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.
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.