Bringing up baby – part 2
After yesterday’s cliffhanger, Conor Mark Jameson takes up the tale of Cheerrps…
My foundling sparrow looks surprisingly under-developed, semi-naked, perhaps a week old and only half way to fledging, with bare patches of skin and rudimentary feathers beginning to show. Nidifugous, they call it. Its bulbous eyes are partially open, glinting between crescent lids. To rescue it from the airing cupboard I had to remove my watch and squeeze my hand through a narrow gap, using a screwdriver to manoeuvre the chick into a place from which I could pluck it, as gently as possible, between two outstretched fingers.
Here, I had better make clear the difference between a nestling bird and a fledgling bird. I’ve had fledgling sparrows in the house before, and I put them straight back outside. One I was able to corner on an upstairs window-sill, and simply drop out of the window, to minimise its distress from being handled, and to show its parents where it was and what was happening. As I captured a male house sparrow hovered a few inches from the window pane, chirping abuse at me. All the thanks you get for letting them nest in the roof. I dunno…
A nestling is a bird that belongs in the nest (there’s a clue in the name). It isn’t yet ready for life outside the nest, as it won’t have the muscle development to hold itself upright, or the feather development to keep itself warm. Mine falls very definitely into the latter category.
So now what? You’ve got a ravenous little stomach on your hands, all mouth and naked thighs, it’s 10.30 pm, there’s no way of popping it back in its nest (trust me on this, I’ve had a look in the loft). So I’ve soaked some scone and begun poking this mush gently into its gullet with the end of a teaspoon. After several dollops, in return it shuffles around, pokes its rear end in the air and offers me a dropping, or a foecal sac, as it’s known, which my fingers, it turns out, are not delicate enough to transport without splitting. Welcome to parenthood.
Half a dozen dollops of the mush later, the cheerping subsides and it’s time for lights out, shoebox closed.
Cheerps greets me first thing the next day. I have worked out a plan to try putting Cheerps (this is his name, and I have decided, for the purposes of this narrative, that it is a he) back in the nest, but I’m not going to have time to do the necessary research on this on a workday. I therefore have to take him to work with me, and the box of muffled cheerps sits discreetly by my desk. At least I think it’s discrete, but curious colleagues converge from all corners of the building. One leaves quickly, saying she might cry…Conservationists really ought not to be so flaky.
I pop to The Lodge shop for mealworms, which I thought would be more nutritious than wet scone – not that Cheerps is showing any sign of losing his appetite for that. He makes short work of the mealworms.
I have a book on my shelves called Sold for a Farthing, the wartime story of Clarence, an adopted house sparrow. I consult it for some tips on sparrow rearing, and to remind myself of what I might be taking on if I can’t find a way home for my lodger. Clarence lived with his owner for 12 years, treated her bed as his, and attacked anyone who came near it…
Don’t forget to tweet your questions for Conor to @BB_Specialist this weekend.