What to do when you find a young bird that has fallen from the nest? You shouldn’t interfere, otherwise it is likely that the parents won’t come back and feed it. Touching it would mean passing our smell to it.
My mother saw a little owl in the garden. At first she left it there, but then found it has flewn to the balcony on the first floor. At that point she brought it inside, also to protect it from the neighbour’s cat that kept coming near and looked very interested. By the time I got there she had put the bird in a shoebox with holes in it, ready to make a pet out of it, and keep it in a cage.
“Leave it alone that you’re not allowed because it’s a protected species, what are you going to feed it?”, I asked her, considering the cake crumbs at the bottom of the box. The little owl is a meat-eater. In a little time the cat won’t be a danger any more but a competitor, it’s a predator just like it.
“You’ll have to give it frozen mice, like those people who breed snakes”, Stefano added. And mom was disgusted, but she started to understand our criticism. We also pointed out to her that falconers must hold a hunting license.
“Owls bring bad luck”, mom then said. But the only bad luck was, for the bird, to have met an individual of a different species who, although well-meaning and driven by a protective attitude, thought for a moment of kidnapping it. We tend to humanize animals, and our instinct has now become too influenced by culture for us to make the right choice.
Looking at the owl, we weren’t sure wether she was a nestling or a grown-up. Her size wasn’t exactly that of a baby bird, but she cried as if she was calling her parents. I looked like a fledging to me, but I’m not an expert. After only a few hours she had already started to get used to us. Maybe she was picking up some sort of imprinting, because even if I repeatedly put her outside, she kept coming back into the kitchen, and sat on our arm and heads, showing a liking for the fluffiest ones. Who knows, maybe hair reminded her of a nest! She let herself be handled so easily that we wondered whether she could have been a tame animal now abandoned by or run away from someone.
Her braveness reminded me of a book I read back in elementary school: “The owl who was afraid of the dark” by Jill Tomlinson. The main charachter, Plop, was an owlet unable to express its potential, as a nocturnal bird just can’t be afraid of the dark. Out of curiosity he approached some eccentric humans who would, in turn, explain to him the reasons why darkness is a good thing and he shouldn’t be frightened. A nice story attempting to explain children that facing and defeating our inner monsters is worth the effort.
In the end I called the police and they sent someone. We assume they took her to a wildlife rescue centre, or at least, left her in the hand of someone who knew what to do. Over a month has passed, I wonder if she’s free again. I don’t know why I go on using the feminine: we really have no hint that she was a female. It’s humanization again, I guess.