We were the proud owners of a baby finch for a few hours tonight. It was an orange cheeked waxbill. Olivia found it under a tree at school.
She begged us to bring it home, so we relented. Really, as a tired mother, I’m trying for reduction by attrition of the number of lives I’m responsible for.
When the cat ditched us to go live at the next-door neighbor’s house (where there are no children), I didn’t green-light another cat. When the dog, now 13, dies, I’m on a fence about replacing her.
The only other pets I have live in the water, and require less time and attention than a mammal. The betta only needs to be fed a few flakes in the morning. My shrimp require even less care.
So the baby bird. It had all its feathers and was just a sweet little puff of adorable! How could I say no to caring for it – at the very least, just long enough to get it stable and let it fly off on its own?
Olivia named it Mr. Birdie. (Pronouns: he/him/his.) She found a shoebox and gussied up a makeshift home for him. She wanted him to have premium roosting material so she got him an old shirt to sit on.
She lavished much time and attention on the bird this afternoon. She was very happy. She picked it up and pet it, and kept carrying it around the house. She tried to hand feed it.
The bird kept its eyes closed most of the time. “That’s because it’s had a big day,” she decided.
Olivia and I researched it to learn about the breed and how to care for it. Our houseguests, Christian and Yuki, were out with a man who happens to be a bird expert, and collected information for us.
One of the things I learned was that it lives in the grass and likes to roost in branches. I heard chirping and scratching, and saw it was squeezing itself between the t-shirt and the side of the box.
“How cute,” I said. “He’s trying to feel secure under the shirt.”
Half an hour went by. Olivia went to shower and came back out.
“Hey, Hon. I learned it’s called an orange waxbill, and if it’s a male, it’ll grow up to have a nice song,” I told her.
She looked in the box to check on Mr. Birdie. “No he won’t. He’s dead.”
Claus and I went over and looked in the box. Yes, he had smooshed himself into the corner and died. Maybe in his death throes he had a spasm, because one of his wings was awkwardly extended. Meaning, he sure looked dead.
“Are you sure?” I said. I poked him. Nothing.
We all got over the shock of the sudden death, which really shouldn’t be such a surprise since he kept his eyes closed most of the afternoon. He was letting us pet him and at the time, I thought, “Oh, he’s so friendly. He likes it!” Or… he’s deathly ill and was too tired to protest.
I asked Olivia if we should have a funeral for him. She said no. I said, “So – then just toss him in the garbage outside?”
That was too harsh for her. My kid’s middle-ground solution was to put him back in a tree.
“Um, he’s dead. I’m not putting a dead bird back in a tree,” I pointed out. “We’ll bury him.”
Not wanting to deal with a gross corpse tomorrow, we did it tonight. So out we went with a shovel; my husband as the undertaker, me as the pastor, and Olivia as the service attendee.
Claus dug a small hole and I put Mr. Birdie in and briefly eulogized it. “Thank you for choosing to spend your last hours with us,” I said. And that was that. I hope we brought some comfort to him in his final hours.