Racer, I was actually able to save the life of a little hoppy once! Yay.
We were camping in the Michigan UP. The morning after a windstorm we found a little nestling on the ground. Now I spend a lot of time outdoors and I’ve always kind of been known as the Animal Person in my family, and my first inclination is always Leave It Alone. I know not to disturb a fawn curled up in the grass or a fledgling sitting under a tree; they have not been abandoned.
However, this little guy <aside>We of course had no idea as to his gender, so we flipped a coin, Heads=Male, and went with that</aside> didn’t even have feathers and was already half dead from exposure. So I picked him up and warmed him in my hands awhile until he perked up, chirped and started asking for food.
I rummaged around in the food box and came up with some Shredded Wheat. I soaked it in water and made a paste, shoveling it into his little gullet on the end of a blunt plastic knife. After a while his color turned from pale grey to healthy pink. He looked like a tiny plucked chicken, with a yellow beak that took up half his head and little wispy things all over him. We guessed he was some sort of sparrow.
So we took him home. Our cat, who always accompanies us on camping trips, was quite intrigued by the box with funny chirping noises coming from it. (Good thing she didn’t find him on the ground before we did!) I fed him the wheat paste every hour and he seemed to thrive on it. If he was indeed a sparrow–a seed eater–it would be like filet mignon to him.
When we got home I rigged up a little cage from a basket inverted and wired over a clay pot saucer. I got some beef baby food to add to his diet. We’d had him about a week by this time, and it looked like he was going to make it.
He’d latched onto me as his “momma” by then. Whenever he heard my voice after being left alone in his cage he’d chirp like crazy. I’d take him out and pet the top if his little skull and he’d make soft little whistling noises. He’d yawn (I’d never seen a bird yawn before!) and blink (I never knew birds blink up with the lower lid!) He loved to hop up on my shoulder and cuddle in my hair. (Yes, I had to wear a grungy tee shirt at this time, which soon got grungier.)
By two weeks he was half feathered out and making attempts to fly. He wasn’t very good at it. He’d just flop down to the floor. A few days later he actually achieved some lift, and could go until he smacked into a vertical surface, and down he’d come.
Since I was still feeding him every hour, I was taking him to work with me every day. It was summer break at the college, so there weren’t many people around anyway, and the ones that were there were fascinated by him. I’d let him out of his cage and he’d sit on top of my monitor until he felt like cuddling and flew to my shoulder.
After three weeks he was flying better. At work he took a great flight over my cubicle, over the front desk, and buzzed a student sitting out in the lobby. Fortunately the guy didn’t freak out too much and thought it was funny. At home he was able to turn in flight to avoid smacking a wall. I knew he had it down when I found him perched above the ceiling fan when the fan was ON. He was preening himself by then, too.
When we’d had him a month, we started thinking about what to do with him. We’d identified him as a Savannah Sparrow, a common breed. We started talking to a wildlife rehabilitator, who said he wasn’t considered exotic and we could keep him if we wanted. We’d saved his life, but didn’t really want a pet bird, not with the cat. We’d been pitching her outdoors when we let him out of his cage, and when he was in it she treated him with just passing interest. I knew, though, that behind my back she’d happily geek him if given the chance. He wasn’t afraid of her at all, not having parents to teach him “EEK! It’s a CAT!”
Also, though he was fond of sitting at the top of a bookcase and singing, I was worried that he’d need to hear other sparrows to learn how to sing right. Sparrows use songs for territory and mating, and they learn them from their parents.
Sigh. So we called the rehabilitor and she came and took him off our hands. She was amazed at how tame he was, and affectionate. She had a big outdoor cage to put him in, and when he became accustomed to that, planned to move him to one he could get out of if he wanted.
I hope he made it. He might have been too imprinted with humans to ever survive in the wild. Even so, we gave a him a little bit of good life. He never had a chance otherwise.
For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture of him. Note that the “plate” he’s sitting on is actually a coaster four inches in diameter. He was just a little guy.