This morning I woke up in Lincoln Nebraska. We’re here for a conference Jim is attending and at the present moment he’s at the welcome breakfast and I’m in the exercise room at the hotel. I like to travel but I also love being at home, sleeping in my own bed, and going about my normal routine. Even though we’ve been home from Spain for a week and a half it feels like we just got home and I really didn’t want to leave the house this week.
I didn’t want to leave my kittens or fish or birds. It’s only for like a day and a half though so there’s no reason for me to be all dramatic about it. We were gone for 8 days before so this isn’t really anything. Still, the first things in my mind this morning are to check the house cameras to see if I can get a glimpse of my kitten perusing through the kitchen or, more importantly at the moment, the birds in our indoor/outdoor room.
We have one of the cameras pointed a birdcage in that room. There’s been quite a bit of drama this week with them and leaving them alone last night was not ideal. To understand, first one must have the backstory on the birds…
If I haven’t mentioned it before, when I moved into the house there were two Zebra Finches in that room. They live in the room and not in the cage. The cage is open and is mostly there for decoration and the finches fly free in the room and perch on curtain rods and the plants. One might think that might make a mess, but it’s really not that tough to keep clean. The two finches that Jim had alraeady, we reasoned out, were both males. The one he originally thought was female (because of its atypical color) is actually a male. The males have distinctive color on their cheeks and also sing. Females chirp, but don’t sing. Our white finch does have some faint color on his cheeks and we heard both of them sing. We decided shortly after having this revelation to buy two females for our boys.
The transformation of behavior in the birds was immediate. They were more active and playful and also started building a nest right away. The location of choice was in a ficus tree that’s in a pot near the middle of the room. It’s pretty low to the ground so we’ve had a good view.
The nest building was lightning fast and I helped out by bringing materials into the room. I brought small twigs from plants outside and unwound twine. They quickly taught me what they wanted by using some things I brought in and ignoring others. It was amazing to watch the teamwork by 3 of the 4 birds. The one with atypical coloring seemed to be excluded from the task as he was constantly being chased away by the other male. Rude!
I think it was within those first two weeks that we had our first clutch of eggs. Each day I would check the nest and each day another egg would appear. There were six in total. According to google they hatch in about 12-15 days. We waited and watched and were probably too intrusive. The adults would fly away to safety when we came around and maybe that was a factor in there not being any viable eggs that time around. Not sure.
It was not long after that, however, that a second set of eggs appeared. This time it was 4 or 5 eggs and I’m not sure exactly because we decided it was best to let them be and let nature do it’s thing. Within about 3 weeks we knew we had babies but in keeping out of their business I didn’t try and see or take pics or count.
As it turns out there were 3 babies and they grew fast. Before too long, they outgrew the nest and two of them ended up on the ground. The one left in the nest didn’t make it and when Jim removed it from the next, it appeared to have its leg caught in the twigs of the next. It struggled so much it just could not survive. Jim had warned me of the high mortality rate when we had the first clutch of eggs but that didn’t really prepare me for the outcome. With two left, he warned me again that the risk factors only go up when they leave the nest.
We had two tiny, fluffy birds huddled together on the ground next to the ficus tree pot. Each morning I would find them in different locations and watched in wonder as they learned how to walk. It was super awkward at first. They would flap wings and fall forward and slowly move themselves forward. These birds don’t really “walk” though. When they are on the ground they hop along. It took the babies over a week, almost two, to get strength enough to manage getting where they wanted to go without it being a big struggle. Still, they weren’t that great at it and each morning I would find them in some new spot, always together.
They were afraid of me and if I got too close, they would scramble away. I watched from a distance and even got to see the momma come down and feed them a couple of times. When the momma got anywhere close, the babies would squeal and pounce near her with their mouths open. I’ve wondered how they get water but I suppose there’s enough of what they need from what the mom gives up.
Of course I’ve gotten myself attached to these two tiny new lives and their story. I’ve looked forward to checking their progress every day. One morning they were right by the door of the room and so when I came in, they quickly tried to put distance between us. That’s the first time I saw one of them attempt to fly. It seemed more natural than the strange waddle/hop they had been doing up to that point. Flying might be one thing but landing is something altogether different and it flew into the wall on the far side of the room and ended up on the floor. It was fine and the other one waddled away and they called to each other until they were in close proximity of each other again.
In a few days I saw both of them fly but Jim cautioned that they may not survive learning to fly. That room also has a little pond and water fountain (that’s how the adults get their water). He said they may accidentally fall into the water and drown.
One morning I found them on rocks next to the pond and, while I was watching, one of them fell in. It struggled to get out and When it found its way back into the Rock it was soaked. The ledge there was too high for them to just hop back up onto level ground.. I could not just sit by and watch. I put gloves on and cupped them both in my hands and lifted them back to where we keep the bird feeder. We were trying not to intervene too much but this is an unnatural environment already so after that we decided to cover the pond with a thin plastic tarp.
That was fine for about two days and then, just a few days ago, I was in the room and just happened to watching when the next bit of drama went down. There was a piece of tarp draped over one of the pots next to the pond and I watched as one of them waddled right through a gap in the plastic and under the tarp right next to the water. The other one, of course, followed right along. Before I knew it one of the birds tried to fly – UNDER the tarp.
I, again, could not let this be the thing that led them to their end and I moved quickly to pull back the tarp and rescue them out of the water. At that point I was second guessing the tarp and frankly any intervention at all. I found it incredible that I was witness to two “incidents” and thought my presence may be a contributing factor. I mean, it’s not like I spend all day in that room watching. It’s maybe been 10 or 15 minutes a couple times a day. What are the odds that those moments are precisely when the bad shit happens?
I removed the tarp. I decided to only go in just long enough to feed the fish and snails. The last time I saw both babies together was yesterday morning. When Jim came home from work yesterday afternoon he went to check on them and found one on the ground, dead. I asked “where?” and he said right near the middle of the room, not near the rocks or pond or any other potential hazard. We have no explanation, other than perhaps it tried to fly and ran into something and took on too much injury to survive. He took care of removing the body and also said he could not find the other baby.
Fearing the worst, I went in to look and it was not in any of the “normal” spots. Then I saw it floating in the pond. For the third time I put gloves on and worked quickly to get him out. He was completely wet and barely breathing. I held him, cupped in my hands, and was just at a loss for what to do. I set him on the ground and he just flailed and fell over. It looked like it was seriously injured as it could not stand on its legs. Each time I tried to set it upright, it fell over and even flailed and ended up upside down. I felt so helpless. This tiny little being lost it’s only remaining sibling and now was itself in danger of not making it.
I went and got a piece of cardboard and set it on that and knew there was really nothing more I could do. I wasn’t sure if Ieft it alone one of the parents could do anything, but I doubted that. I left him there just the same and tried to not think about what was happening, but I just could not stay away. Every five minutes I went to the window to see if I could see him moving. He continued to move around. An hour or two went by and Jim and I were preparing to leave for Lincoln.
Then one of the times I glanced in the window I did not see the bird. I was shocked. We went in and found him a short distance away, upright, and beginning to look like he was drying off. We left him be. A short time later, maybe 30 minutes, we looked in again and saw him all the way over by the feeder and actually pecking at seeds. It seemed miraculous based on what I had witnessed just a few hours prior.
Knowing we would be gone for almost two days we decided to tarp the pond again, this time securing all the edges so there would be no gaps. At the last minute we made a judgement call to put him in the cage with food and water where he would presumably be safe from dangers while we were gone. This time it was Jim that scooped him up and placed him on the cardboard in the bottom of the cage (which is still open for the birds to come and go).
We situated one of the house cameras on the cage and headed out the door to go to Lincoln.
The first thing we did when we arrived in our hotel room was check the live feed from the camera. We were shocked once again to discover that the baby bird had already found a way to vacate the cage. No sign of it and no way to know where it might have ended up. Like I said, it was the first thing I checked again when I woke up this morning and there is still no sign of the bird.
I’m now 15k steps into my day and recounting this adventure has made my morning cardio extend well past the hour I had intended. At this point I have to get back to the room to start my work day. I’m not sure what to expect when we get home tomorrow, but it will be another 24 hours before we are back home to see what has happened. Perhaps it’s better that we are not there.
My heart is already attached to these small creatures. It’s probably still a high-risk situation and I should not get my hopes up for this one that remains, but I’m afraid I can’t help it.
To Be Continued…