`The year was early May 2001. I was working on my laptop which faced out the slider onto the patio out back. Birds were pecking away on the patio, and suddenly I noticed an odd looking one among them. It was a female goldfinch, and she was drenched in oil.
Without thinking, I ran out and caught her with my bare hands before she
could slip through the neighboring chain link fence. Bird in hand, it suddenly
hit me: Now what?
I had befriended a woman in a neighboring town who was the dog officer there
and I knew that she rehabilitated raccoons and such, so I called her for help.
"Gosh, no, if I just look at birds they keel over and die!" she exclaimed. But
she gave me the name and number of a woman in Bolton, MA and wished me good
luck. Unsure of why she had wished me good luck, I dialed that number, bird
still in hand.
Answering machine. Left a message. Waited 10 minutes. Called again.
Answering machine. Left another message, a little more urgent this time.
Waited again. No call back. Called again, this time a little ticked off.
Hey, lady, I am standing here with an oil drenched goldfinch in my hand, what
do I do?????? - Finally, she called back, said to use Dawn, and was about to
hang up when I intercepted with "what is Dawn?" "Dish soap", she said, sounding
a little like "are you for real?" Then she was gone. I looked at the bird,
looked at my dish soap which was Palmolive, looked at the bird again, and
decided it would be impossible to get to a store with bird, besides, dish soap
is dish soap, right?, so I started to wash her with Palmolive.
A goldfinch looks a lot bigger when it's dry. When wet, there isn't much
bird left. But they're feisty little birds, and this one tried repeatedly to
bite me with her tiny beak. First rinse, no improvement. Suds again, wash,
rinse, still not much improvement. I hail from Germany, had never heard of
Dawn, and had no idea that it's much better at cutting grease and therefore is
the choice of oil residue removal. I learned that lesson the hard way that day.
The poor bird had undergone four washes and rinses when she suddenly closed
her eyes and hung her head. WHAT???? NOOOOOOO!!!! YOU CAN'T DIE ON ME,
NOOOOOO!!! I opened her beak and gently blew air into her lifeless body, gave
her careful CPR, more air, more pressing on her chest -- and suddenly she came
around again! I wrapped her in a towel and gently dabbed her dry, then let her rest in
a cage I had dug out down cellar. An hour or so later I dared to continue
washing her one more time, and at last she looked semi decent from the neck
down. I hadn't washed her head, I was afraid I'd drown her.
The next day she was restless, and I wondered if she could fly. Her feathers
were still a bit rough looking, but she made it very clear how unhappy she was
with her current situation. So I opened the door for a test flight and she
immediately zipped out and flew straight out of the room and into the bedroom
and fell behind the mirror. Oh great, heavy triple dresser to move in order to
get her out!...
Bird in hand for one last time, I stepped back out onto the patio and opened
my hand. Off she went, into the next tree, and I prayed that I had done the
right thing in letting her go. I had picked a bad time in that temperatures
went down to near freezing that night and I worried that her compromised
plumage might not protect her adequately from the cold.
But the next morning I saw her sitting in the little tray feeder outside the
slider leading to the patio, and from there on she had breakfast there every single
morning. She'd give her thin little feepsies when she saw me but otherwise we
had no interaction. I never had any problems recognizing her even from a
distance because her head was still oil stained. She was my precious ugly
little goldfinch girl, and I was just so grateful that I hadn't killed her with
kindness and stupidity...
Then, about mid June, I was standing at the kitchen sink with the windows
open one late morning. There were the usual rowdy house sparrows, but when it
quieted down again I suddenly heard this familiar thin feeps call and looked up.
There was my little goldfinch girl sitting on one of the weeping cherry tree
branches, and she was making quite a racket. When she saw me she got more
excited and flew over to a nearby branch, and suddenly I realized what she was
doing: she was showing off her boyfriend, a pale yellow young male goldfinch.
There was no mistaking her intentions, she flew about him and next to him and
then switched sides again and all the time kept checking to see if I was
watching her. I smiled and said to her "you go girl! Congratulations!" This
was the only time I ever saw her in the cherry tree out front, and shortly
afterwards she and her new mate disappeared. Breeding season for goldfinches
was near, and they headed out in the open meadows to build their nest.
This little bird was my introduction to the world of wildlife rehabilitation.
I wanted to go visit that woman in Bolton, but she kept turning me down. I
kept pestering her, and eventually she broke down and gave me her address.
I'll never forget my introduction to Judy's "Mrs. Doolittle" place:
She had told me to come around back and enter through the basement door. I
did as told and called out when I walked in, and Judy stepped out of one of the
rooms and waved me over. Just then her phone rang, and she said to me "here,
hold this" in order to answer the phone. I had half extended my arms when I
realized what she was handing me: a baby porcupine! I pulled my hands back in
a hurry and looked at her in disbelief, "you want me to hold this just like
that??? What about the quills??" "Oh, don't worry, there are none on the
belly." "Yeah, but all over the rest of the animal, and if she moves and I have
to grab hold... Are you CRAZY?" Judy pushed me on a chair and placed the baby
on my lap, and I wasn't about to move until she returned. I got a good look at
the baby's cute face and was stricken, and upon Judy's return I made sure to
take some close-up pictures. How many people have ever seen a baby porcupine up
close? I was in heaven...
On my way home I knew that this is what I wanted to do: learn how to help
wildlife in need. Despite the considerable distance (40 minutes each way)
Judy's place became my regular hangout, and the hands-on experience I gained by
working side by side with Judy was invaluable. But these are stories that
warrant their own space, so I'll close for now.