Echoes of Twee

I just don’t understand ground-nesting birds. Small birds face enough hurdles to survival as it is.

I’ve known for the last couple of weeks that there was likely a nest in the yard when Jasmine pounced on something about two weeks ago and a very upset bird began vocalizing profusely. I just figured she’d destroyed it and I silently thanked the stars that I wouldn’t have to rescue another Twiddledee and Twiddledum.* Then this weekend, Youke seemed to uncover something in the same spot. Youke isn’t much of a hunter and quickly left the spot, but Jasmine and Camm nosed right in and scruffed their snouts around in the ground cover for a while. At that point, I realized there was either an old nest there or maybe a nest with eggs in it.

Again, I figured that all that nosiness from the dogs meant the nest and/or any eggs in it was destroyed. I watched closely to see if they’d picked up any eggs and were enjoying a Rocky-style meal, but surprisingly, at least to me, I couldn’t see that they’d found any eggs. So I went back to my assumption that the nest was done, boosted by the angry vocalizations of the bird piping away higher up in the brush.

This morning, Jasmine casually went back to the same spot, but only after doing her usual rounds of the yard. Then she walked away. Youke looked at the spot, but seemed uninterested, as did Brady.

Camm, being the curious little thing that she is, decided to visit it a bit more, which piqued Jasmine’s interest again.

I watched as they both rooted around the spot where I now gathered the nest to be.The birds were vocalizing again, but didn’t seem as upset as a couple of days ago. I stood and watched Jasmine and Camm for a while, again thinking that maybe they were looking for eggs.

Jasmine walked away again. Camm, though, stayed and seemed pretty intent. Still her pawing at the ground seemed gentle with whatever it was she’d found.

Waking up a bit more, I realized maybe there were eggs still in the nest, so I walked over and bent down to take a closer look. I saw what might be a single egg, but it was unbroken despite the dogs.

Camm was still gently pawing about and sticking her nose into the ground.

And I saw it. A gaping, bleating little baby bird mouth. The nest was very much active and there was at least one baby bird in it.

I called my fearless hunters to me and we went to another area of the yard.**

I praised Camm for being so gentle and not harming the baby bird, all the while hoping that was actually true. She started getting all wiggly and then starting hugging me – her signature move. I then asked her if she was proud of herself for making a birdie friend. I guess the answer was yes, because she started zooming about the yard, periodically stopping to hug me with her happy grin on her face.

I really hope the baby bird makes it, but I also hope the mother bird picks a different place next year to nest. I don’t want to be an accessory to murder.

* On Memorial Day weekend of 2010, Jasmine found a bird’s nest in the brush at the back of the yard. Being my one and only fearless hunter, she pounced on it and found four baby birds. One was killed instantly. She tentatively brought me the remainders of the nest. She may be fierce, but she does have a conscience. Being the sap that I am, I was immediately horrified and wondered what I could do. I remembered that we really shouldn’t mess with wildlife and placed the nest back in the brush as best as I could to let the mother deal with it. I then proceeded to check every 30 minutes on the nest. By mid-afternoon, it looked like things were not going well, so I opted to bring the nest inside and try to rescue the baby birds. This is typical. I had zilch for knowledge regarding the care and feeding of baby birds, didn’t even have a clue as to the species except that they were maybe sparrows of some sort, but insist that I have superhuman powers.

A third baby bird died pretty quickly, passing away a few hours later. Two survived. They became Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

At the time I had Jasmine and Youke and Sylvie, my by-then ancient husky mix. Sylvie was disgusted that birds were brought into the house and pretty much ignored them. Sylvie had a lot of rules. They were inconsistent and only she really understood them, but that’s another story for another time. Jasmine and Youke – especially Youke – were incredibly excited about the new housemates. The cat, being a cat, pretended she wasn’t impressed and intrigued.

It became apparent pretty quickly that Tweedledum was what one could call developmentally delayed. I never knew what it was. Perhaps he was harmed somehow when Jasmine discovered the nest. Whatever it was, Tweedledum grew very slowly and didn’t thrive, unlike Tweedledee. Tweedledum survived a week or so. I found his delicate, not-quite-right deceased body one morning when I went to check on the birds. Tweedledee seemed very distraught and was screaming loudly. Or maybe he was just hungry.

By then, Tweedledee, who was thriving, had luxury accommodations in a bird cage I’d purchased especially for him, a stick perch I’d fashioned for him, a little grass nest and other things I thought seemed bird-like. As a singleton, Twee – as that was now his name – got fat and fluffy on his regular meals of what I’d researched a bay sparrow should eat.

Twee hung out in my office with me and got a lot of attention from Youke. Youke was beyond fascinated. If allowed, he’d have stared at Twee for hours on end. As it was, he’d stare so long and intensely that it looked as if his eyes would cross with his nose pressed up within a half-inch of Twee’s abode. He’d get whipped up in a frenzy when Twee would flap around in his cage or when I’d bring Twee out for a visit on my desk. Youke quickly learned Twee’s name and perked up whenever I mentioned the bird’s name.

Twee lived with us for several months. However, a sparrow isn’t meant to be a pet and I figured that as part of Twee’s rehabilitation, he should have outdoors time and hear the song of his people. I also thought he should practice his flying. At first, flying was in the house. The dogs were quite concerned about that, as was the cat. I limited Twee’s flying to the office and then only when the door was closed and no dogs or cats were present.

Eventually, I had Twee mostly outdoors on the deck and left his cage door open. Twee, would flit about, but mostly he stayed close and would either return to his cage or allow me to catch him and bring him in for the night.

By then, it was early July. I have no idea of the time frame for a bird, but it seemed that Twee should soon be finding his way in the world and not be so friendly with dogs that liked to stare at him. I was also growing concerned as it appeared Twee had a bit of a hitch with one of his legs. He could fly fine, but one of his legs seemed a bit deformed. Still, I was determined Twee should be a sparrow.

As the month progressed, Twee took to taking day trips. I’d check on him and would call his name “twee, twee” in my most sparrow-like impersonation. Youke quickly picked up on this and would scan the yard and sky for Twee when I called for him, often leading me right to Twee.

Finally, the day came. I had to let Twee go. I left his cage door open as usual in the morning and checked on him several times as he flitted about on the deck and in the yard, but didn’t insist he come back. That continued for a few days. I’d hear his call – by then I’d honed in on his distinctive voice – and I heard with joy other sparrows with similar voices call. I still left him some food, but he seemed to ignore it. I’d call “twee, twee” and Youke and I would look for him.

It was all very Disney-esque. But I’m not delusional. Within a week I couldn’t track Twee down anymore, despite Youke’s helpfulness. Youke would helpfully point toward a sparrow in a bush when I called, but his questioning look would tell me it wasn’t our Twee.

For months, through the fall and even into the next spring and summer, I’d sometimes go into the yard and call “twee, twee.” I’d get replies from other birds, but never from the actual Twee. There was one moment the following summer when a sparrow perched on one of my rhododendrons and sat there calling to me in what seemed like Twee’s special voice. Was it? I couldn’t be sure.

I want to believe Twee made it, but the realist in me is pretty convinced Twee died in the end. Still, I cling sometimes to that Disney picture in my head. And to this day, Youke still searches the skies when I call “twee, twee.”

** Jasmine is my only true killer. Jasmine’s tally now includes numerous moles and mice, several bunnies, a chipmunk and a pheasant. Keeps missing those pesky squirrels though. I’m not counting the baby bird as that seems to have been more of an accident. Surprisingly though, I’ve been able to easily call Jasmine off a racoon and a couple of possums, as well as a skunk (thank you jesus). I’m pretty sure she thinks she should have been deployed as a bear dog, and deer and elk are a sport. As in it’s super fun to flush them out, but being true to herself, it’s far to much effort to really chase them.

The borderline and border collies though are terrible hunters. Brady appears convinced he’d like to be a big-time hunter, but truthfully, his efforts suck. Not for lack of trying though. Camm just doesn’t have the attention span for any prolonged hunting efforts.

I’ve literally seen bunnies hop right in Youke’s path and he ignores them, or looks to me and seems to ask if he should do anything. He’s mildly interested in squirrels, but seems confused by mice. If I have a ball in my hand, I’m pretty sure a tasty tenderloin steak could drop from the sky and Youke would ignore it.

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