Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eye on the Sparrow

I had a surprisingly strong emotional reaction to something I witnessed in our outdoor spaces recently.

It began with the sound of fussing catbirds.  Jays are the typical culprits when there is screeching going on in our spaces but this particular morning, there were two mockingbirds who were simply giving it all they had in terms of bird yelling.  You could not tell what they were fussing about from afar, but you could discern by the frequency, volume and intensity of the cries - these birds were on high alert.
I had already seen a fair amount of territorial jockeying going on around the beauty berry bush by the front gate, and it sounded like most of the noise was coming from close by there, so I headed out front with my camera to see what was happening.  
Sure enough, two mockingbirds were fluttering in and out of the berries, taking turns sitting on the gate and yelling.  There was even a squirrel above me in the oaks, fussing.  But.  None of them were fussing at each other.  Both birds' and the squirrel's attention was focused away from the berries, away from me, over towards the loquat trees in our back beds, behind the gate.  I moved in a little closer.  

It was then I noticed a jay had joined the mockingbirds and all three birds were extremely excited about Something in the loquat tree.  As I walked over towards the gate, a fluttering and then a glimpse of much larger wings drew my eyes to a screech owl, retreating from my advance and relocating onto a higher perch in the loquats.  

Judging by the increase in screeching, both mockingbirds and jay as well took umbrage at the movement.  They spent the better part of the next hour taking turns dive bombing and squawking at the owl who, while large relative to their size, was yet a small blur of gray and white in the upmost reaches of the canopy.  As best it could with its noisy entourage, the owl was still and quiet and looked to be mostly unperturbed by the fussing.  

I went around the house to see if I could get a clear shot of this long suffering little owl and had barely gotten two steps down the stone walk in back when I noticed a sparrow at the far end, huddled in an unnatural position.  When it barely moved at my approach, I realized it was hurt in some way, though I could see no outward evidence of a wound.

I retrieved some tools and oh-so-carefully scooped the tiny body up to redeposit it out of foot traffic zones and direct sunlight.  I placed the barely moving sparrow in some ground cover.  I thought lacking any sign of outward damage, if the little bird was mostly stunned it would stand a better chance from there of safely recovering and rejoining the flock.  I watched for a short while, not seeing anything that indicated the bird was getting better or worse either one.  I decided to leave the little bird knowing I would check back after some time had passed, hoping I'd return to an empty spot, indicating the bird had recovered and flown away.

I moved back towards the fracas in the loquat trees.   
I had a bit of a staring contest with the owl.  It seemed quite fluffy, with eyes larger than usual leading me to believe it is still quite young.   I was finally able to get a shot of it and redirected my attentions towards the morning chores left hanging while I'd been out on bird patrol.   

An hour or so later I went back to check in on what I was now thinking of as "my" little sparrow.  

I know.  

I am a fairly pragmatic gal but anything so small and helpless evokes a powerful protective reaction in me.   I was dismayed to find the tiny form right where I'd left it.  It seemed the bird's condition was deteriorating.  

I chose to spend a few minutes, sitting close by, quietly observing as the tiny creature breathed in, breathed out.  It didn't take long.  The sparrow breathed its last and then went absolutely still. 

It always surprises me how readily even the untrained the eye can discern the difference between a body that is motionless, at rest, and a body that is lifeless, no longer animate.  Witnessing the transition from one state to the next for this tiny bird felt intimate in some way I cannot fully explain.  
Please believe me when I tell you I know the facts of the situation full well. Nothing happening in my yard that day is or was unusual in the least.  Birds harass other birds every day.  We observe it all the time, we hear it even when we don't see it with our own eyes.  At our house we even bought a second hummingbird feeder partly to work around the fiercely territorial nature of our most regular visitors of that species each year.  

I am aware that wild animals are carrying out their daily lives, and as part of that process, feeding, birthing young and dying all around us every day.  There was simply something different for me in seeing the actual last breath of that little sparrow.  It deeply moved me.  

After commending the sparrow back to the universe it sprang from, I placed it in the shallowest of graves. I take some small comfort that its body will continue to support Life even after its own life has ended.  

I spent decades of my life in a pew on Sunday mornings. I have a more than passing familiarity with statements in the Gospel of Matthew seeking to reassure believers that God has an eye on the sparrow, so we humans are to take comfort in the idea that God cares for and has an eye out on our lives as well.  

Watching that sparrow die I was starkly reminded.  Being watched over, being cared for, even deeply, are simply not the same things as being rescued.  


Tina said...

Sometimes, there is no rescue.

TexasDeb said...

Tina you are absolutely correct. I understand that, but I don't have to like it.

Extra thanks for commenting, I realize these weightier posts can be daunting. I do deeply appreciate those of you who read and comment regularly.

Tina said...

I always enjoy your posts and this post was quite moving. It is one of the universal truths that death comes and mostly, we have to simply accept. For a species that wants to fix and better everything, the understanding and practice of acceptance is difficult. On a lighter note, I especially liked the photos of the squirrel and owl-so cute both of them. I haven't seen or heard any owls since mine left in May. I have, however, seen and heard plenty of squirrels.

Anonymous said...

It began with the sound of fussing catbirds. Jays are the typical culprits when there is screeching going on....flowering shrubs