An escape attempt

I wrote last Friday (May 19) about our newest houseguest, Herkie the baby sparrow. When he literally dropped into my life, he was a tiny featherless creature that looked more like an itty-bitty dinosaur than a bird. Rick and I set aside a corner of our dining room as a rehabilitation area, complete with heating blanket for warmth and a series of ever larger boxes in which we could contain our little visitor.

Many people have asked what I’m going to do with him. Keep him? Release him? What will happen when he begins to fly? There have been so many questions, and honestly, I’ve had very few answers. When I rescued Herkie, I didn’t have a clue how this was going to work out. Although I called a number of wildlife rehabilitators, I eventually came to realize that pretty much nobody cares about a baby sparrow — no one, that is, except me. I refocused on caring for Herkie and supplying his needs so he can grow into an adult bird: food, water, warmth, exercise, and a safe environment.

The latter has been the most challenging and required the most thought. I easily Googled what I needed for food and shelter, but our home environment is anything but bird-friendly. With three border collies in the house and five barn cats outside, pretty much every moving creature in the immediate vicinity would love to eat this little bird. Our dog Lisa, specifically, has an incredibly strong prey drive — a fact that can interfere with her herding. Although she’s very sweet with people, she loves to chase and kill small moving creatures.

I had been keeping Herkie on the dining room table in a box, with Lisa restrained in her usual spot nearby. With no warning the other day, I found Herkie on the floor of the dining room, having obviously tried out his wings overnight. As I entered the room, I saw Lisa laser-focused on the floor under the chair at the end of the table — there sat Herkie, obviously disoriented by his unfamiliar surroundings. I put him back into his box and rather quickly saw the issue: he was not only hopping, but actually fluttering and gaining some height. I remembered a cage that we had originally constructed to keep our puppies confined at night while we slept. It was made of hardware cloth and was oval in shape, exactly the size of the dog bed and with a wooden top heavy enough to keep a puppy in. I removed the dog bed and used the rest of the structure for a new home for Herkie. I felt confident that he was safe.

As is our routine, I awoke this morning to the sound of Herkie calling for his morning feeding, so I quickly made my way downstairs to the dining room. I got the first bite ready and opened the wooden lid of his cage, but instead of stretching his neck out toward me with mouth gaping open, he quickly took flight. As I watched in horror, Herkie left the safe confines of his home, entered the airspace of the dining room where Lisa waited, and landed on the back of one of the chairs within Lisa’s reach.

Herkie in his new cage arrangement, now complete with the towel to hold him in when I feed

I felt a grip of panic as I visualized the dog’s snapping jaws and my poor little bird! I had not raised him to become a morning treat for Lisa! Just as she jumped toward him, he once again took flight. But instead of moving away from her snapping jaws, he flew directly at her and landed on her back. I dove toward the panicking bird as Lisa twirled in place, trying to get at him as he lost his footing. In the same instant, Herkie took flight, Lisa’s jaws began snapping in his direction, and my hands scooped Herkie in midair, carefully closing around his tiny body. It was a very close call!

As a result, both the plan and the set-up have now changed a bit. I have put a towel under the wooden lid, so when I remove the lid for feeding, Herkie cannot escape as I make a very small opening through which to feed him. Later today when the temperatures are warm enough, the cage and its occupant will go outside for a bit of fresh air. The cage will allow him to walk around in the grass and meet other birds while remaining safe from our cats. I’m hoping that he’ll learn to eat insects in this manner, and once that happens, I can begin planning his release out in our Timber. Even after all of this, it is still one day at a time.

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