Photo by Audrey Pavia
Lately, when I throw feed to my chickens in the morning, a thieving flock of House Sparrows flies down, grabs some of the pellets and flies up into the bushes to feast. Rather than get irritated at them, I am reminded of a very special baby sparrow I once knew.
Chirpy came into our lives one night a few years ago, when my sister, Heidi, and her husband, Rod, were living with me and Randy. One of Heidi’s cats got out and ran into the bushes, emerging with something in his mouth. We wrestled it away and discovered it was a blind, featherless baby sparrow that had fallen out of a nest in the eaves of the house.
Being a veterinarian, Heidi knew exactly what to do. She set the little guy up with a makeshift nest and heating pad, and raced to the pet store to buy baby parrot food. She showed everyone in the house how to feed the baby sparrow, who quickly earned his name with his incessant chirping.
Chirpy grew fast, and after a month or so, it was time to give him a taste of the outdoors. Our ultimate goal was to release him back in the wild.
We kept Chirpy on the patio in a birdcage. Cups of seed and occasional mealworms supplemented his diet of baby-bird food, which he begged for several times a day.
Eventually, Heidi opened the cage door so Chirpy could come out if he wanted to. He hopped out, but seemed reluctant to fly. That’s when we all stepped in to give him flying lessons. He was so closely bonded to all of us that all we had to do was stand on the lawn 10 feet away from each other and call him, one at a time. He would fly to each of us in turn.
One late afternoon I came home and saw that Chirpy was not in his cage. It wasn’t uncommon for our House Sparrow to fly off for a while, but he’d always be back before sundown to get one last meal of baby food and roost in his cage for the night. I called to him, but he didn’t come. Worried that he was too young to spend the night out of his cage on his own, I began searching the neighborhood.
I can only imagine what my neighbors thought when they saw me walking up and down the street looking into the trees, desperately calling, “Chirpy! Chirpy!” He didn’t respond, and I ran back home hoping my sister was there so she could help. Both Heidi and Rod were home, and the three of us set to work trying to find our lost House Sparrow. I continued to comb the neighborhood, while Heidi and Rod stood in the backyard calling him.
Suddenly, I heard a loud chirping from a huge eucalyptus tree across the street. Then I saw a young sparrow fly down from the tree into my backyard. I ran and looked over the fence, and there was Chirpy, perched atop Heidi’s head.
As the days went on, Chirpy spent more and more time away from his cage until one day, he never came back. I wasn’t upset this time; I knew he was ready. But that didn’t stop me from missing him. And every now and then, when I see a House Sparrow in the yard that doesn’t fly off right away when I approach, I wonder if it might not be Chirpy, come home for a visit.