Throwback Thursday: Rugby Saves a Life

The year was 2013….the Month was May, and it was a bright sunny day in the low 80’s.  I had let Rugby out to run in the back yard about mid-afternoon, and was watching him tear it up racing back and forth across the broad grassy expanse.  After a few moments, I saw him stop and get very interested in a grassy place.  He put his snout down into the grass, and then jumped back, like something was there…hidden in the grass.

From my vantage point, I couldn’t see anything at all, but Rugby’s attention was certainly captured and he was all in!  I knew I needed to go investigate, and I hoped that it wasn’t going to be a snake, because I knew that would just about push me over the edge!  I completely understand the need for snakes in the world, but I see no reason that our paths need to cross.  I think that’s perfectly reasonable!  So….shaking in my shoes, I went to check out what Rugby was sniffing at.

And there in the grass, was the tiniest little baby bird that I had ever seen!  It was clearly a nestling, and my guess is that a crow had snagged him out of his nest and dropped him along the way.  Rugby was so curious, and he was being so very gentle and kind with it…sniffing, and then jumping back when it moved and opened its little baby mouth for food and squeaked his little birdie squeak!

Clearly the poor thing would die of exposure if I left it in full sun, but I’m a big believer in letting nature take care of their own.  So I moved him to a shady place and my husband and I watched to see if any parents were coming to tend to him.  Most of his feathers were still pinned, and he didn’t have any feathers on his bare little birdie bum, so he was very young and would never survive if his parents didn’t find him.

By the next morning, when I went to check on him, he was in really bad shape.  His could hardly hold up his little head, and when he opened his mouth, it was so dry and cracked that I could easily tell that no parent had been to visit him.  He could barely utter a squeak, but clearly he was hungry and thirsty.  So….being the animal lover that I am, I got a box ready with some towels and a super soft sock to create a makeshift nest for him, and in the house we went.  I was so sure he would probably die within hours, but at least he was safe, and would know safety and security before he died.

Rugby was so concerned about Rocky!
Rugby was so concerned about Rocky!
He could barely hold his head up
He could barely hold his head up
I found a soft sock and nestled him snugly
I found a soft sock and nestled him snugly
He was no longer than a toothpick
He was no longer than a toothpick

I gave him water with an eye dropper, and he just tasted it and tasted it.  He was no longer than a standard toothpick, and so very fragile!  Rugby was so very curious about this little creature, and he was always right at my side to snoopervise any feeding!  Rugby normally has two speeds:  full on and crashed, so I was a bit nervous to let him be around the baby very much.  Rugby has a strong prey drive, and things that move trip his trigger!

Surprise of all surprises, our little baby bird rallied and survived.  I named him Rocky, because like the movie with the same name, our baby bird was quite a fighter and clearly wanted to survive.

Over time, he outgrew his little box and nest, and I put him in a clear tub with branches from the yard so he could explore and flap his wings and learn to fly.  Far too soon, he outgrew that clear tub, and I moved him to our master bathroom.  We took everything out of the bathroom, and found a big branch from the yard that we propped up in our bathtub, so Rocky could pretend he lived in a real tree.  We opened the window so that he could perch and see and hear other birds outside, and watch the backyard activity.

 

And Rocky grew, and grew.  As he got older, we were finally able to identify that he was a Tufted Titmouse, so I started some research about their habits so that I could help him learn to be a wild bird.  I was absolutely captivated by this little feathered creature.  I couldn’t love a bird more.  I fed him several times every day, and we developed a sweet little friendship.  He sat on my finger, and talked to me, and seemed as if he could understand everything I said.

I went to the Wild Bird Store and bought mealworms, which I cut in half and offered to Rocky by tweezers.  He was such a piggie, and could easily manage several mealworms at one time.  I added in suet and some fresh fruit to round things off for him, and watched him grow like a weed.  I wanted to stop time so that he could always be my little bird, but I knew that he was born wild, and that I had to return him to be a wild bird.

By this time, I couldn’t let Rugby near him, because Rocky was ready to fledge, and I knew that the movement would make Rugby grab Rocky right out of the air!  Rocky was flying the full length of the bathroom, and he could easily catch himself to land on the branches of his bathroom tree.  I caught him spying bugs and trying to peck at tiny ants, and I knew that he was ready to be on his own.  Tufted Titmice are hoarders, and on occasion I would find a sunflower seed stashed someplace for safekeeping.

I remember when the time came that I no longer fed him, but cut the mealworms in half for him, and then just let him feed himself.  I saw the equivalent of an adolescent Tufted Titmouse tantrum!  He sassed me up and down because I wouldn’t hand feed him.  I still remember that like it was yesterday!  I also knew that at that point, I needed to stop holding him, because he needed to be wild and not think humans were safe when he was on his own.  It was heartbreaking for me, because I was just crazy about him, but I had to harden my heart so that he would have a chance to survive.

We waited until the weather report was clear for no rain for a few days, and I scooped Rocky up in my hands to take him out to release him.  My heart was breaking, but I knew that I had to let him be free.  As soon as I opened my hands, he took off like a bullet and flew right up into the closest tree.  It was hard to find him, but we did see him.  I kept food and water available to him for several days until he had learned to find his own food and water sources.

For the next couple of weeks, I would go out to the yard and call, “Rocky!” and twice, a little Tufted Titmouse, flew down to lower branches of a tree, and cocked his head and chirped back at me.  I’m absolutely sure that it was Rocky, coming to let me know that he was doing well and living large in our big back yard.

Rugby is so amazing to me as a little dog who so often can’t figure out everyday life.  So many ordinary things send him over the edge….a doorbell, the garbage disposer, a garage door going up, someone walking out of their house, etc.  But this is not the first time that he’s alerted me to a wild baby animal needing assistance in our yard.  Last summer, he told me that a baby squirrel was injured and needed help.  For a little nutter of a dog, he’s really got a huge heart, and he really does seem to care about other creatures in our yard.  I have learned that it’s never a good idea to sell Rugby short, because there are times when he simply amazes me.

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Comments

    • Sally says

      Thanks, Joni! It's honestly one of the most wonderful experiences I think I've ever had in my life. I sobbed for days after I released him! He was one amazing little bird, and Rugby's response to him was incredible! When I played one of the videos with Rocky chirping, Rugby came right to life and started looking for him. I wonder if he remembers....

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  1. Sarah Thomas says

    Mama Sally, and Rugby, this warmed my heart and made my day! I wish we could keep all the animals! I can feel your and Rugby's love for this little bird! I hope he still visits 🙂

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    • Sally says

      I sobbed for days after I let Rocky go. He was only with us for maybe 6-7 weeks total, I'm guessing, but I don't think anyone loved a bird more than I loved him! Every time I hear a Tufted Titmouse chirp outside, I smile! When I was choosing the videos, and Rugby heard Rocky, he got all excited! I wonder if he remembers hearing that baby chirp sound for all those weeks in our bathroom? It was a sweet response from him and made me smile! <3

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  2. says

    I absolutely LOVE this story. What a special and heartwarming experience you went through with Rocky. And what a lucky bird to end up in your yard with Rugby to find him.

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comments! Hands down, this was one of the absolutely best memories of my life! I wish everyone could have the experience of hand raising a baby bird. It's hard to put into words how amazing it really was. And just as amazing is the fact that my little special needs dog cares so very much about others around him! <3

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    • Sally says

      So glad you liked our Rocky story! He was such an amazing little guy! I still can't believe he didn't die in those first few hours!! Mr. N is a Terrier afterall....and I would totally expect him to go after a "varmint" in the yard! Rugby is truly an amazing little dog....who is as wacky and spun up and anxious as a dog can be....but yet has moments like this where he's just so sensitive and brilliant! I can't ever count him out, because just when I think I've got him figured out, he does something like this...and I'm left shaking my head....

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      • Sarah Thomas says

        Miss Mama Sally, one day I'd love to meet you! I know I may never be able to meet Rugby, due to his need for a small and safe environment (but I can dream! lol). You are such an amazing human being <3

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        • Sally says

          You are altogether too kind, Sarah!! I'm just an animal lover....just like YOU!! And it would be amazing to find a way to work it out to meet someday! Rugby may or may not cope well at all, as you know, but that doesn't have to stop the two of us anyway! I would love to meet Marley if he does well with strangers! <3

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          • Sarah Thomas says

            He doesn't necessarily do 'well', but I'd love for you to meet him too. He's the love of my life 🙂

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          • Sally says

            He's beyond adorable, and if we can someday work things out to be able to meet, I would love to meet him as well! <3

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  3. says

    What a beautiful story! I am sure it was heart-breaking to let Rocky go, but it sounds like he was ready to live a wild life. I love that he would come when you called him and perch on the lower branches.

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    • Sally says

      Thanks! I honestly wish everyone could hand raise a baby bird! It's the most amazing experience, and it will definitely be one of my very favorite memories of all time. I sobbed for days after I released him, but when he checked in with me to let me know he was doing okay, I was able to realize that I didn't need to worry about him anymore, but to smile because I helped give him wings to soar...

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    • Sally says

      Thanks Sherri. I've always found that the really worthwhile things in my life have generally been lots of effort....and worth every bit of it when the dust settles. I hope he's living large and loving life....

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    • Sally says

      He's truly one of a kind, and an absolutely amazing dog. I just never dreamed he would be such a gift to me when I saw his adorable little puppy face staring back at me from my computer screen. <3

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  4. Miss Molly Says says

    How amazing! Rugby truly is an angel in disguise! And, little Rocky is adorable! I totally loved this so much and I know Rocky loves you too!

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    • Sally says

      So very glad you enjoyed the post so much! Rocky was SO much fun, and sadly, it was almost scary how quickly he came into and out of my life. He grew up too quickly, but he still holds a very big spot in my heart for a little pint sized bird! Loaded with personality, I thoroughly enjoyed raising him, and I know I would never have found him if not for Rugby alerting me! (And I really DO think Rocky loved me!)

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    • Sally says

      Thanks, Ruth! I honestly wish everyone could have the experience of raising a baby bird. It's more incredible than you could ever imagine! Rugby is a small dog with a really big heart! Thanks for your kind comment!

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    • Sally says

      Oh I sobbed for days after I released Rocky, believe me! The house was so empty without that little pint sized personality living under our roof! But when he came to visit me twice, he was telling me to stop worrying and to smile again. What an amazing experience! Thanks so much for reading and I'm so delighted to know how much you enjoyed it!

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  5. says

    What a beautiful uplifting story, especially with so much bad news today. How lucky that Rugby did not attack (I am not sure Kilo would have shown the same restraint) and you were able to save Rocky. I imagine how hard it was to let him go -I chuckled at the tantrum and loved the thought of him flying free.

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much for reading. Rocky was absolutely a big shot of hope for my whole family that summer! He honestly was a miracle! I don't know how he survived, but he did, and I know my life was changed by that little pint sized personality in feathers!! He was such a character! I could have shared so many stories about him, but his tantrum was my favorite! You know when you're being cussed by a baby Tufted Titmouse. Rest assured!! And I too....smile every time I think of him flying free and enjoying his life's simple pleasures like feeling the wind beneath his wings....helping him soar.....

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  6. says

    I agree with your stance on snakes 100%. LOL! We had two cockatiels that I hand fed and the first time they flew, it scared me tho death. I'm sure that was your Rocky coming back to visit and thank you.

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    • Sally says

      Oh how fun for you!! I know how you feel about them getting their balance in landing once they learn to fly!! I was SO scared for him when I released him....fearful that I was sending him to certain death, when my heart wanted him to be safe and in my bathroom, when I knew he was okay. It was so sweet of him to check in with me and let me know I didn't need to worry anymore. It still makes me smile....

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    • Sally says

      Awww...Christy, I'm so glad my post could cheer you and offer hope on such a sad day like today. I could never have lived with myself if I hadn't tried to help Rocky survive and thrive. He was the wonderful thing, and taught me so much!! I wish everyone could have an experience hand raising a baby bird! Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comments!

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  7. says

    What a great story! I'm glad that you were able to save Rocky and then let him go. I know it must have been really hard, and how great that he came back and let you know he was okay!

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  8. says

    That is such a sweet story. Thank goodness Rugby found him and you looked out for him and nursed and raised him until he was ready to spread his wings and fly away. I love the bathtub with branches!

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much for reading and for your sweet comments! Not everyone can say that they've tried to create a tree in their bathtub, right? I sure missed it when we had to dismantle it...but I missed Rocky more....

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  9. says

    I have picked up moe baby birds than I can remember, but never brave enough to try and rehab them on my own (plus I have cats), I've taken them to wildlife rehabbers. I am SO amazed by this story, especially that you raised the bird and released it without incident, all on your own. I know you cherish this story!

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much, Elizabeth! We had cats when I was a kid, and they often caught baby birds and we were always rescuing them. My mom always tried to hand raise them and release them, and we did succeed with many of them, so I already had some idea about how to do this. I also consulted with our local UT Vet School to get headed in the right direction. And the local wild bird stores were perfect to get me mealworms and the right diet for Rocky. I had some great coaches, and Rocky was honestly just a breeze, believe it or not. I worried every step of the way, because I was just crazy about him, but birds are much sturdier than you might guess! Apparently it takes a village to raise and release a pint sized Tufted Titmouse!

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  10. says

    So precious! How nice of Rugby to give you the opportunity to save Rocky instead of making a toy out of him. I'm glad that you were able to help Rocky back into nature where he belongs. It would be hard for me to let go too!

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    • Sally says

      Rugby was so curious, right from the very beginning about just what this little noisemaker was! In fact, when I was choosing the videos, when Rugby heard one of Rocky's baby chirps, he came to life and started to look for him. I know it's been three summers, but part of me wonders if Rugby remembers that chirp from having heard it in our home for 6-7 weeks! Thanks for reading! So glad you enjoyed it!

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  11. About Pet Rats says

    I used to work in a Wildlife Center and my title was "Evening Orphan Baby Bird Feeder". It was the longest title I've ever had. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story!

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    • Sally says

      Wow! What a wonderful job to have, working in a Wildlife Center with the world's longest job title! We had a little bit of everything....including wild animals....lots of birds, a Raccoon, Squirrel, Rabbit....that we nursed back to health and released when possible. I'd never had experience with a nestling before, especially one who was in such bad shape to start, but what a little fighter he was!! He was determined to have a great life, and I feel so blessed to have had a hand in that! Thanks so much for reading!! I'm really glad you liked it!

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much! It will honestly be one of my all time very favorite memories. I still marvel that he made it, but it makes my heart smile to think of him flying free and enjoying a great life!

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    • Sally says

      It really broke my heart to release him, because I couldn't know that he would be safe, and I wanted so badly to protect him, just like I had for all those weeks. However, my heart, though it was hurting, knew he needed to be set free to life his life as God had intended from the beginning. Thinking of him flying free and enjoying his life has made me smile for three years now. Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind comment!

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  12. says

    What a positively delightful post!! Rugby & Ricky were quite a pair. Sweet videos too. I'm so glad you were able to save Rocky, thanks for sharing!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so much, Cathy! It's hard to believe it's been three years already, but I've smiled so many times just thinking about Rocky having a great life. I wish everyone could have the experience to hand raise and release a baby bird. It's simply amazing!! I'm so glad you enjoyed my post!

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    • Sally says

      Thanks so very much!! He was like a toddler at mealtimes! If I opened my mouth wide, he would too, and I just had to capture a video of that. We had some really wonderful conversations together! He held up his end pretty well, and always had something interesting to add. To this day, when I hear Tufted Titmice calling in my yard, it never fails to make me smile! So glad you liked my post!

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