Through my living room window, I see two rock pigeons perched on the basin of the fountain in my garden. This is unusual. Normally they land on the very top tier where the water bubbles up and then down the sculpted round column to a second tier and on into the basin. They like to drink from the head or set their bottoms down on it for a little bath. When they come in pairs I assume they are a couple, maybe buddies, because they share the top, standing beak-to-beak or shoulder-to-shoulder. Sometimes a noisy clatter of six or more will come; likely juvenile birds – a gang of teenagers, jockeying for the top position, pushing each other off the tiny platform in a flutter of wings spread wide, even attempting to land on another’s back. Pigeons and all manner of birds spend time at my fountain. Truly, one could fritter away the entire day watching them come and go, but today I’m busy. Just passing by, except the pigeons in the basin got my attention.
The two dip their heads in the water, shudder and preen, then stop, as if they are waiting for something. The bigger of the two pigeons repeats the little ritual, while the smaller one pokes its head this way and that, shuffles back and forth. They wait again. Then I notice a much smaller bird awkwardly bobbling through the rocks toward the fountain, lifting one scrawny wing and looking like an old man attempting to do a jig. I realize the adult pigeons are parents, trying to lead their chick to drink; it’s hot outside, 110 degrees hot. But the ball of poky gray feathers can’t flutter itself onto the edge of the basin though it tries, and the parents encourage, for quite some time. Eventually the little fellow gives up and does its wobbly jig away from the fountain, out of the beating heat of the sun to the shade of oleanders nearby. It plunks down in exhaustion.
I check back frequently throughout the day to see how the chick doing. It follows the shade as the descending sun lengthens its reach. And one of the adult birds remains close by. I keep thinking of its need for water … so I fill a small dish and place it under the bushes. As I draw near he jigs away to the other side of the bushes to hide, but I do get close enough to see that he still has yellow pinfeathers, which means that he is a very young bird. I realize I must be careful not to get too close or touch him, as I don’t want him to imprint on me rather than his parents.
I won’t interfere anymore. At least not yet.
It’s early morning; I go outside to see if I can find Morley. I awoke with the recognition that I’m invested in the life of this little bird, so he deserves a name. I have chosen Morley for no other reason than it was, oddly enough, the first name that came into my head this morning. It sort of sounds like an old fellow’s name to me, an old fellow who might do a jig. And though I don’t know if the bird is a male or female, it looks like a he, so Morley it is.
Morley is standing on the pool deck, several feet away from the hedge of oleanders that has become his haven, looking rather disheveled as if he had a hell of a night. A number of adult pigeons are milling about. I wonder if the others who live in our yard have sensed the problem and come to help stand guard over this vulnerable baby bird. As I approach, Morley jigs back to the protection of the hedge.
My cats, Francis and Lucius, have followed me outside, happy to have a few minutes in the relative cool of morning. Normally, they think little of the birds fluttering and poking around the yard. They are getting old, are well fed, so watching is all they do. But for some reason, Francis takes note of Morley’s wobbling body; her instincts kick in and she starts a rapid creep towards the bushes, ready to pounce. I grab her quickly and carry her to the house amidst mournful meow of protest. That’s it; the cats are banned from being outdoors until Morley gets off the ground.
The forecast for the day is 113 degrees. I don’t know how Morley will survive this heat. I decide to dribble water from the garden hose to the oleander hedge to make a little pond. It will cool the ground and maybe he will drink from it. Though my son, who volunteers at an avian shelter, says that a baby bird’s parents will continue to bring it food in situations like this, I feel the need to do something. So I find some rabbit food (from a former yard visitor) in the shed – it has seeds and grain in it – and sprinkle a cupful in Morley’s direction. I’m not sure he even knows how to eat on his own, but I feel better having tried to help.
Unfortunately, as the day wears on, every bird in the near vicinity comes to my yard to feast on Morley’s food, which is disconcerting for the obvious reason but also because I am trying to keep track of Morley from afar. I don’t know who’s who out there. I have to use binoculars to find his tiny ruffled body amongst the mourning doves, white-winged doves, Eurasian collared doves, mocking birds, grackles, and, of course, rock pigeons. I can no longer discern which are his parents, but Morley huddles amidst them while they poke and peck around him as if he were a gray stone.
I am not sure Morley will make it. I try to prepare myself to find his lifeless body beneath the bushes. On one of my binocular checks, in mid-afternoon, I see his body, ruffled and spread out, turned away from my view. My stomach turns. I want to go out there, but I have a repairperson at the house. If Morley is dead, I want to honor his passing with a burial and a blessing, and I will cry, and there’s no time to do that properly with a repairperson here. So I set down the binoculars and walk away from the window. Half an hour later, I check again. Morley is gone. I scan the base of the hedge and see him nestled in the shade a few feet from that deadly spot.
It’s early evening and Morley has ventured back out onto the pool deck. A few doves still peck the area where I left food earlier, and one pigeon stays close, perched on the back of a patio chair, a sentinel, silent and still. It has come to me that this is likely Morley’s mother. Whether it is or not, my heart goes out to the two of them. My need to help overtakes me again, so I crumble a piece of Ezekiel bread and gently toss it toward Morley. He doesn’t seem to notice it but I am hopeful that he will when I take leave of him.
I feel that he is getting used to me, even in this short time, that he knows I won’t harm him. I text my son to tell him that the baby bird is still alive, but what do I do with the poor little guy? Give it another day, he texts back.
I wake up thinking that I will check my community for bird sanctuaries and shelters. If Morley can’t get going on his own, he’ll need more care. Though I would love to look after him, I’m not equipped to do so and I know it is not in his best interest.
I go outside. Morley isn’t standing on the pool deck as he had been yesterday. Neither is he under the oleander bushes. I spend the better part of an hour combing the yard, looking everywhere, under other trees, amongst the landscape rocks, in the shed. Once, twice, three, and then four times – it’s easy to miss his little grey stone of a body. I even check the swimming pool skimmers, just in case he fell in the water during the night and drowned. My cats have been sequestered since Morley’s appearance, but others in the neighborhood have not, so I look for clumps of feathers to indicate a predator snatched him. I find none.
I begin looking up, to the branches of the pine trees. I wonder if he found his wings and flew back to the nest. Yes, yes, that must be it. He found his wings. I imagine him stretching them out, the awkward flutter, a few jigging hops, then the air catching, holding, helping him rise, rise, rise up, up, up…
A miracle or a tragedy, in body or spirit, Morley has taken flight.