For the Birds Radio Program: Baby Blue Jay (Date confirmed)
Cat injuries are far more insidious than most people realize. 4:07
(Recording of Snoopy, “I hate cats…”)
The Snoopy character in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has his own reasons for hating cats, and I have mine. Last week a lady gave me a baby Blue Jay that she had found after a cat got it. The cat’s sharp teeth had punctured one hole in the little fledgling’s skull and another in the back of its neck. One of its eyes was closed, and it couldn’t balance its body at all. By the time I got it, it was also suffering the advanced stages of starvation. The test I use to determine whether to treat a bird or let nature take its course is whether it wants to eat, and in spite of its condition, this bird still begged for food. Instead of squawking like a healthy jay, though, it made soft, high-pitched mewing sounds, ironically like a newborn kitten. I kept it warm and well-fed all day, nestled in tissue in my hands, to support its body in a comfortable position. At bed-time I set it in tissue in a small tupperware container, but in spite of all the work, I was certain that it would be dead in the morning.
When I got up, it was still alive, looking at me out of both eyes. I spent another day with constant feedings, tissue changings, and gently removing irritating weed seeds that were stuck to its feathers and skin. Taking care of a baby bird is demanding under the best of conditions, and this was about the worst I could imagine.
By the third day, it was able to lift its head and look around. I kept it safe in my office, feeding it every few minutes because it couldn’t swallow very much at a time. By that night, its droppings were starting to appear normal. The will to live is powerful in a baby jay; life is all it will ever have. This one had been out of the egg only about 14 days—after being cramped within a dark egg for most of its life, this cramped existence may not have seemed too bad, but, then again, this little baby was just at the point in its life when it needed to leave cramped eggs and nests behind and take wing. What a falling off was there to suddenly find itself trapped in a sterile tupperware container without its mother and father.
I did my best to make it comfortable, although it was at the itchiest stage in a bird’s life, its whole body covered with growing feathers. Each feather grows from a drinking-straw-like tube called a feather sheath. A healthy fledgling spends much of its day scratching at those sheaths and shaking off the dandruff, but this little baby couldn’t, so I had to do it for him. I was also worried that if the impossible happened and he did survive, his muscles wouldn’t have developed properly, so I spend time every day helping him flap his wings and flex his legs. By the third day, he was flapping all by himself. I decided I could afford to allow myself a little bit of hope and even love if the bird survived the third night. The fourth morning I woke up at five in utter dread of what I would find, but there it was, lifting its head a bit better than the night before. I helped him stretch his wings, which seemed too big for his emaciated body, and scratched his back and underside. At the time I’m taping this program Tuesday, July 11, the seventh day, he’s starting to hobble about, pulling himself with his claws and his beak, but so far is unable to balance himself. He still looks awful, but the life force burns strong within his little Blue Jay soul, and as long as I can keep fanning the blaze, I will. Meanwhile, if you have a cat, please keep it indoors while vulnerable fledglings are about.
(Recording of a Blue Jay)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”