of the rollerblade. It, too, was cracked; however, this one was a bit closer to being a bird. It looked as though the tiny, wet, featherless creature had pecked open the shell, thrust his head out, and passed out from sheer exhaustion – never to wake again. Just inside the shadow of the skate I saw the small, translucent, heaving, flightless bird that would later be named Riley. Riley the Rollerblade Bird.
It seemed a shame to let it die without a name.
I didn’t touch the helpless thing for twenty-four hours. It was agony watching it struggle to breath, wriggling closer, with each gasp, to the precipice. That it hadn’t shriveled up and died of dehydration in the Houston heat was a small miracle. Looking closer, I could see its beating heart, its stomach – its featherless skin translucent, its eyes too big for its head. I couldn’t stand it any longer. With the neighborhood cats on the prowl, mom likely would have returned, had she been able to do so. I went inside to find a shoebox. I got an eye dropper and tried to help it drink.
At some point, I realized that I was, in no way, equipped to be a mama bird.
And so, late that night, I went to the pet store for advice. And mealworms. Live, wriggling, mealworms happily digging in the cornmeal. As I was paying the cashier, someone informed me that I might want to contact a “certified wildlife rehabber.” Roughly translated: “A human who is much more qualified to stand in loco parentis to a premature hatchling than you are.”
Sometimes, You Need to Call an Expert
My heart was in the right place, but force feeding a premature wren water, ground mealworms, and applesauce is just not effective unless your goal is to kill the bird. I rushed upstairs and started to google “wildlife rehabilitator houston” and my zip code, and found a woman who lived within walking distance who was willing to take Riley in. She asked some questions and gently chided me for my efforts. “You could have drowned him,” she informed me. Apparently, Riley lacked the epiglottis – the thing that closes up and keeps us from inhaling our food and drink. “He probably got water in his lungs, and it’s likely he’ll get pneumonia.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, she went on to tell me that mama birds have a special enzyme they feed their young (along with the macerated food they give them) that contains the necessary growth hormone to turn this pitiful little see-through bird into a lovely young Carolina wren. In short, without proper care from an expert – Riley was going to die of my good intentions.
And if I didn’t feel badly enough, already, she informed me – quite kindly – that what I was doing was, technically, against the law. I couldn’t get Riley and me into the car fast enough.
This was Riley at a whopping 10 grams. Sure enough, he did catch pneumonia. But Elaine L. was prepared, and Riley was nursed back to health in the warmth of a real incubator. He was hand fed, cared for, and allowed to grow.
It was especially kind of Elaine L. to send me photos of Riley as he recovered and grew, and one day, I got an email from her saying that he had gone from hopping around in the fresh air, trying his wings, to flying out of the yard, never to return. I was happy for Riley, but felt a small tightness in my chest as I thought of all the dangers the world at large had to dish out on a tiny bird who’d had such humble beginnings – in my daughter’s rollerblades.
Moral of the story: Don’t be too proud to call in an expert when you need help doing the tasks needed to accomplish your goal. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Sometimes, that’s just the right thing to do. Even if you desperately want to say, “I did it all myself!” consider whether the risk of failure justifies the bragging rights.
The next year, a full-grown Carolina wren took to sleeping in a hanging plant on my back porch. He never made a nest – just burrowed into the potting soil and slept softly, unconcerned by my presence. I like to think that was Riley.