No nine to five in chick '˜fostering'
Is there such a thing as karma?
My two cats had been confined indoors for four days after I’d seen a freshly fledged songthrush fluttering down into the garden, all wide-eyed and wispy-winged.
Before letting them out, I’d gone round the garden checking the undergrowth and watered the plants with quite a powerful hose, which normally flushes out any furtive fledglings.
There were no anxious parents perched with a beak full of breakfast so I decided it was safe to let the panthers have a roam.
Within a few minutes, Thomas had found and killed a sparrow fledgling; thankfully it was quick.
Later that day I was in the Rollo Centre, helping feed the numerous tawny owlets glaring defiantly from their cages in the recovery room, when a lady from Cornhill brought in a tiny sparrow nestling she had found on the path.
When I was in ‘normal’ employment I never took work home with me, but ‘fostering’ helpless nestlings isn’t a nine to five job; to have any chance of survival, he’d have to be in a trust volunteer’s home for some out of hours TLC.
And that’s how I came to have Phelan in the spare room, far away from predatory pussycat eyes.
Coronation Street viewers will know why I’ve named the sparrow nestling Phelan, as he came in on the day the evil soap character finally got what was coming to him.
Searching the internet, I’ve learned that Phelan was just over a week old, with a few feathers emerging, but still some bald pink patches of skin. Unlike ducklings and hen chicks, they don’t hatch as balls of fluffy cuteness; they’re helpless scraps of raw skin and bone.
But just 14 days after hatching they leave the nest, and in another 10 days or so they are completely independent.
Taking on the role of foster parent to just one baby sparrow means feeding them as many live mealworms as they’ll take every 20 minutes or so from early morning until about 8pm.
And it’s quite a delicate operation.
At first I’d struggle to aim the worm at the spot in Phelan’s mouth where he could comfortably swallow, and as often as not, the worm would end up on him, rather than in him.
If he continues to progress, Phelan’s future could be a long and happy one of squabbling in bushes and frantically feeding nestlings of his own for many years to come. Sparrows have quite a long lifespan, and while it’s shorter in the wild, in captivity they have been known to live up to 15 years.
Before he’s released, Phelan will have to earn his wings – quite literally – by proving to us that he can actually fly. If he gets to that stage, he will be one of the first little birds to benefit from the amazing new Longridge Towers Aviary, where there’s plenty of space for him to get strengthened up for life outdoors.
And maybe in some way that will make up for my killer cats.