The Stand-in Angel

The Stand-in Angel

The featherless little thing had someone watching over him, a guardian angel for birds.

An artist's rendering of a black bird nesting in a woman's red hair

Poor thing. I held the baby bird in my hand, wishing I’d never picked it up from the grass. I’d nearly run over it with the lawn mower. What on earth was I supposed to do with it now? It was barely the size of a Ping-Pong ball, an ugly little thing, no feathers, not even old enough to open its eyes.

A fierce summer thunderstorm during the night must have blown it out of its home. I could see the nest in the tree, a big chunk missing from it. The mother bird nowhere to be found.

I’m not a touchy-feely kind of guy. A retired police officer, I know how harsh the world can be–especially out in the wild. It wasn’t a man’s job to be rescuing baby birds. That struck me as an odd fit.

Suddenly my six-year-old granddaughter stood beside me, staring down at the yellowish mass of skin and bones. “Honey, I don’t think it’s going to live. There’s nothing we can do. It needs its mommy.”

Her eyes grew wide, her mouth quivering. She turned and ran toward the house–where Grandma Iva, the softie in the family, waited. Great. Now I’m going to have to look after this bird.

I sat the foundling by the tree trunk while I continued mowing. I was nearly finished when my youngest son, Mark, pulled into the driveway. He’d gone fishing that morning and I couldn’t wait to hear about his catch.

Before we could start talking the screen door slammed. Out marched Grandma Iva with the granddaughter behind her. “Richard, what are you doing with that bird?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

Grandma shook her head. She’d brought a small, glass mixing bowl with her, lined with paper towels. She gently placed the bird inside. “Don’t worry, baby,” she said. “This is your home now.”

“But we don’t know anything about birds,” I protested. “How are we even going to feed it?”

“I’ve got worms in the car,” Mark said. “Birds eat worms, right?” My granddaughter cheered.

We all went into the house with a carton of night crawlers. Iva cut the worms into pieces with scissors. It was crazy. This is never going to work, I thought. I’m no one’s guardian angel–least of all a bird’s!

Iva held a teensy bit of worm to the bird’s beak and–would you believe it? He opened wide and Iva dropped the food right in. “That’s the way, baby,” Iva cooed. “You’re a hungry little bird, aren’t you?” Baby peeped. Even I knew what that meant. He wanted more.

Iva fed him every few minutes for the rest of the day. It was dark out before, finally, he settled down for the night. “This is for the birds,” I said. “I’m exhausted.”

I was barely awake the next morning, a sliver of sunlight peeking through the bedroom window, when I heard a faint noise. Where was it even coming from? Peep. It grew louder, more insistent. Peep. Peep. Peep. Peep.

“It’s your bird,” I told Iva. “He wants breakfast.”

Our lives changed drastically. We couldn’t go anywhere, at least not together. Someone had to be home to feed Baby. Mark got tired of keeping us in worms. I tried feeding Baby dog and cat food. Nothing doing.

The hungrier he was the more he reared up in the mixing bowl nest, stretching his little body as far as he could reach. He opened his mouth whenever we touched the bowl, as if it signaled his mother was there with more food. Weird. We hadn’t taught him that.

A couple days later I woke to a house that was strangely quiet. I found Baby lying at the bottom of his nest. I nudged the bowl, but he didn’t move. It had been chilly during the night. Too cold, apparently. Iva was heartbroken. How would we tell our granddaughter?

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