We found a traumatised fledgling blackbird one early summer. It had been attacked by something – cat, sparrowhawk, magpie? – and was just sitting there in shock waiting to be snatched away for good.
The general advice when stray fledglings are found is to leave well alone and wait for the parents to come rescue. This usually works ok I’m sure and it is the best advice around. But this particular young bird was not going to survive for long so we gently scooped it up and carried it home.
We learned how to look after it, fed it earthworms for weeks, kept it in a shoebox which we put holes in for air and cleaned daily. It grew and grew. It got smarter and some might say, wiser. It began to flute and whistle and speak blackbird, most endearing.
If you ever want to know what a healthy appetite looks like, raise a young blackbird and count how many worms it can eventually swallow. But it’s not only the quantity, which is goggling enough, it’s the manner in which the food is eaten. Awesome. Almost disturbing. But all for and in a good cause.
Voltaire the French philosopher recommended gardening as the most productive way for a human being to pass the time. And William Burroughs the Beat novelist and author of such books as Naked Lunch was crazy about cats.
The modern American philosopher Christine Korsgaard writes:
“When you pity a suffering animal, it is because you are perceiving a reason. An animal’s cries express pain, and they mean that there is a reason, a reason to change its conditions. And you can no more hear the cries of an animal as mere noise than you can the words of a person. Another animal can obligate you in exactly the same way another person can. …So of course we have obligations to animals.”
1996, The Sources of Normativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
I say, if you want to learn about dedication and love, spend two or more months raising a baby bird to full flight and watch it fly off into the sunset. You’ll be moved to tears of simultaneous sorrow and joy. Joy wins out in the end because you’ll know that, in the case of a female bird for example, she will eventually raise more songsters, which is a thrill to know. And a male (blackbird in this case) will already be a songster, of some repute.
The photograph is of ‘our’ blackbird sunning herself on a hot day. Actually she’s using a wondrous method of cooling off many birds use which involves spreading out all feathers in a sort of homage to the sun. Beautiful.
Here’s poem I wrote about a male blackbird:
A quick sip of yesterday’s rain
for the blackbird is ex cloud.
It tastes the clearing sky
from a plastic gutter
and is then ready for our landscape
which includes brick,
toys and next door’s tarmac desert.
I hear that song that
most mornings are made of
repeated, composed in a rotting elder
that has had its fill of summers.