A Lonely Sparrow
Posted on Monday 07 September 2020, 12:43 - updated on 09/12/20 - Permalink
In case you haven't yet read the last entry, Reflections on a Cold Day, I'll give you a brief summary to save you the burden. Since about August 22nd the birds from my yard and our vicinity by extension have simply disappeared. Up and went. Now we hear only the whispering of the leaves in a breeze that becomes chillier by the day as we near fall. But one bird, a sparrow—sparrows may well be my favorite bird—always arrived to my yard. Sat on the fence, ate and drank what little I had left out, while hopping around minding his own business. He didn't really do anything but this. Playing? Probably. Like any little kid would when left alone. But lonely? Most definitely. My yard, to give you something to picture in your mind, borders a small elementary school's beautiful field with a playground in the distance. The tall grass and trees give sparrows and other birds an excellent place to hide, play, take dirt baths, and do whatever else they usually do. Between my yard and the field is a metal fence, the standard kind with holed-diamond patterns in it. It's there to separate school property from private property, although it has many "loose" or open spots which little animals often take advantage of. If you can't imagine what I'm describing, here's an example.
Even later in the day, I occasionally see him, and only him, with no other peers. When I went into my yard he'd sometimes be sitting in one of the wire fence's holes. Those holes are, I always thought, perfect seats for sparrows! The last I saw him at the fence was, I'd guess, a week back. He was facing me initially. He looked at me but could tell I was approaching—I was passing by to do something—and simply turned around and looked the other way, into that little school's vast field. The bird had a cute face, evident that he was a youngster. Yellow on the beak, at least for sparrows, always suggests youth or immaturity. This sparrow had the signs of immaturity. He rarely fled from my presence to begin with. Often, when I'd just walk into my yard to take in some fresh air, perhaps water the plants, I'd hear distinct rustling, the rustling of old leaves. Something hopping. And when I would look around and find the source, it would be this little sparrow sitting, oddly enough, in a corner. I did wonder, each time I saw him doing this, whether he had an illness which caused this kind of strange lethargy. Sparrows usually aren't this slow.
If I was bored, or felt lonely beyond belief, I'd sometimes look outside and see this little guy hopping about. Sometimes I compared him to myself: he was probably as lonely as I was with all of his sparrow friends, if you will, gone somewhere else, roosting somewhere else, playing somewhere else, somewhere far off from here. I did certainly see a few other sparrows, but they came and went quickly, not lingering around like this little one. They, in fact, rarely interacted with him. He ignored them, and in return they ignored him. Not a sound came from either party.
A chipmunk . . .
To continue the backstory, I'd have to mention this chipmunk. He's a big player in this story; I don't like him much. He has perhaps three or four burrows, some I can't even find, in my yard. As if, I sometimes think, he couldn't find any place else. Look at that vast field, I thought. Why doesn't he go there and not deal with me? He didn't. Always swooping under and looking around the plants in my yard, sometimes just uprooting them and leaving them on the ground himself, I've learned to just shoo him on sight. Even in the summer, I tell you, when he saw a team of sparrows eating and drinking from what I've left out, even if he had been at least twenty feet far, he'd see them and try (usually he failed) to shoo them himself. He's a little rodent, I'm sure, and only wants to survive and proliferate, as anything else does, but his behaviour, of all the other kinds of animals I've seen with my eyes or dealt with in person, always came off to me as the most insecure. What would these sparrows, I wondered, do to his territory? He rarely touched the sparrows' food or water. He rarely entered their vicinity to begin with. He, then, had almost nothing to do with them. But when he sees them tending to themselves, he runs. Really runs. The sparrows, though, were usually too many for him to deal with and he'd give up and leave. I never really liked chipmunks after dealing with this one for so long, as cute as they might look.
Sometimes, in fact, I wondered what he wanted to do with the sparrows. Shoo them or attack them? Sometimes he'd get so close I concluded the latter. Sometimes he looked so hesitant I concluded the former. I couldn't tell. I'd know soon, though.
. . . meets the sparrow.
Yesterday, going through my general routine, I thought I'd have an excellent day without nuisance. I'd prepared my bicycle for a long ride and the weather seemed near perfect.
Going out to check on the plants and get fresh air, I saw that sparrow again carrying out his usual, well, pastime. He was simply hopping around, as always, in the little yard and checking out the food and water. Sometimes he'd just stand there and take a nap. He didn't mind me unless I approached him too quickly. After this I walked back inside to reply to a few emails and use a computer for a while.
Come eleven, I looked out my window to the yard. I saw something out of the ordinary. Some fluffy mess was tumbling around outside—it looked like a bird fight. But what birds were here to do this? Where was the lonely sparrow? Initially I could only make out one critter tossing around another one.
When the frenzy slowed a little, though I knew it was still in full-swing, I saw the contestants, if you will—the chipmunk and a sparrow. From that glimpse I could tell sparrow was young, yellow beak and all, and immediately realized that the chipmunk had been attacking the little guy. I've certainly never seen this before. Mildly amused but also very surprised, I ran out and chased the chipmunk away. He left and took refuge in his little burrow. The sparrow looked awful. Feathers littered the ground and the bird itself was left shaking. The weakest I've seen him. Making sure the chipmunk wasn't sneaking back up on the sparrow, I brought a little cap of water. The sparrow didn't drink from it, so I spilled it near him. He drank from the puddle. I didn't know he'd survive.
While looking at the sparrow, trying to see where that rodent bit him—perhaps the neck and stomach?—I heard faint rustling. I turned around and saw that territorial chipmunk sneaking, yes, up from behind me, likely to try a another go at the sparrow. I admit I almost stepped on the chipmunk before it finally ran back into his burrow. I don't know where his burrow leads to, perhaps a hole farther away. He never failed to prove himself irritatingly persistent and territorial. Yet, as angry as I could get against the little rodent, he wouldn't know. Me killing the rodent out of anger wouldn't be a smart choice, at least not a humane one, either. He's just being a chipmunk.
A long story made shorter
After seeing no sign of the chipmunk for five minutes, I took the sparrow to a cleaner spot and tried to feed him and prop him up. He had no energy, evident from his drooped head. But he was alive. When I held him his feet shook violently, perhaps scared and still in shock. When I tried poking him gently, he moved a bit. Only a bit. That's how I managed to get him propped on a rock.
Going back inside—I still had my own work to do—I made sure to keep an eye on him through my window. No chipmunk, but he just wasn't doing anything. He'd picked his head up at about this time, but he only blinked and took fast breaths. He sometimes ate from the food I left near him. Otherwise, I saw none of the energetic hopping, looking around, or active eating I had seen from this sparrow before. Several of his tail feathers were missing, and more feathers were falling when I tried to calm him.
For a moment, though, he seemed to have more energy. He moved a little on his own, looked around at the food. But he'd have plenty of silent moments. I didn't see him sleeping, either.
End of the line
I propped him up again on another rock. This time he wasn't doing anything at all. Not moving on his own, only breathing and blinking. Ten minutes of this later I came back to see him simply face-planted on the ground down from the rock, not moving but still breathing. I started to lose hope on the guy.
And as all things come to an end, I came back after another ten minutes, making sure a chipmunk hadn't been present, and saw the sparrow face-down in a nearby small pile of leaves. This time no part of him moved. No breath, no jittering, nothing.
I don't know, frankly, how long he had been alive in total. I've no knowledge about sparrow lifespans. Perhaps a year old? Things die, in any case, and that we should remember. Things die, things end, things disappear. This event was only one grain in the desert of similar scenarios, I'm sure, many of them likely more tragic than this.