In late June I found a wee swift nestling chirping frantically on the floor of my studio. The swifts had made their nest in a hole in the wall outside and somehow he’d fallen through to the interior landing softly on some fabric. I popped him in a nest I’d picked up years ago, and into the cat’s travelling cage.
His eyes weren’t open as yet, his feathers totally unformed, he was just a ball of fluff, and he was very very hungry; to my eyes he certainly wasn’t cute either as he had the air of a miniature vulture, with his neck long, bare and scrawny when demanding food.
At this stage he was inevitably given a name: Jonathan (as in Swift) but this was later changed to Doc Martin when I learned the French for swift is Martinet.
I quickly looked up how to feed him, luckily so as it said absolutely give no water and that was the first thing I thought I should do. So I fed him every 2 hours for 2 weeks on sachets of wet cat food, he appeared to thrive on this, his eyes opened after several days, his tail feathers grew and the stubble on his head began to form into feathers. The days were very hot and, worried about him dehydrating, I would try to feed him more of the wet jelly in the food, but he flung it out of his beak whilst eyeing me with disdain, obviously he knew best as he eagerly gobbled up the meaty bits.
He was instinctively extremely clean and would wriggle his bottom to the edge of the nest and jet propel his pooh as far as possible, keeping his nest clean and unsoiled. I’d settled the nest in the centre of some cat litter, so it was easy to clean out.
I must admit I was concerned as to how it would turn out, every morning I would enter my studio with trepidation, convinced he hadn’t lasted the night, however, I kept him for 2 weeks and became worried as to how I would teach him to fly when it came to it. Imagining his first flight ending in our cat’s mouth!
Researching on the internet I discovered that the parents feed insect balls to their young, presumably made of saliva and freshly caught insects. Whilst I’d got very fond of him I wasn’t going to go that far, but I could buy dried insects and perhaps reconstitute them with water.
It was at the shop I discovered that they are a protected species and that we aren’t allowed to keep them, the assistant gave me a number to call, a sanctuary where they recuperate birds. This came as a relief, for there would more chance he would survive.
The bird centre was 2 hours away at Arcachon so we arranged that I take him to a vets 40 minutes away from us, and they would arrange transport. I drove him to the vet in his wee nest, in his cat box, he wasn’t too happy on arrival, even though I’d taken great care not to swing the car round bends and drove slowly enough to create a stream of cars driven by irate drivers behind me; the noise and strange environment must have stressed him.
On arrival the vet assistant insisted I take the nest back, I was very unhappy about that because she yanked him out of it, with him clinging on for dear life, and popped him in a biggish cardboard box on a sole sheet of paper. I told her I thought he should stay in his nest where he felt safe, but she said “ he’s ok he can grip to the paper”.
She handed me a 3 page document to fill in, where I’d found him, who I was, what state he was in when found, date I found him etc etc.
How easy it is to get fond of an animal, it must be deeply ingrained in us to want to protect vulnerable creatures; as I drove back feeling more and more guilty and with a feeling of huge loss, I worried and worried all the way home envisioning the tailgating transport driver veering round bends with loud rock music playing, scaring the hell out of him the entire long journey to Arcachon and arriving there only to hand in a bloodied mess resulting from the wee soul sliding back and forth in the empty box.
Imagination impossible to ignore, decision made, I decided to go and get him back the next day, so as soon as I got home I rang the sanctuary; I asked if I could foster him, like we can with dogs or cats, and let them have him when he was older. But the immediate response was ( I could see the waggly finger in my minds eye)… it is not allowed…I wasn’t trained, we know best..etc etc. That’s true of course, and with no cogent argument to offer I said I understood, it was now out of my hands.
To cut a long story short, I sent an email to the bird sanctuary a couple of days later to ask how he was, they said he’d arrived in a very bad state, just as I suspected he would, and that he was in intensive care.
My conclusion at that point and from this sad episode is they are more interested in gathering data, hence all the form filling, and maybe not quite so bothered about keeping them alive; there certainly appears to be ignorance about the transportation, surely they could have nest sized boxes for this?
Not able to entirely let go I wrote another email to the Sanctuary, not from Mrs Angry but from Mrs Concerned, suggesting they re-think their strategy of transportation, I hoped my points would be noted, and at last left it at that.
It’s now 2 weeks later, yesterday I received a long email firstly with the happy news that he is still alive, much stronger and will be released into the wild when he is old enough. They took the time to write in great detail the needs of wild birds, to be with their own kind, eating the correct food (again a bit more finger-waggling here) and that we can be fined if we keep wild animals on the protected list. They agreed something could be improved as regards travelling accommodation, and that possibly the long journey was unnecessarily stressful for him, so maybe things will change on that score. And I was wrong about them only being interested in data, they wouldn’t have taken the time to write if that was the case.
So there we have it, a happy ending so far, although of course for him his story has only just begun, I wish him well, he certainly has a strong sense of survival which should stand him in good stead.