Mama Psychology is not a pretty thing when you have surrogate babies to care for. Especially when they are as fragile as three-day-old starlings, aka pink blobs. No feathers, eyes still closed, cold, and having dropped two stories to the hard yard below. It is painfully apparent how helpless and completely dependent they are. And for a Mama, this strikes a real chord. Baby One, later to be named Pig, came to us on a Friday evening, as the kids and I were in the front yard scrubbing the new van's floor mats. As I turned to go up the stairs, there in front of my feet was this tiny being, naked, and way out of place. "Here we go," I said. I knew what I was in for. There was no doubt what I had to do. Instinct kicks in, and a Mama's instinct is to protect and care for. So starts the journey.
Baby Two showed up the next morning, found by Adam as he left for work. "There's another one out here," he called in as I was shoving soaked dog food and scrambled egg down the first baby's hatch. After several hours of force-feeding the evening before, he was finally gaping.
The second, to be named Chub for a short few hours, would never gape. I gave him a quick look-over. He seemed to be okay. He was twice the size of Pig, and cold. I warmed him quickly in my hands, then in the makeshift nest (toilet paper in a plastic tub) on a heating pad. I started feeding him, and continued throughout the day, although he would not gape. I had to pry his beak open with the tweezers each time. During the next few hours, I noticed that Chub was always on the bottom of the birdy pile and always laying to one side.
Something was definitely off, so in the midst of the every-30-minute feedings, I kept observing. I become nearly sure that he had a broken leg, and when I got the chance to really look him over, my fears were confirmed. After kids were in bed, I checked him, and the leg was so badly broken such a bad location that there was no fixing him. I couldn't bare to think of him suffering any longer, so I gently tucked him in a yogurt cup lined with soft toilet paper, told him I was so sorry that I couldn't fix him, and placed him in the back of the freezer (the most humane way to end his suffering). Rats. I was sick to my stomach and couldn't sleep. Pig was all alone, shivering in his nest, and wouldn't gape for the next day. I had to break the news to the kids. They took it well. I must say that no matter how logical these decisions are, I am ruled by my heart, not my head, and it is never easy to take any life and end it. As a Mama, ending the life of a baby... Well, Mama Psychology just makes that a horror.
So we're left with Pig, who is a pig. He is messy, slinging soppy cat food and pooping every time I feed him, and that is every 30 minutes or so, sun-up to sun-down. And two weeks later, he is no longer a pink blob, but a very rambunctious, fully-feathered near-fledgling. We have moved him to a cage that was so graciously loaned to us by Julie Zickefoose, as he was trying desparately to squeeze out of the handle holes of his box nest.
Today his nest mates fledged. We tracked them down and let him go near them, just across a neighbor's yard from where his siblings and parents were in the mulberry tree with countless other birds. He flew into some weeds, picked at some seeds, then flew to the bottom branches of a cherry and we bid him farewell.
Then my Mama Psychology kicked in. I couldn't stop thinking about him, wondering how he was doing, feeling like I had abandoned him, worrying that a storm might hit during the night,. I was a nervous wreck. With five children, this was hugely symbolic. Was my baby really ready to be out on his own? Had I done all I could to give him what he needed to survive in the wild? Shouldn't I be absolutely sure that he was safe and sound? One day, I'll be doing this with all of my children, and that was so much to process. So I went back a few hours later, just before night and a storm, to check on him, and there he sat, in the next tree over, just out of reach, gaping from above my head. I went back with the box and the kids, and he flew right down to us. It was worth a try, Piggy. He is asleep behind me in his cage right now, with a belly full of meal worms and cat food with freeze dried flies. We'll try again in a few days. Bella was able to eat, and I will be able to sleep, knowing he is safe and warm and dry. No matter how hard I tried to prevent it, this little one is growning on me. I might say I'm quite fond of our Pig. Maybe.