Hound’s Quill: Encouragement to take flight

Fledgling

By Vesper Jacks

This is the time of year when a number of baby birds are found on the ground. That doesn’t mean that they have been abandoned by their mothers, or thrown out of the nest due to a failure to launch. These fledglings found on the ground are not pink and naked beings. They have light feathers and have not yet taken flight. Their mothers or some parental unit is still lurking about providing sustenance. They don’t need to be rescued.

In a short period of time, they will take flight, usually within 2-5 business days. If they are hopping around, then they should be able to fly in a short-period of time.

Let me preface all this information by saying I’m not an ornithologist. I’m just a homeowner who reads articles from reputable experts when I’m not sure what to do about a topic. If none of this is correct, I’m sure someone will let me know since we do have experts at both Shenandoah National Park and Andy Guest State Park, among others.

 In the past two weeks, I’ve found two tiny birds. One rested on my front porch. And I let him stay there overnight The next morning as I watered my porch flowers, he still sat there forlorn. I scared him into flight. (I have that effect on people too.) I bent down to scoop him up, and frightened him into flying.  But I talked to him like a Fairy Godmother without a wand, calling him loving names like, “Little Darling” and “Honey Pie.” He thought I was nuts. He squawked and flew as fast as his little wings would take him. Caring for a baby bird is not an easy task and is best left to experts, not hobbyist bird watchers who can barely keep porch flowers alive.

Yesterday, I found the second one as I placed my ugly grey watering can down by the spigot. He blended in with the bleak greyness of the firewood he sat on, and I jumped back at first, mistaking him for a rodent. But he was a precious little bird. What kind? I’m not quite sure. He had feathers and a beak, wings, a tail, you know— the norm.  Judging from what flies around on a daily basis, a wren of some kind.  So that’s when the research about what to do started.

His mother is nearby, because she glares at me and sends her legion of friends to squawk at my head as I exit the front door with the ugly grey watering can. I march onward in peace undaunted by their attempts of swooping intimidation. This morning the dog became miffed as I called him away from the little fellow. In the dog’s eyes, I have committed a treasonous act because I’ve given attention to another creature. He seemed disinterested when I offered the half dozen deer as an exercise opportunity instead. He plopped his body on the porch, looked at me with brown eyes of betrayal and snorted through his nose with utter disgust.

I walk over to the bird, bend down and continue to converse with him despite the fact that his mother could fly in at any moment and clip off my nose. “Come on now. You can do it! Flap those little wings. You know you want to fly. You can do it” The betrayed dog snorts again.

 He doesn’t realize birds are beneficial to the ecosystem, and even to him. They eat all kinds of bothersome bugs including but not limited to slugs, spiders, and mosquitoes that carry illnesses. They eat grasses and weeds and take advantage of natural food sources available so that limits the amount of chemical sprays that humans need to use, if any. They pollinate plants and carry seeds.  

And one of the best things about birds, is their voices. When the world is falling apart, they provide a sense of comfort through song. They are stress relievers, although they do tend to leave some carnage behind on the car windshield occasionally. And every species has a different song or call which is the best way to identify if you’re close enough to hear. But hearing them sing provides a sense of tranquility and hope..

I have had unusual bird visitations throughout my life. When one of my parents passed, a cardinal came to my porch railing and looked inside at me every morning for about two weeks. As soon as the female made eye contact with me, she’d fly away. Weird. When a favorite dog died, cardinals appeared in the snow on a fence post. This is not unusual except for the fact that there had been no snow all winter and the dog loved snow, and I asked for a sign to know that the dog had made it to a peaceful place. I liked to think the cardinals were the sign. There have been other encounters. No raven has ever said “Nevermore” to me. I keep waiting.

Luray is an established Bird Sanctuary. When the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway came to fruition, the number of birds and other wildlife greatly increased. Birds that had been absent in the community for a while found their home along the Hawksbill. Cranes, herons, and an occasional raptor came to take a drink or a dip along this two-mile area that is a Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and Bird Sanctuary. Watching a kingfisher take a fish from a stream is a rare but exciting moment. Our local waterways provide a unique opportunity to see nature truly at work.

Shenandoah National Park has taken great strides in restoring the peregrine falcon population that was about wiped out due to the use of pesticides containing DDT. This caused the eggs to thin and they did not hatch. We all have to think about what we do when it comes to wildlife.

In fact, the whole Audubon movement came about in 1896 because of two cousins, Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who were outraged that the high society women of Boston wore dead birds on their hats, a heinous act unto itself. Couple that with the suffrage movement, and you’ve got problems. Who is going to listen to take your cause seriously if you’ve got a dead bird on your bonnet? No one. The two women developed the Audubon Society to save birds. Kudos to them. This is in a children’s book written by Kathryn Lasky called She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! 

Birds are mentioned numerous times in the Bible. Two examples: the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (not the football team) and Noah sent out a raven and then a dove to see if the flood waters had receded. There are countless other birds mentioned in scripture for varying purposes.

Birds are prevalent in popular culture— video games, films, television, books and songs. The song, Blackbird by The Beatles was a song I’d heard as child but never listened to the words until recently. The song appeared in the movie The Boss Baby in 2017. The song, written in 1968 by Paul McCartney, was about the racial tensions in the United States at the time. The song is one of hope. The song is still relevant.  I have started singing it to my little fledgling and anyone else who needs encouragement to spread their wings and take flight.

Biography: Vesper Jacks has called Page County home for more than 30 years. A former reporter, Vesper works locally and has degrees in both communications and English. Vesper loves dogs, coffee and folklore.

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