Yesterday, I mentioned that we had gone up to Cleveland for Scott’s 20th college reunion. Although we tend to be big travelers, we usually follow the same route: drive to Kentucky, Ohio or Indiana, do a whirlwind relative sweep, then drive back home. And we’ll be following that pattern in the next holiday season. But this summer, we’ve been shaking things up with the Disney trip and this weekend to Cleveland. We actually flew up north this time, since it would have been too far to drive in a day and the whole event was only two days long anyway.
Scott’s college is neat, and I enjoy seeing it on these every-five-year treks. Plus, they had childcare for the entire weekend, which was just plain sweet. We did the usual reunion things, along with some family-friendly additives that seem unique to Wooster to me. (But I could be wrong. My college is so small that if it had a reunion, it would be an out-back afternoon-cookout affair, so I’m not exactly up on how most colleges provide for alumni progeny.)
At one point, I managed to lose both my computer AND my cell phone. Although I was pretty sure the phone was gone for good, because I thought I’d lost it in the grass where it would never turn up, I never thought either thing was stolen. And, indeed, both came back to me ultimately. (And I never even bothered to doubt that the computer would. The only question about the phone was whether anybody would find it before some lawnmower drove over it.)
Anyway, somewhere in the middle of these events, after I had lost the phone, but before I’d lost the computer, and before I’d gotten either item back, I got distracted by an avian crisis involving a family of cardinals. Scott and I first saw them as we were walking to the student center.
Actually, we saw the male,
then the female,
and got into a debate about whether it was a female cardinal or some other kind of bird entirely. If either of our mothers had been there, the answer would have been provided.
Anyway, we split up for a little while and I immediately saw the male and female birds together. That solved the debate as far as I was concerned, and I went to take a picture so I could show Scott when we met back up. Only the two hopped apart at the whirr of my zoom lens. Irritated, I followed, taking picture after picture of red underbellies and the undersides of these two particular trees as the birds flitted back and forth between them, never staying still long enough to be properly photographed.
I quickly abandoned any hope of catching them together and set my sights on the female. When she lit on the ground for a moment, I thought I finally had my shot.
Only I didn’t.
Instead, I had this.
Suddenly, I realized that the two birds were hovering so closely around the student center not to catch stray breadcrumbs, as I had originally assumed, but to protect a downed baby. They weren’t just friendly critters immune to humans. They were trying to strategically distract us and keep us all at the front of the building, so the baby who had fallen would be safe under a tree by the student center’s side. I had caught Mom checking back in on her little chick.
And this wasn’t big enough to be a fledgling, either. This was a downy baby who still had a fluffy head and whose wings couldn’t have had flight feathers yet. The distract-the-humans trick wasn’t working out really well for Mama and Papa, either. Everyone was remarking on the cardinals, and some folks, I later learned, had even noticed the downed baby. But the cardinals were hardly the focus of alumni weekend. We were all passing around them on foot and in golf carts remarking on them like on the rest of the scenery.
Instantly, I felt as pained for those birds as if the chick were my own child. I seized a college student who was working alumni weekend and dragged her outside to present the plight. We two were circling under the tree, trying to locate the nest so she could call the grounds crew to help lift the baby back up, when the full extent of the problem became clear.
There were two of them.
While the woman I’d pulled in was keeping watch on the chick over by a trash can, I came across a second one on the other side of the tree.
We weren’t going to find the nest up in those branches.
That nest was as down as its chicks, probably knocked free by the previous night’s thunder and hailstorm. Those parents were trying to keep two hopping little featherballs from getting squashed under a golf cart or foot. These babies were just barely big enough to have survived the plunge. They couldn’t live on their own. The parents were still feeding them, but if we couldn’t ensure a safe and private place for them to do so, they might stop.
It was too much for my student assistant. I stood guard, and she called for security. While I waited, and after I concluded the nest could not be located on the ground or rebuilt, I thought up a dozen scenarios involving do-it-yourself stores, plastic flowerbed edging, and a rescue team.
The security lady was much more practical. She went up to the dining hall and grabbed a milk jug, which she cut open and added mulch to. Then, she put on plastic gloves (for germs – birds can’t smell, so it’s a myth that parents will smell you on their babies and abandon them) inserted the two nestlings, then hid the jug in the shrubbery under the tree. (Sorry, no pics. I didn’t want to cause a disturbance.)
Of course, one of the babies immediately flounced out again. The other one stayed put for awhile. When I peeked at the tree later, both babies were out again. But when I checked the next morning, both were IN. (Again, no pictures. I wasn’t going to risk those babies’ safety for anything.) The milk jug was, as far as I could tell, going to buy them the time they needed to grow into fledglings, and I could go back to scolding my own young.