June 07, 2010

A bird in the hand

There's something very special about holding a wild bird: its lightness, its strength, its heart beating beneath your hand. Just to be close to one is rare enough; to interrupt, momentarily, the principle of flight is a strange and troubling power.
There was a jackdaw chick on the lawn this morning, fully feathered, uninjured, as far as I could see, but not quite able to fly. It walked about, fixing me with its blue eye; its feathers had not yet acquired the glossy sheen of the adults' and I could see its gape like a clown-mouth cornering its beak. There's a nest up on the chimney, so I can only guess it fell off the roof in the night.
By midday it was still on the lawn, and the dog I'm dogsitting for was due back. He is fascinated with birds and has dispatched two woodpigeons in recent months; I knew the chick would not last long.
Catching it wasn't easy, not least because I was anxious not to distress it further, or hurt it by accident. I tried to put out of my mind the last time I held a bird: a pigeon half-killed by a cat in my London garden. That time I had held a towel around it and tried to break its neck; going back, minutes later, to check, I found I had failed, and had only prolonged its suffering. I had to fetch a spade instead.
In my hands the jackdaw was warm and slightly dusty; it squawked, and spiritedly tried to peck my fingers. I put it in the dense creepers that cover one of the hedges, near the house and at about my height. I hope it has the sense to stay there.