Summertime must be a good time for critter encounters, because I’ve had some interesting ones lately. There was an apparently orphaned, newly hatched bird about the size of a quarter with no nest nearby that my granddaughter found on her back patio. She did some research and made a few calls and found out what to do to try to help the tiny bird survive. It had to be kept warm, about 95 degrees, and it had to be fed every half hour or so.
My granddaughter enlisted my help when her life became a bit too busy to keep to that demanding bird feeding schedule, and so I learned how to soak kitten food in water and then puree it in the blender until it could be fed to the tiny English sparrow through a medicine dropper. A shoebox was lined with washcloths covering a heating pad on the lowest setting, and the baby was kept warm in between feedings. I was afraid to open the lid the first morning for fear I’d find a dead bird, but instead I found that the little thing had not only survived, but had grown another minuscule row of wing feathers. The trick was to get the bird to open its mouth so I could squirt the liquid food into its gullet. Sometimes it seemed too exhausted to even eat, so I’d wait a bit and try again.
By the third day, the bird began to make tiny chirping sounds when it was feeding time, and that got my cat’s attention. When I went to bed I had to put the bird in the bathroom and close the door to avoid a potential disaster. When I had to leave the house for any length of time, I packed up the bird and its food and prevailed upon my sister Joyce or my friend Verlie to “birdsit.”
In five days, the bird had almost doubled in size and had begun to flap its tiny wings! I have to admit that I was getting attached to the little thing, and had begun to call it Angel when I encouraged it to open its beak for feedings. I later found that I shouldn’t have done that because the goal was eventual release back into normal bird life, and we didn’t want it to form human attachments. But it was just so darn CUTE!
On the sixth day, my granddaughter took the bird to a wildlife refuge so preparations for its release in a few weeks could be started. I was sad and missed my little buddy, but I felt so proud that we were able to help save one of God’s tiniest creatures.
The next animal I encountered wasn’t so cute. I was riding my bike along my usual route one evening when a black bear started to climb out of a ditch near a corn field about 20 feet ahead of me. He stopped dead when he saw me. I stopped dead when I saw him. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity but was probably less than a minute. My mouth went dry as I sorted through my store of knowledge about bears. There wasn’t much to sort through. I thought maybe I shouldn’t be staring directly at him in case he’d take that as a challenge, but I was also afraid to look away.
I slowly reached for my phone and tried to text an SOS to my granddaughter, but without my glasses and with one eye still on the bear, I have no idea what I actually wrote. It didn’t matter anyway, because I found out later that there is no service in that area! The bear finally lost interest in me and climbed out of the ditch and ambled across the road into the woods. I slowly turned my bike around and tried a few times before I was able to get my unsteady feet on the pedals and actually get moving, glancing over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure the bear wasn’t running after me. I finished my ride uneventfully, but I kept my eye on the place where he had entered the woods, just in case.
My third encounter took place while I was helping out at the Elk County Fair. I was in the bathroom on that humid, sticky day, when a tiny head poked under the stall door and peered up at me seated on the throne. It was the most adorable baby goat I had ever seen! I finished my business under his watchful little eyes, and opened the stall door to find a young woman mixing formula with water in a bottle, which the baby goat emptied in less than 30 seconds. I had to stroke its soft fur one more time before she took him back to the petting zoo on the fairgrounds.
Violet loved that petting zoo and I kept buying cups of carrot slices for her to feed to the goats, rabbit, camel and kangaroo, among other more exotic animals. My little friend, the baby goat, was trying to get some rest amidst all the ruckus. I didn’t go into the free flight aviary with more than 100 birds just waiting to land on your shoulder, in your hair or on your hand. Violet and her mom enjoyed the up close and personal bird interactions while I snapped a few pictures. I really like birds, but not so many at one time and in such a small space!
It’s been an interesting summer as far as critters are concerned. I still ride my bike through bear territory, and sometimes I think I see a dark form in the ditch that turns out to be a clump of weeds. I tell myself that the bear is probably miles away and I just keep on trucking!
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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and the author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has two children and five grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder.