A bird in the hand

Today Gabriel and his friend Clark learned a powerful lesson.

We were at the local park, throwing tennis balls, when the fellow who was on the other side of the wall remarked that he had found two baby birds on the tennis court. He looked up into the nearest tree, but there was no visible nest. He handed the chicks to two homeless men, who were sitting quietly on steps next to the court.

Gabriel and Clark were enthralled. The men, who were working down a couple of tall cans of beer (in paper bags) at 10:45 AM, reluctantly agreed to hand over the birds to Gabriel and Clark. One man solemnly stated that he could not take on such a responsibility–he then turned away and coughed an extended, racking cough, drooling involuntarily. He apologized to Gabriel, and handed over the chick.

The chicks had unusual plumage: brown feathers with white edges, with down still sticking out between these tiny new adult feathers. Their beaks looked V-shaped. Profoundly ignorant of birds, I guessed that they could be anything from a sparrow to a hawk. Gabriel and Clark held them gently, and talked in hushed but animated tones about how they would raise these birds. Clark has a parakeet, and he was thinking along those lines; but I wondered whether they needed softer food (bugs or worms). I also wondered whether they would survive the next three hours. Our cat, after all, prides himself in taking down mice, gophers, and birds.

I responded to this classic parenting moment (what do we do now???) in fine 21st century fashion. I Googled for the nearest pet store with my smart phone. They were only two blocks away. I called them for guidance. They said they could not even admit wild birds into the store because of risk of communicable diseases. They recommended a veterinary clinic in Montclair Village.

Gabriel and Clark were intently quiet the whole way, worrying that my driving was jostling the birds too much. They remarked any time the birds moved around or opened their eyes. At last at the vet clinic, the clerk was pretty clear: they would contact two nearby wild animal rescue clinics, and pass on the chicks to be raised. They identified the birds as finches; and they encouraged the boys by pointing out that this was the right thing to do. Gabriel was heartbroken that he could not keep such a beautiful, remarkable, delicate being and care for it.

At the coffee shop afterward, as they were munching on chips and Mentos, we talked about taking care of wild animals and taking care of the earth during their lifetimes. No idea if the lesson will stick; but I felt it very intensely.

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