Lessons from a Baby House Sparrow

I found a baby House Sparrow struggling to fly right in front of the New York Public Library. I looked up and noticed the nest was too high for me to attempt to climb up. The bird needed help…or so I assumed.

BRONX, NY- Two days ago while I was on my way home, I found a baby House Sparrow struggling to fly right in front of the New York Public Library. I looked up and noticed the nest was too high for me to attempt to climb up. The bird hopped around while I made a phone call to Mami. I explained the situation to her.

“What do I do?” I asked.

“Bring it upstairs. Let us see what we can do to help.”

I live across the street from the Highbridge NYPL branch, so my sister had come down with a shoe box and towel in her arms in a matter of minutes. The baby bird screeched as it saw me approach it with the box. After a slight struggle I brought it with me to the apartment.

Baby House Sparrow

Mami observed the little House Sparrow inside the shoe box. It was cowering in the corner very frightened. We discussed what to do to make the bird more comfortable. Abuelo Colo, Mami’s father, would rescue animals all the time in Puerto Rico. Mami remembered a few things he did with a bird once and sent my sister and I to collect some loose branches.

When we returned upstairs Mami had set up an empty butter tub. She arranged the branches in the tub and the bird made a leap for the branches. It snuggled within the leaves, happy to have something familiar. With some twine we hung pieces of breadcrumbs and a tiny plastic shot glass full of water. The House Sparrow preferred to eat some of the leaves instead.

To our joy the bird began to chirp after a few hours. I decided to try to return it to its home the next morning before going to work. The bird tucked its head under one wing and slept for the night in the temporary habitat.

The following morning, I heard it chirping and checked to see how our house guest was doing. The House Sparrow was not in the branches. I searched all over the apartment for it until I finally found the little one underneath the entertainment stand that holds the television. The bird put me through a workout before I finally caught it returned. I placed it back in the shoe box. Mami kept an eye on the bird while I got ready. Twenty minutes later I leashed my dog, Shakira, grabbed the shoe box with the bird inside and made my way across the street, back to the place where I found our guest.

There were no signs of other birds when I arrived. The House Sparrow was chirping loudly in the shoe box. I opened it and placed it on the ground. Shakira nuzzled it gently with her nose. I am grateful she gets along with other animals (well, for the most part). There was still no sign of the bird’s family. The nest was deserted. My neighbor walked by and explained to me that the Sparrow is still too young to fly on its own and needed care. I covered the shoe box, walked Shakira, and returned home with the bird.

Mami was surprised to see me with the bird again. We got a mesh pop up hamper and a towel. We placed the towel at the base of the hamper, arranged the bucket of branches within it, and replaced the water in the shot glass. I got some dried grains of rice and put it in a dish. The grains and water were set at the base of the hamper. We then put our house guest in the hamper and put a white netted fabric at the top so it would not fly out. The bird observed the new habitat and rested on the branches. I left for work.

Sparrow Environment #1
Sparrow Environment #1
Sparrow Environment #2
Sparrow Environment #2

At work while the audio cassette tapes were being digitized, I did research on our guest. With Google’s help I was directed to the Wild Bird Fund website. There I read that the bird is in its fledgling stage and I was not supposed to bring it home. It was learning to fly and hunt for itself. I gave myself the ultimate face palm! I took this poor bird out of its natural course. The website suggested I take it back immediately and see if the mother returns for the fledgling. For information on what to do if you find a baby bird click here.

After work, I met up with Gilberto and went straight home. We planned to return the baby House Sparrow straight away, but there was a hawk right in my neighborhood and I did not want the little bird to be its next meal. So, we waited until the hawk flew away.

At long last we were able to begin the little bird’s phase of returning home. I put it in the shoe box and made my way to the tree by the NYPL. I opened the box and said goodbye to it. Gilberto and I stepped away 15-20 feet so it can have some space. The little bird hopped out of the shoe box and called to its family. It was great seeing the little reunion.

I wish this story had a beautiful ending, but alas it does not. The baby bird was so excited to see its family it hopped into the street. A car ran over it. Life can play cruel tricks at times. I cried my eyes out. I felt like I had such a responsibility to save that little bird’s life and, in the end, it was all in vain. I at least have come to terms that I learned to leave a fledgling alone next time I see one and I did try my best. Taking care of a wild baby bird is not an easy task, and for me the ending was tragic. I do plan to visit the Wild Bird Fund within a few weeks to inform others of what to do in those scenarios.


Photos: Rosa Elena Burgos

Video: Gilberto E. Burgos

Last Updated: October 28, 2021

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