My boys rescued a fledgling sparrow on the way home from church. They'd taken a different road from the station and found the thing, about a week old, chirping forlornly on the street. Some menacing looking crows were also in the area (the city had just been destroying crows' nests in the neighborhood).
Fearing for the fledgling's safety, my younger son stood guard while my oldest went and got my wife.
She did the only sensible thing and tried to foist the bird off onto a vet. Our family, collectively, knows absolutely nothing about taking care of birds. No luck, however. Instead of an offer of shelter, what my wife got were care and feeding instructions.
So, reluctantly, we welcomed "Chitchi" into our home. That is, my wife and I were reluctant. The kids were psyched. As in "cancel all my appointments" psyched, which isn't actually very realistic for school-going, soccer-practicing children.
Things didn't look so good for Chitchi at first. (BTW, the name is because Chitchi was found on Father's Day, which is "chi-chi no hi" in Japanese.) He was probably in shock. He refused food, though he shook his wings excitedly whenever we made chirping sounds.
I was pretty sure he wouldn't make it to Monday.
That is, until his chirping pulled me out of sleep at about six a.m. On my day off. On which day, alone, I can at least pretend to sleep until eight, even eight-thirty.
As I sat there trying to feed Chitchi in the half-light, while the rest of the house slept, three kids' worth of pre-dawn feedings and diaper changes and vomit cleaning came back. The things we do for love.
Still, although alive and chirping energetically, Chitchi still wouldn't eat. Outlook negative. I told my middle one not to get his hopes up too much, of course making him go off to the kitchen and cry. Nice parenting skills, Dad.
Luckily (?) my daughter had a low-grade fever, so the two of us stayed home with Chitchi. And then, mid-morning, the bird started eating! He opened his mouth wide and let me shoot bird-food paste into his gullet. He stood there looking confused for a bit, and then he opened his mouth again, shaking his wings with excitement.
From that point on, Chitchi started eating regularly. We let him out of his Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake box, and he spent the day walking around under the balcony screen door, peeping continuously and from time to time pooping on the floor, which wasn't actually all that disgusting. Better than vomit.
Chitchi tried jumping up onto boxes, testing his wings. He sat contentedly on my hand and knee, perched on my finger. After lunch, some other sparrows came round and were clearly upset that one of their young was being held captive by Evil Humans. (As I know now, it very well could have been Chitchi's mom and dad, who hadn't actually abandoned him.)
Chitchi continued to do well. So well, in fact, that my daughter and I went down to the pet store and got a nice little cage to replace the cake box. Chitchi didn't seem to mind the cage too much, although he clearly preferred being out of it. He would jump onto my hand as soon as I opened the door and made a chirping sound. Very cute.
All in all, we had a great day together. My wife and oldest son got to experience the thrill of feeding Chitchi, too, a variation on the pound the gopher game. Depress the plunger while the mouth is still open, reload, try again.
I started thinking ahead. When Chitchi starts flying around the house, we've got to be careful not to leave windows open. What food comes after this green paste? Who will look after him when we go to the States in August? Will he be able to fend for himself when we release him?
That night, with a very full stomach, the frequency of chirps slowing down considerably, Chitchi's eyes began to grow heavy. He rested his head on one of his wings and drifted off to sleep.
And then, this morning, he was dead.
I don't know if he just died, or we killed him by something we did or didn't do. Statistically, wild birds in captivity make it to adulthood only about half the time.
In fact, I come to find out that it was a bad idea to pick Chitchi up in the first place, and it was stupid to think we could've eventually released him. He was already starting to "imprint" on us--that is, think of us as his parents, the creatures from whom to learn life skills. That's why he started accepting food and hopping up onto our hands. But birds that imprint on humans can't make it in the wild.
Anyway, my wife and younger son discovered Chitchi dead when they checked on him. Of course, the two younger kids cried and my oldest just kept asking "why"? The bitter taste of death at dawn's first light.
They seemed more or less okay at breakfast, though.
He was just so damn cute. And, although we shouldn't have tried to "rescue" him, he was beginning to find a home--a strange and unlooked-for home, to be sure, but still a place to belong and be safe and be loved, in a world full of crows and cats and motor scooters.
I wish we had been smarter about what to do with Chitchi. But I am glad to have known him, if only for a day.
We'll bury Chitchi this evening, when everybody gets home. Lord, have mercy on us all.