Leaving the Nest
By Jeffery Cohen
Several years ago, when my power mower had broken down, I found an old push mower in the garage and decided to give it a whirl. The quiet whoosh of the blades and the smell of freshly cut grass took me back to my childhood, and I’ve been happily sweating over that old grass cutter ever since. One day last June while pushing the relic through a thick carpet of green, I stopped dead in my tracks. There on the ground was a baby starling that had fallen from its nest. It barely moved as I scooped it up and carried it into the house.
“We can try to keep it alive,” I explained to my wife, “but there’s probably a ninety percent chance that it won’t make it. So I don’t want you getting too attached to this bird. There’ll be no cute little names. No pampering. We’re going to try to keep it alive. And if this bird does make it, we’re letting him go. He’s wild and deserves to be set free.”
My wife agreed. Completely.
The next day I picked up a dozen books on bird care from the library. “Raising an orphan bird can be quite rewarding,” one book stated. “With care, patience and time, you can see nature develop before your very eyes.” I was encouraged. “With proper feeding and environment, your little friend will soon be able to be set free.” It all sounded so simple…until I reached the last line. “Of course, without the proper example of other birds, this fledgling will stand little chance of survival in the wild.”
“Just what does that mean?” my wife asked.
“In bird lingo, it means his goose is cooked,” I replied.
By the end of the second day, I broke my own rule and began calling the baby bird “the Cheeper” because of the sound he made when he was hungry, which was every fifteen minutes. This baby bird ate like a horse. So when I wasn’t feeding him, I was crushing hardboiled eggs, grinding parakeet food, mixing sugar water, and cleaning the Cheeper’s towel-lined shoebox home.
Cheep, cheep, cheep.
Two weeks later, the Cheeper was not only surviving, but growing feathers and attempting to fly out of his box. I called a local nature group and explained the situation.
“You can’t keep that bird! You don’t know what you’re doing with birds. Bring him to us. Now!” a woman’s voice screeched. Where had I heard that voice before? Then I remembered. She sounded just like the Wicked Witch of the West. “We’ll get you…and your little birdie too!”
I called a second group. This time a kindly voice suggested that I bring the Cheeper to their animal rescue facility, where they would take care of him, have him socialize with other birds, and then return him to us to release. It was like sending him off to college. We enrolled him.
One month later, we returned to find our cute little Cheeper transformed into a fully grown starling that didn’t look very happy to see two strangers peering into his cage. Nevertheless, we took him home, deciding to release him on Independence Day. We opened the cage and in an instant, he was gone.
“And he didn’t even remember us,” my wife lamented.
After three hours, we were still sulking on the front porch, when we heard the sound of fluttering wings. We looked up to see…the Cheeper! He landed on my shoulder and jumped onto my wife’s head. Cheep, cheep, cheep. He flitted about us, dancing a feathery little jig before he flapped his wings and…was on his way. It was a kind of farewell thank you, I guess.
Although we haven’t seen the Cheeper since the summer, I haven’t given up hope. So if you happen to see a bearded man and a curly haired woman calling up to the treetops and whispering into the shrubbery, “Cheeper? Cheeper? Is that you, Cheeper?” we haven’t lost our marbles. We’re just missing our bird.
About this writer
- Jeffery Cohen, freelance writer, painter, and sculptor, wrote a weekly newspaper humor column for six years. He was a finalist in the Winter Women-On-Writing Flash Fiction Contest and won second place in Vocabula’s Well Written Writing Contest in 2011.