One of the comments made by a reader of the last post reminded me of this incident, which helped clarify my commitment to helping alleviate unnecessary pain, even when the rapid approach of death is a certainty. It wasn’t easy to go through, and I hope I did enough at the time. I’ll never know for sure.
Birds build nests under an area of our roof between our home and the one next door. It’s an area protected from wind and bad weather since our houses are close together. However, some nests are sturdier than others, and some winds are stronger. I don’t know how it happened. My wife came and told me there was a baby bird lying on the cement between the houses that must have fallen from the nest. I thought about the fact that our neighborhood has a lot of outdoor cats, and went to see immediately. The bird was so young I couldn’t even tell what species it was. It had more pink skin than feathers. It couldn’t have been more than a day or so old. Perhaps it was so light that a wind had knocked it out of the nest and partially broken its fall. It wasn’t dead.
The bird was lying in a small pool of its own drool and waste, with the sun beating down upon it. It wasn’t making any noise, but I could see it making feeble attempts to move. At an earlier point in my life I would have stepped on it, to end the pain quickly. I can’t explain why, but in a miraculous moment of empathy I got a sense of how hard that bird was trying to cling to life. I could not witness that and not at least attempt to honor the bird’s efforts. I got a washcloth, and gently scooped it up and took it inside.
My wife and I got right to work. It was obvious this was a race against death’s clock. The bird was so small, and had been suffering from pain and exposure. I cleaned it and kept it warm and gave it water with an eyedropper. We tried calling an emergency vet for information, but the vet suggested there was little hope. Still, we turned on the computer and frantically searched for information, while I tried to follow my own instincts of what to do. The baby bird perked up a bit when I placed it in the palm of my hand. It curled its claws around my finger, and looked up at me intently.
While I kept holding the bird, looking for changes in its vital signs, my wife went to a nearby pet store and got a liquid vitamin mixture suitable for wild birds. The little bird took a few drops. I had learned some pretty convincing chirp sounds from a parakeet I had owned as a child. I got down close and whispered the chirps to the baby bird. It chirped back! My wife came back into the room all teary, saying, “It’s talking to you.”
I could see it wasn’t going to work. It had been about three hours, and even though the bird was more comfortable and didn’t appear to be in pain, it was growing weaker. It still lay in my hand, claws curled around my finger, but now it was lying with its eyes closed as if asleep. I could see the tiny chest rise and fall, and see the pulse of the surface vessels. I warmed it with my breath. Internally I tried to project the thought to the bird that it was all right to let go of life. Immediately after I did that, the bird gave out a slow breath, and the little claws slowly relaxed their grip.