Today I held a white-breasted nuthatch. It flew into the greenhouse and could not find its way out. I tried to wave it towards the door, but it instinctually flew towards the freedom it could see through the glass skylight. Its fluttering body ricocheted backwards at the impact once, twice; until the third time when the battered creature fell from the air and landed on the wooden table. My hand snapped out to grab it; my fingers gently wrapped themselves around its tiny body. I placed it in my left hand and could feel its claws clamp around my finger. Its beak was open, as though gasping for air, and its eyes were blinking. As I stroked its soft gray feathers, I noticed that its head was much lighter than the black heads of males-it must be a female.
Everything that happened next felt like an eternity, though it really was only a few minutes. The little nuthatch was fighting to come to. She kept blinking and looking around. I was relieved that she could hold her head up and move it with ease; her neck must surely be fine. “Come on little guy. Come on. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” I whispered to her over and over as I cupped her close to my body, trying to warm her up, caressing the blissfully soft feathers to try to rub her back to life. She is so light it is unbelievable. I am sure that if I made a fist and squeezed, I could actually pop the body that feels as though it is filled with nothing but air. I could feel the rough edges of her claws that clasped my finger so tightly I felt as though we were fused together. They were so light and so fragile; I could easily have pried her off and snapped them. Yet despite this, I was awed at their strength. Her entire body was so soft I could imagine that the tips of my fingers would just sink right into her every time they made a pass. I could see just how intricate those feathers were: each tip had a zillion little notches and a zillion little lines. My heart leaped as she finally closed her bill and her eyes began to stay open. They were beautiful eyes, a deep gray, ringed with small jewel-like circles.
I felt like I too was flying as it finally spread its wings, launched itself from my finger, and cleared the lawn to alight in the juniper tree with the other nuthatches and chickadees. I will always remember the slight pressure and wind against my skin as it took off. I will always remember the wondrous sound of its cackle as it went back to its nuthatch business.
I do not know whether my efforts were actually helpful to this little bird. All I did was stroke her over and over, whisper to her, and watch as she slowly became alert. I could not believe that the kin of this tiny creature, just as small, light, and fragile, could travel thousands of miles and survive. It is truly miraculous. And here I was, privileged enough to hold one of these marvels in my hand. For this incredible moment, I could believe that I mattered to it, that I was playing a role in the miracle that is its life. It certainly played a role in mine.
-Thursday, September 18, 2014