Saving baby ‘dirdies’ from demise teaches life lesson

&quotBaby dirdie No. 1" after its first fall from the nest.
"Baby dirdie No. 1" after its first fall from the nest.
Posted July 18, 2012, at 4:13 p.m.
Last modified July 19, 2012, at 9:37 a.m.
&quotBaby dirdie No. 1" sits outside the nest before falling to the ground -- the first time.
"Baby dirdie No. 1" sits outside the nest before falling to the ground -- the first time.

For the past couple of months, my family and I have enjoyed watching the birds that annually build their nest on the beams of our porch. This year, the nest relocated to the opposite side of the porch, providing us an excellent view of the birdly goings on from our dining room window.

My daughter, 16-month-old Chloe, thinks it’s a huge treat to sit on the table (yes, I let my daughter sit supervised on the table) and watch what she calls the “dirdies” — she’s still working on pronunciation.

I thought it was great last weekend when I looked out and saw one of the dirdies from this second round of babies bravely hopping in and out of the nest onto the beam. I was so excited I called Chloe over to the window and pointed. “Dirdie!” she said.

Then it happened. The dirdie — in slow motion — fell from the beam onto the dirt driveway. My heart stopped.

You see, I’m not a fan of birds when they’re up close and personal. From a distance, particularly with a thick pane of glass between us, they’re fine, pretty creatures. I like to listen to them, watch them, even take pictures of them — but from a safe distance. I’m not exactly sure when or why my mild dislike started, but it’s very real.

As for the baby dirdie now crumpled on the dirt, I was afraid it had met its demise. Chloe, of course, had other thoughts and wanted to go play with it, poke it, look at it. She’s an explorer. I scooped her up from the table and we ventured outside, careful not to get too close, but close enough to determine that baby dirdie had no broken wings or legs, was breathing and appeared to be startled and scared, but all right.

I went back inside, much to Chloe’s disgust, fired up the laptop and searched Google for what to do. The answer: leave it alone and wait to see if mama dirdie would tend to her little one. After an hour or so, it was clear she wanted nothing to do with her chirping young one on the ground. I followed the next directions, finding a pair of garden gloves that had never been stored inside (minimal human scent), mustered all my courage, grabbed a chair to stand on, and attempted to lift baby dirdie back into the nest with its siblings.

What the directions didn’t tell me was that those siblings weren’t going to be very happy about the process. They wouldn’t let me return their relative, so I placed it (we’re calling it an it because I don’t know how to tell baby girl dirdies from baby boy dirdies) on the beam next to the nest, knowing that I’d seen it hop in and out a short time before.

Chloe and I went back in the house to observe, safely behind the window. My heart stopped, again. The baby dirdie’s brothers and sisters wouldn’t let it back in the nest. Instead, they pushed it from the beam once again, this time hard enough so that it landed underneath the wicker couch on the porch. I knew it was the end.

Chloe and I waited before venturing out. I didn’t want her to see a dead dirdie. But, as my father (the nature boy) later assured me on the phone when I called to ask his advice, it’s part of life.

Then it happened — again. A second baby dirdie was pushed from the nest. This, my wise dear ol’ dad told me, was nature taking its course. The birds had gotten bigger and there wasn’t enough room for all of them in the nest. The weaker ones were sacrificed to ensure enough space and food for the remaining three baby dirdies.

Chloe and I ventured back out to check on the wellbeing of the fallen. Baby dirdie No. 1 was stressed, breathing rapidly, too weak to move. We left it for a while to see how and if it would recover. Baby dirdie No. 2, however, was more accepting of its situation and appeared to be attempting to fly much to Chloe’s delight. We left it alone, too.

Back inside, I called my husband, my father, my mother-in-law — anyone who I thought would listen or offer advice. I knew that if mama birdie didn’t care for her babies, they would die. My Google search had told me that I should call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It was Friday night — I wasn’t sure who I’d reach and I figured we’d just observe for a bit. So I did what my dad would have done. Got an empty Pampers box (we have plenty around the house — remember, Chloe is only 16 months old), a fleece blanket (yup, it was brand new — the bird was going to get a palace), and fixed up an appropriate place to keep baby dirdie No. 1 safe and warm and near its original nest.

I already had the garden gloves on, so I picked up baby dirdie No. 1 and placed it in the box. It almost immediately snuggled in and seemed to be relieved. Meanwhile, baby dirdie No. 2 was roaming around the driveway, exploring.

I left them alone again and waited. Mama bird ignored them. Chloe and I went on an expedition, found a small worm, ground it up (Chloe said, “eeeeeew!”) and fed them with tweezers. To my amazement, they ate.

I lost track of baby dirdie No. 2 first. I could see marks in the driveway, leading to the trees that line the driveway. The next day, baby dirdie No. 1 escaped from the box. I returned him to the safety of the box only when a thunderstorm with high winds threatened to blow it off the landscaping bricks where it was resting.

Whenever we went outside, Chloe peeked to check on the dirdie. She would squeal with delight when it moved, opened its beak or turned to look at her. We never let her get close enough to touch (much to her disgust), but it was fascinating to observe the process through her eyes.

The following morning, baby dirdie No. 1 was nowhere to be found. Although we know it’s not likely to have happened this way, the story we’re sticking with is that baby dirdie No. 2 found a nice, new home and came back for its sibling. They are now living happily in the woods while their siblings remain nested on the beam with mama dirdie.

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