There were two of them. In different places. Streets and streets apart. But they were both at that stage between dependence and self-sufficiency that made them vulnerable. And possibly stuck.
Perhaps in trouble.
She always thought that when she saw one still with some of its chick fluff clumped under adult feathers … standing or sitting awkwardly in an exposed place, sometimes attempting flight with minimal success.
Fledglings. In that curious limbo where independence was expected without the skill to truly achieve it. (Not unlike teenagers straddling the line between child and adult – seeking freedom in areas where they were still limited and reneging on responsibility for the unpleasant stuff.)
These weren’t sleek veterans with the leanness and confidence of flying hours. Nor scrawny hatchlings – all neck and gaping beak. These plump puzzled creatures were uncomfortably in between. Neither nest nor sky. And afflicted with ungainly postures and unsuitable locations to expose their dilemma.
She’d wondered often if she should help them. Sometimes she’d tried and she was never sure if her idea of help was, in fact, the opposite of helpful.
They were chubby. If birds can be called chubby. An infancy where the only activity was to eat would have that effect. Understandable, then, that those first attempts at flight were often more stone than starling.
So there they’d be. Fat and stranded on the branch of a bare alien tree – not by choice but purely gravity. Or standing confused on a footpath, surprised and confronted by every sight and sound but only able to respond by clumsy hops and futile flapping.
That day, one was the latter and the other was perched on a street sign. Out in the open but not looking inclined to appreciate the view. Ill at ease. At odds with its environment. A sitting duck (though probably in reality, a magpie) for any creature with adult competence and a predatory instinct. As if a fairground attraction had brought its moving targets to a standstill and handed a six-year-old child at close range a BB gun.
That’s why she’d always felt she had to do something. Get them to somewhere slightly less ‘come-and-get-me’ and more ‘bide-your-time/baby steps’. But her selection could end up being the tree of a conflicting species – or within reach of a local feline. It could be a shadow where a mother might never find them to impart flying tutelage or provide the nutrition needed to get through the ongoing attempts. Or the intervention might leave them with the taint of human that made them avian non grata.
So that day, she walked on.
With no more than a glance.
She remembered the afternoon she’d braved the swoops of a protective feathered family who had misunderstood her motives as she’d wobbled up her neighbour’s stepladder to place a warm trembling lump into the narrow crook of some bare branches above its stagnant conclusion on the path. (She’d thought of the frying pan/fire analogy as soon as she’d seen its terrified posture resume. Elevated purely in altitude. But she’d had hope that it might just be within range of more expert assistance.)
And then there was one she’d ‘rescued’ from its waning flutters from within a wire fence … surely a metal diamond-shaped perch wasn’t a chosen destination? The pointless jerking struggles and ungainly foot positioning had seemed to illustrate that. She’d lifted it up onto a strong firm branch in the leafy tree directly above and continued on her bike ride. (She’d learnt her lesson from the ill-chosen stark cleft of the stepladder attempt.) Less than an hour later, as she’d returned past the site of her do-goodery, she’d glanced to the fence. And there was a familiar feathered shape yet again within a uniform steel frame. A diamond that was a knight’s move from the original but it made her earlier involvement redundant at best. (She didn’t want to ponder the affects of the added trauma of the human assertion of will and power on a vulnerable juvenile who knew nothing of motive or intent.)
So that day, the walk was just a walk. Nothing else.
It might have been selfish. It might have been supportive of the natural world. She was no expert. So she didn’t know. And not knowing meant that sometimes not doing could probably be the lesser of two evils.