I never knew a bird could be so spoiled or a name so unexpectedly accurate.
On my way home from the library a few weeks ago I spotted a baby bird on the sidewalk. The nearest yard is about three meters above street level with a stone retaining wall. Some trees in that garden overhang the sidewalk but there was no visible nest in them. There is no access to the garden from where I was. Since there are cats in the area and traffic along the street I picked the little bird up and took it home.
Some neighbors walked over to have a peek and told me to feed it moist cat food. When I got home I noticed the poop was purplish so I knew it also ate berries. I had a can of cat food I’d bought for a small cat I had seen near my garden but the food was too chunky. I fed the bird a little of it and headed off to the store where I picked up some meat & veggie blend baby food and applesauce with berries.
I could hear a lot of chirping when I walked back in the door. I cut one of the cotton tips off of a cotton swab and dipped the cut end into the baby food which was promptly gobbled down then tried the applesauce which was equally well received.
I had previously raised and released a mockingbird so I knew what was entailed: frequent feeding, lots of little clean-ups and release after the bird is self-sufficient at eating not just when it can fly well.
My dilemma was that I had a weekend commitment and no bird-sitter. So I called to see if I could bring the bird along.
I took her with me to Jo’s where she got mixed reviews from ‘Why?’ to ‘Il est mignon’ meaning he’s cute. At first I referred to her as him. When asked why I thought it was a male I replied it was because I hadn’t had him any time before he shit on me. (No offence meant to the good guys out there – more a reflection of some poor choices I’ve made.)
While we were there a couple of Jo’s friends enjoyed feeding her. Someone told me she was a moineau, sparrow. That helped because I researched her feeding requirements and learned to add a little mashed hardboiled egg yolk for additional protein. Also, knowing the markings of a male sparrow, I realized she was female.
By the time we returned home Sunday evening she was a bit spoiled so I named her Princess.
The major goal is to get her to eat on her own; there’s no local pet store to buy mealy-worms for her. One problem is trying to find food that she can get for herself inside the house. My attempt at having her eat the baby food mixture out of a small container, instead of off the end of a cotton-swab stick, didn’t work; she ended up with some of the mixture stuck to the end of her beak. I had success with various fruits and vegetables but they are too messy to scatter about so she’s learned to eat off of a plate.
I discovered that she likes fish. I cooked fish for my dinner one night and she really enjoyed what I gave her. So I scrapped off some small flakes and put them on her dish. After a bite or two she was back to eating the fish off of my plate. I guess it tastes better that way because she’s since done that with other foods too. Oh, and she prefers her broccoli lightly cooked with a little butter.
I settle her into her room around 9:00 pm (yes, the princess has her own chambre). I go back in about a half hour later, give her a little more food, then it’s lights out. One evening I was trying to see if she wanted any more food before I turned the light off. I said “one more bite?” and she reached out and bit the end of my finger. She had never done that before. At first, to get her to drink, I would dip my finger in some water and let her drink the droplet off my fingertip which she had always done very gently.
Her room is set up with a few plants, a stool, a ladder, and a chair. I put a cord in for her to perch on after seeing how much she enjoys sitting on the computer cord in the séjour. I added a shallow dish for her to bathe in when I discovered her trying to get wet in her little water dish.
While I’m home during the day she has the run of the house. Early on she liked to follow me around. A couple of times when I headed up to the second floor she would flit up each stair after me. One time she went up a few steps and kept looking back as if she wanted me to follow her up.
Her little chirps of demand have transformed into a melodious chatter. It’s not that she isn’t still demanding; she’s just more quietly insistent now. If she wants fresh water she’ll peck on a bottle of water. If I don’t get her mixed food to her soon enough she’ll grab the cotton end of the swab and pull it out of her dish.
Whoever came up with the expression “bird brain” must never have spent much time with birds.
In an effort to get Princess to learn to find her own food I take her out to the garden with me. At first she wanted to stay very close to me. She would peck at the ground nearby and sometimes hop up onto my shoe which made gardening rather difficult. After a couple of days she mostly stayed under a pair of large poppy plants; they provided shade and I suspect a bit of security since she was used to being inside.
I took her out to the cœur, the little courtyard off the first floor. I had done this a couple of times but one time she decided to fly up to the trees along the path above. I ran back in, grabbed her food, went upstairs and out the door leading to the garden & path. She stayed in the lower branches and I was able to lure her onto my hand with some food. I didn’t want to discourage her from coming to me so instead of taking her directly in I took her into the garden to peck around for a little while.
The next time out she pecked around in the garden for about 10 minutes then she spent about an hour up in the trees. I continued working in the garden and calling her off and on. I was about to give up and go in, which I suspect she sensed, when she flew down to me and I was able to take her inside.
I had always known that taking her out was risky. At any time she could decide to fly off and not come back. But independence comes at a price and like it or not I have to be prepared.
The following time I took her out she immediately flew up to the rail on my neighbor Mathieu’s garden then into some trees and was out of sight for nearly an hour. It was a warm day and she was hungry and thirsty when she flew back into my garden. She was getting braver each time out.
From that time on I’ve had to grip her loosely in my hand to bring her in. The first time I did that I expected her to fly out of my hand the moment I opened it once we were inside but she didn’t. She’ll wiggle in my hand but when we’re in and I open my hand she’s fine.
The weather turned rainy but there was a nice spell one morning so I took her out for a while. It began to sprinkle but she still stayed out of reach. Then it began to pour and she sheltered herself in some grape vines in Mathieu’s garden while I crouched down waiting for her to get close enough for me to get ahold of her to bring her in. We both had to dry off and warm up when we finally got inside.
Since Princess started exploring further out I began clearing the remaining ivy from the top of my garden wall. Being up on the ladder allows me to reach to feed her when she flies to the neighbor’s tree or railing. Generally on her outings, before time to come in, she will come close enough to have a bite or two of food but stay far enough I can’t fully reach her. I keep her food dish handy for these times. One time a little dirt from the wall had fallen into her food dish. When I offered her some food she turned her beak up at it. I went in, got some clean food and something to cover the dish with; when she came back, a little after I returned, she ate the fresh food with no problem. (She obviously takes her name seriously.)
We had to spend a couple of days indoors because of rain and she was going a little stir-crazy. By this time she learned which stairs lead to the garden and she would fly up wanting to go out. I went out and found some aphids on my rose bush. I snipped off a small branch and brought it in so she feasted on them and it calmed her a little.
I got a real scare the last time we were out. We had gone out in the morning and all went well. She spent some time in the trees and when it started to sprinkle she got close enough for me to get her to bring her in. When it cleared later in the day we went out again.
I make it a habit to call and whistle for her when she gets out of view. She was in a tree where I could see her when a predatory bird swooped down toward the tree then it flew off squawking. I didn’t see or hear her for quite a while. I continued calling and whistling with no results and was beginning to feel quite disheartened. Finally I heard her then caught a glimpse of her. I was so relieved. Shortly after, she came close enough that I could get her to bring her in.
Today there are scattered showers and the electricians are here doing some work. The noise might discourage her from coming back in, so we’ll just stay inside.
As I’m trying to type she is hopping around on the keyboard. She alternates trying to peck at the letters appearing on the screen and my moving fingers. I have to admit that one time, okay twice, I teased her a little by moving the curser arrow around while she tried to catch it.
Soon she will decide that she prefers staying outside. I know that’s necessary but I’m not looking forward to that day. My little Princess will always hold a special place in my heart.
Shortly after this post Princess decided it was time for her independence. I hadn’t expected it because she stayed closer than usual when we were inside that morning.
Previously, once we were outside, she would come back after an hour or two to get some of the food that I kept handy. This day was different; she was gone for nearly four hours before she came near and she didn’t appear to want any food. It had rained for a couple of days prior and it was warm outside that afternoon. I never thought I would be grateful for lots of bugs outside but I was; it meant that food was plentiful for Princess.
I’ve seen her a few times but she keeps a considerable distance. Her appearance changed rapidly during the four weeks we had together. So the little tuft of messy feathers on top of her head that made it easy to spot her the past few days will probably be gone soon.
I wish her safety, health and happiness. – And lots of bugs!