I swam upwards from the deep, velvet darkness of a good night’s sleep. Robins belted out their sunrise song through the open window, and farther in the distance meadowlarks added their liquid notes. The sparrows in the top of the fir tree squabbled amongst themselves. Then I remembered. Jack Sparrow! Last night I had left him under the fold of his rag in his bucket-nest, shut in my bookroom. I just about sprang out of bed and ran down the hall to see how he was. But then, a thought held me still. What if Jack had not made it through the night? Maybe the shock of the tumble from his nest and brief encounter with Taz had stressed his tiny body beyond what it could cope with. Or the stark fact that he was all alone in an alien environment was too much for him.
Over the years, I had tried to save and had saved many little animals. Most often, little wild animals would die in a day or two. I did my best. When one died, it was always heartbreaking, but the way of life. If one lived, it was a celebration. I took a deep breath, and eased myself from under the covers to pad down the hall and see how Jack fared.
Halfway down the hall, I could hear him. He shouted in little sparrow cheeps. “Hungry! Hungry!” My heart leap with joy to hear him. JuneBug and Taz, my two cats, were plastered against the outside of the door to the bookroom. They meowed in protest as I nudged them aside with my foot so I could sneak in. I peeked over the edge of the bucket, and there was Jack. He was out from under his fold in the middle of the bucket. His beak was wide open as he let the world know of his hunger. I could see straight down his red throat. His pink triangular tongue hovered between the open yellow triangles of his beak. I said, “Hi Jack!” He closed his beak and cocked his head sideways to look at me out of one eye. Then he commenced to cheep at me. Guess I better go find some more bugs and worms.
Not long after I had dropped a few earthworms down his gullet, I got a text message from my Mom. Mom loves birds and excels at ferreting out anything she is curious about on the Internet. I had told Mom last night about Jack, and she had found out what to feed sparrow nestlings. It was not worms and bugs. In fact, worms could be deadly for little sparrows. Oh no! I hoped I was not slowly killing Jack by feeding him worms. Mom had sent me a recipe for Jack. I was to soak dry cat food in water until it was soft, add some applesauce and a mashed up boiled egg. Well, that was easy enough.
By Jack’s next feeding, which I judged by the volume of his cheeps, I had his new food all ready. I used a toothpick to dip some of the food up. Then I pointed the toothpick at Jack’s beak. He obliged me by opening it wide and snatched the food off the toothpick. Thank goodness for the strong instincts nature instilled in all of life. I presented Jack with the toothpick of food until he kept his beak closed. Since his breast was not feathered, I could see his crop through his translucent pink skin. It was plump and dark with food. Jack’s eyes began to close, and I gently placed him under a fold of his rag-nest and left the room. I vowed to spend as little time as possible with him, so he would not become connected to me. Little did I know how that would work out.
I found Jack got hungry about every 3 to 4 hours. His demanding cheeps echoed through the upstairs hallway. I fed him from the toothpick, and changed out the rags in his bucket to keep his nest clean. He seemed to have survived being fed earthworms, for which I heaved a sigh of relief. Towards the end of the day, Jack’s crop looked as if it slowed down in its digestion of his food. In her wisdom, nature had arranged things so that Jack would get through the night without being hungry. It appeared to work well. I filled him up with his food just as the sun went down. This was the same time the birds who lived outside quieted and rested on the nests of their own young for the night. As far as I could tell, Jack was silent all night. When the sun rose, so did he and shouted out his “hungry!” cheeps. I began to call out to him when I fed him. I would sing out, “Jack Sparrow, are you hungryyyyyy?” It did not take him long to recognize this “cheep”. He would be out from under his fold, waiting for me when he heard it.
Scattered around in Jack’s bucket-nest, I began to see fragments of the tubes (pin feather sheaths) that enclosed his feathers as they emerged. Just like a flower that unfurled from its bud, his feathers literally popped out of their tubes. Each time I fed Jack, more feathers appeared. And fast. Only three days after I had saved him from Taz, feathers covered most of his body. He had two small bare circles on each side of his breast and that was it. The feathers on his wings and tail were long and stiff, and a beautiful warm brown. The downy feathers on his breast and underneath were soft and grey. His beak was not as wide at its base as it had been, and began to grow more to a point. No wonder he was hungry all the time, as fast as he grew.
And now, Jack was about to go on a journey in the pickup, for a week at the family ranch. I packed his heating pad and food. I turned on the seat heat in the passenger seat. Jack rode there beside me as I drove, in his plastic turquoise bucket-nest, under a fold of soft cotton. He was a clamorous traveling companion, as he voiced his vexed opinion about such a disruption to his routine in extra loud cheeps. We rumbled along, my dog Rowdy in the back seat, and my two horses in the horse trailer behind. Mom & Dad never knew what sort of menagerie I would show up with.