Tuesday, July 28, 2009

saint francis of assistance

Walt Disney had a bird fetish.

I don't know what else you could call it.

Remember Snow White and Cinderella? When they were not talking to birds, the birds were assisting in their housecleaning chores.

My experience with birds is that they seldom are part of the solution when it comes to tidying up around the house.

But, Disney did something even more subversive than convince young viewers, if they just waited long enough, some bird would show up to make the bed. Disney also convinced children that animals are just like us.

The Philadelphia lawyer word for Disney's sin is anthropomorphism. He convinced us that animals share uniquely human attributes with us. Gratitude. Compassion. Empathy.

Even I am guilty. Just look back at what I have written about Jiggs over the past two years. You would think he had more human attributes than I do. (And that is far too easy a target for witty comments.)

Animal behaviorists tell us all we are merely projecting our own feelings on animals when we say that the crocodile had compassion on the kudu crossing its stream. Most animals do not even have a sense of self-awareness.

Sunday afternoon, Tim, a fellow Oregonian, stopped by to chat. We were sitting on the patio, doing our best to fend off the increasing humidity, when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.

We have had a lot of interesting visitors on the patio these days: a snake, a turtle, land crabs, cockroaches.

But the moment I saw it, I wish I had not allowed my eyes to wander from the conversation. It was a baby bird on the ground.

And I knew what type of bird. It had to have fallen out of one of the barn swallow nests.

Every moral choice involves a decision. I could have simply ignored the bird, continued the conversation, and let nature take its course. Or I could intervene to help.

Of course, I intervened.

Like any good medic, I started my triage. What were the chances it would survive?

That did not look good. Ants were already covering it -- either trying to speed its death or waiting for the inevitable. But the moment the bird saw my movement, its feed reflex went into play and its mouth opened.

Any bird with a life spirit that strong deserved a chance to live.

But it was not alone. I found a second bird -- far worse off.

So, I grabbed a ladder and started checking nests wnith Tim's help. We finally narrowed the choices down. An adult swallow was eyeing us when we got near the babies. The nearest nest to it was empty.

Into the nest went both birds.

The adult swallow swooped in several times, and then flew away. Again. And again. And again.

I thought we had chosen the wrong nest. But, eventually, the swallow returned with insects and started feeding at least one of the small birds.

As I was putting the ladder away, the adult swallow paused on a leaf of the banana "tree," and started a bit of swallow song.

Was it a hymn of gratitude? Did the swallow even understand what had occurred -- beyond restoring a paternal duty that appeared to be over?

I doubt it. The behaviorists are probably correct.

But, I know I felt a sense of gratitude that the swallows continue to share my life and that I was able to do a good turn for them.

Will they help me with the laundry? Nope. But, then, neither will Cinderella or Snow White.


norm said...

A few years ago the beetles were striping my fruit trees before my eyes, they were covered to the point where the leaves would all be gone by the next day. I went straight to the poison. Kill em now-kill em all. It takes a while to mix up a batch, hook up the tractor, put on the war gear. I got back to the orchard and there were a million black birds chowing down on those beetles. I put the war off to see what might be the result. Two hours latter, my trees still had leaves, leaves with crap all over them but still working leaves, no beetles and the birds had gone on to another war zone. Beer time on the farm

Anonymous said...

You always have had a tender heart for birds, animals, insects. I recall when you were three years old. I asked you what you had in your pocket. You said, “it’s my friend”. It was a fuzzy black and orange caterpillar.

When you were six, you said “Look what followed me home”. Your arms were wrapped around a black furry, well fed puppy.


Islagringo said...

I would have thrown it out front for the stray cats to nurse back to health.

Chrissy y Keith said...

Good for you! I found a baby quail on the patio the other day. No parents or covey in sight. I put it in a box and finally found the parents and covey in the front yard. The female actually moved herself and the abies closer to me while the male stood on the fence calling out. I placed the baby under a cactus and he went running to the calls. Family reunited.

Calypso said...

Zippity-Do-Dah Steve - you are my hero. Don't pay any attention to Islagringo - he is grumpy right now - save the little birdies ;-)

Steve Cotton said...

Norm -- Nature usually has a better answer. Good for you.

Mom -- Old habits die hard.

Islagringo -- I do not care for what the swallows do to the patio. But they have a joy for life that is tangible. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. Maybe this was another lesson to me on how to do that.

Chrissy -- Happy to know there is another resuer out there.

Calypso -- Will do.

Anonymous said...

I might have to link this to the Good Works Gang. Glad to see you have joined a Gang

Bob Mrotek said...


I have a newsflash for you. Typically swallows lay three eggs and after the chicks hatch and start to grow the two strongest chicks kick the weakest out of the nest. It's a "natural selection" mechanism. That's how swallows keep the gene pool strong. If you watch them year in and year out the pattern will become quite evident.

Steve Cotton said...

Richland -- I think something in sack cloth would be fine for the gang colors.

Bob -- In this case, it was faulty construction. The nest was empty and had tipped sideways on the pipe where the parent birds built it. I am willing to bet only one of the birds will survive. I also know that if the birds had died, te parents would simply have laid a new batch of eggs. We will never be short of sparrows. We are always short of compassion.

Mic said...

It's such a good feeling to actually be able to help someone/something that is hurting.

Lucky you to be given that gift for that day :-)

Alan said...

I am reminded of the old spiritual song "Rescue the perishing, care for the dying..." Glad to see your mom adding to the blog, she adds a perspective only a mother can add.

Islagringo said...

Of course I was kidding. Maybe I shouldn't leave comments before my first cup of coffee!

Steve Cotton said...

Mic -- I was lucky, indeed. Today two adult swallows got trapped in the house. It was rather easier to help them make their ways outside.

Alan -- Mom does add another perspective.

Islagringo -- We have known one another long enough that I knew exactly how to take your comment. The man who rescues the hope of children is the guy I know.

glorv1 said...

That was very good of you and I am sure that bit of "swallow song" was meant for you and the kindness you showed. Tomorrow I won't be showing all the bluejays any kindness because I'm having two sycamore trees cut down. They are in the front yard and very very oversized, so the arborist and the chop chop people will bring them down. The bluejays will only go to the backyard where there are numerous trees and will live happily ever after. Have a great Wednesday.

Steve Cotton said...

Gloria -- What type of jays do you get? I know the Eastern Blue Jay does not get as far west as California. Are they Stellar's Jays or Scrub Jays? I suspect: Scrub Jays.