Sunday, August 21, 2011


        We were camping at Parker Dam for the weekend and in the middle of the night, a terrible thunder storm raged with high winds and hail. It was pretty scary to endure in a tent, but we had managed.  As was our custom, we were making one last walk around the campground before we drove off for home.  Tree limbs were scattered everywhere and puddles were prolific, so John and Jill were splashing away.  Then Jill stopped and looked at a bird nest that had apparently fallen from a tree during the storm.  One baby bird was dead, seemingly drowned, but the other was chirping wildly.  As she gently stroked its soaked feathers, the bird seemed to relax.  I knew exactly what was coming next.  “Mom, can we take this bird home and keep it?”  I wasn’t prepared for my husband’s immediate reply.  “No.  We have two cats and a dog and it’s just going to die anyway without its mother.”

        She looked up at me with those pleading big blue eyes. “Please, Mom?”  So I interceded with Barry and told him that he was right and the bird probably wouldn’t live till morning, so what was the harm?  So, he relented and Jill picked up the limping, soaked creature and gently put it in her pouch in the front of her sweatshirt.

        In the back seat of the car, she cooed to it and gently stroked it until it fell asleep.  When we got home, I found a big cardboard box and John fashioned a screen top for it.  We put the bird in there and it immediately started chirping raucously.  It was obvious that it was hungry, but what do you feed a starving baby bird????  We took some of Zeb’s dry dog food and soaked it in water and made a paste of it.  Then we put some onto a spoon and offered it to the bird. At first, it didn’t know what to do.  Then Jill kind of scraped the food onto its beak and it began to eat voraciously!  Jill put the box in her bedroom and was up feeding the bird about every 2 hours, every time it demanded food!

This went on for about 2 weeks.  Then John decided that the bird was a boy and they named him Norman. They also decided to try and feed Norman some worms.  They dug a bunch of worms and held them up in front of Norman’s face.  By this time, he was able to actually grab food off the spoon when you presented it to him, so he let Jill put the whole worm into his mouth and he seemed to swallow it, but we could see the worm wiggling in his gullet under his chin and the worm would crawl back out of the corner of his mouth.

At this point, Jill decided to squish up the worms and give them to Norman on his spoon.  It worked!  He eventually gave up on the dog food and ate crushed worms.  Within another 2 weeks, he was able to eat the whole worms himself without Jill crushing them.

At this point, John and Jill decided Norman needed flying lessons.  We live on the side of a mountain….our back yard is a steep slope.  We have a metal wire extended from the side of our house all the way up to a pine tree at the edge of the woods.  This is Zeb’s dog run.  He was outside when Jill and John began tossing Norman up into the air.  John went up the slope and was tossing Norman up into the air and down to Jill, who was trying to catch him.  Zeb studied this for awhile and then I guess the “retriever” in him clicked and he caught the bird in his mouth the next time John threw him….you could just see his little bird feet sticking out of Zeb’s mouth.  The kids were terrified!  They ran to Zeb and pried open his mouth, but Norman was fine….just a little slimy with dog drool.

        The feeding and training went on all summer long and eventually Norman was allowed to live outside in the pine tree beside the garage.  As soon as anyone went outside in the morning they would call his name and he would chirp back and fly to us.  He especially liked it when I hung my clothes out on the clothesline.  He would perch himself on top of the tee-post and chirp as I chatted to him. 

        As the summer progressed, we noticed that he had moved up to the tree line at the edge of the forest.  He would still answer us, but it was evident that his attention was elsewhere.  I knew it would only be a matter of time till he took off for warmer climates as the frost began to whiten the grass in the crisp September mornings.  Sure enough, one morning there was no reply.  He was gone.

        We were heart-broken, of course…and worried for his safety. We looked up some information on robins and found that they often return to where they had been raised.  It was a long winter…..but as soon as the first flickers and robins began to arrive in April, we were outside calling….”Norman!” 

And he did appear and answer us from the edge of the woods, but he had another bird with him.  We like to think he brought his girlfriend around to show us before they went off to make their nest. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to participate in this cycle of nature.  Norman, wherever you are, thank you!

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