4 - FAMILY CRISIS

Content that we still had a week or two to observe the development of our babies, one can imagine our shock when we awoke to an empty nest on the morning of June 3. What had happened? The babies weren't old enough or strong enough to leave, nor even sufficiently feathered to stay warm. But, there was the nest, VACANT. Had a raider come in the night or had the babies simply shuffled themselves out of the nest? We ran down the stairs several steps at a time and carefully searched the tangled ivy beneath the tree. The morning air was disturbingly still. Nary a peep. Not the annoying brattle of the jays, not even the distracting, threatening sounds from the parents who generally raised a ruckus if man or beast neared their babies. It was as if a mass exodus had occurred. In our disbelief of such an event, we continued to pick our way through the ground cover, gently turning over leaf after leaf. The search ended about fifteen feet away from the tree when we found the regurgitated remains of two baby birds.

"It was that monstrous cat," I muttered, not daring to raise my voice in case the other babies were alive and nearby, "that miserable, murderous beast. I hope it choked on the rest." We continued probing the grounds but found nothing more. Sadly we returned to the house cursing the tailless cat with the bulldog shoulders, the "grey menace" who hissed at our cat through the sliding glass doors.

Minutes later, I heard Sam racing down the stairs again, slamming doors as he went. He had examined the nest with the periscope and found a single baby cowering at the bottom. Then apparently it mistook the quick image in the mirror as its parent or maybe he thought the Night Terror had returned — something spurred the little thing into action, catapulting him over the edge of the nest, plummeting him to the ground. How long had he been huddling alone and unattended in the abandoned home? Where were the parents?

Sam found the baby in the ivy. It was still alive, and it opened its mouth; but Sam, remembering old tales, was afraid to pick it up for fear the parents would reject it if they did come back. He came into the house wondering what to do next — he knew he couldn't wait too long — birds have such a high metabolic rate that they must feed frequently or starve. And the baby was still so lightly feathered that it could die of exposure.

We waited. We took turns at the vigil, sufficiently well hidden not to frighten away the parents, yet at the ready should the Gray Menace reappear. Neither friend nor foe came. Sam finally went out, dug around for an earthworm, and with a pair of forceps offered it to the little orphan, who accepted it ravenously. Well, that did it. No more dalliance. Sam brought the bird in and put him in a cardboard box lined with facial tissues and placed it on the workbench downstairs.

TO CHAPTER 5