Suzanne Beecher
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2020 First Place Winner: Virginia Huml

Tearfully, my young son held up a small box he had carried home from school, saying, "Mom, we need to save them," a sentiment echoed by his brothers. Peering inside, I saw two smaller-than-my-thumb-bald blobs only recognizable as birds because of their teeny, tiny beaks. Though I thought it was hopeless, we nestled them in a basket lined with a soft towel and attempted, unsuccessfully, to feed them milk using an eye dropper.

Sadly, only one bird survived the night. After the boys went off to school, I called our vet who suggested I call Harvey Webster at the Natural History Museum. Cautioning me that the bird probably wouldn't live, Mr. Webster suggested feeding it canned dog food thinned with milk and served on a Popsicle stick gently pushed down the bird's throat. I was to call him again in two or three weeks, if the bird survived. Nervously, I tried a feeding and it worked! A few stickloads later, it was content. Throughout the day, whenever I came close to the basket, my bird baby opened his tiny beak wide for more food. After a few days, Birdie, as he was now known, developed a voice--soft cheeps at first when I came near, and then increasingly louder squawks accompanied by wing flapping until he was fed.

Time for another call to Mr. Webster. I learned that the squawking and flapping when I came near meant that Birdie thought I was his mom. Next step: teach him to find food on his own. The boys caught small bugs and let them crawl up the painted dining room wall. Birdie perched on my finger as I kept him eye level with each bug. After a few pecks and misses, he caught and ate an ant. A fast learner, he was soon eating his fill of wall bugs. Next, we moved outdoors where he sat on a tree branch and ate every bug that came close.

One Saturday, we had a must-attend family wedding. What to do with Birdie? Take him to Grandpa and Grandma's house, of course. He spent that day perched on the steering wheel of Grandpa's riding mower eating whatever crawled his way, including some small worms Grandpa dug up as he and Grandma planted flowers.

Finally, Birdie's feathers came in and he was a beautiful blue jay! We put his basket outside on a picnic table and he began venturing out on his own--hops at first and then short flights. He spent his days flying from tree to tree in the backyard, always returning to his basket at dusk. We knew it was only a matter of time before he flew off for good.

Another call to Mr. Webster to ask if we could have Birdie banded so that we could identify him if he stuck around the yard. The large amount of paperwork required made that impossible, but Mr. Webster suggested painting Birdie's toenails with bright red nail polish making it easy to spot him. I did so, despite my sons' worries that the other birds would make fun of him.

The evening soon came when Birdie didn't return to his basket. We saw him the next day flying with a flock of blue jays that didn't seem to mind his little red feet. Several days passed before I saw him again sitting in a pine tree in the yard. I was able to get close to him, but he wouldn't perch on my finger. We didn't see him for months and then, one bright early winter day, there he was at the back yard bird feeder with his blue jay friends, his little red feet easily visible against the white snow.

I can't say I would be eager to do it again, but what an amazing experience to raise a wild bird and then set him free.

Virginia Huml 
First Place, 2020 Write a DearReader Contest