Tuffy’s story begins on one of the hottest summer evenings in recent local history. My husband and I had spent the day trying to keep up with the watering and we were just finishing up when I saw a movement in one of our barrels of geraniums. I thought it must be a leaf but the air was so still that I was compelled to move closer and peer into the thick foliage. In the midst of the fragrant red flowers sat a tiny, nearly featherless baby bird. It was so small I almost did not recognize the little round form but instantly knew that this bird had fallen from a nest above. I rushed into the house for a vial of Rescue Remedy I always keep on hand for emergencies (Bach Rescue remedy is an all natural five-flower combination used for any acute trauma or stress) and within seconds my husband and I had the baby bird swallowing the life saving drops and it began moving about slightly. It had endured quite a trauma with the fall, the heat, the lack of water or food but it was obvious within minutes that he was looking better.
We found his siblings in the nest above but they had passed on, probably from the excessive heat. This small, featherless creature had tried to escape that same fate and had jumped or fallen, by pure luck and God’s grace, into the soft leaves below.
We knew not to touch him in case his parents were near but as night grew closer we knew he would need shelter. We held him with cotton gloves so as not to leave our scent and watched from the house for some sign of his parents although we had not seen them flitting about all that day. At dark we brought the little bird inside for the night all the while giving him minute doses of RR. He snuggled into my husband’s gloved hand for a nap but would not take anything to drink or eat from the dropper. We tried gently opening his tiny, fragile beak to drop in food or water but to no avail. He was not interested.
We took him to bed with us, wrapped in a towel, inside of a small box and tried thru the night to get nourishment via liquid into him but he would only accept the Rescue Remedy. When morning came I began searching the internet for what kind of bird we had and what he should eat.
After refusing to open his beak for most of that first morning, Tuffy suddenly opened wide and we scrambled for food. Soon he was opening his beak whenever he saw one of us approach. We saw no signs of his parents and knew they had probably abandoned the nest after finding their young dead. Meanwhile, we named this brave little bird, Tuffy, for he was truly tough to have survived such an ordeal.
We nursed little Tuffy as though he were our own. We found him a comfy bird cage and would take him and his cage up to bed with us at night where he would awaken us each day at dawn singing a happy tune. Perhaps this was our biggest mistake, including Tuffy in all of our activities although we did not realize it at the time.
Tuffy’s pin feathers began to grow and we still were not sure what kind of bird he was. We fed him a little of everything to be sure he got what he needed. A neighbor suggested feeding him raw hamburger and Tuffy took right to that. He really loved breakfast time and would sit on my husband’s cereal bowl, enjoying soy milk and granola. His favorite food was the bread that my husband bakes daily and Tuffy would eagerly beg for cinnamon toast, rye rolls, French bread and sourdough pancakes.
And so the days passed with both of us keeping constant vigilance on Tuffy. Our largest dog, Smokey, named himself ‘guardian’ and would not let any of our other animals near Tuffy.
As Tuffy’s feathers became longer we realized he was a Black Capped Chickadee and were able to read online about the care and feeding of this wild bird. He was now 2 weeks old and very healthy. We let him fly about the house and as he grew stronger we let him enjoy the outdoors on the screened front porch. He would sing along with the birds outside and spend hours flying about and napping on my gardening hat.
Soon he began singing little tunes that we recognized as Tuffy songs and he would flutter his wings at great speed to show when he was hungry which was often! Although chickadees are not meat eaters, Tuffy continued to demand meat by shaking his cage bars.
At the end of the third week we felt Tuffy was ready to be released back into the wild. It was a beautiful day and Tuffy flew off with a fanfare of photos and sad farewells. Within 2 minutes Tuffy was back on the porch with us, landing up in the patio umbrella where he spent the day. Every day we would get up early and set Tuffy free and every day Tuffy would return to the porch, other times he would fly about for a few hours. Some days he would land in a nearby tree and sing and play, other days he would ride around on David’s straw hat or on his shoulder for hours on end.
If we were inside at lunch or taking a short break from farm work, Tuffy would find the room we were in and begin tapping on the glass. He would do silly acrobatics in the living room window to get our attention and stand on the air conditioner staring in at us until we let him in. Our kitchen window has a wide ledge and Tuffy would sit there watching us while we ate. If we didn’t go out and get him he would fall over, pretending to be hurtuntil we came running out for him when he would hop up and jump on a shoulder to come inside with us. This was one of his favorite ‘tricks’ and he used it almost daily. Tuffy was quite the clown and would perform acrobatics in the house eaves where he knew we could see him.
As he grew bigger and stronger we thought he would meet other chickadee friends and fly off with them but after 2 months Tuffy still flew solo and still wanted in at night.
One day while riding atop David’ straw hat, another chickadee landed right next to Tuffy. I was so excited to see this and we waited with bated breath for this to change Tuffy’s life forever. Tuffy pretended not to even see this other chickadee and actually turned his body away from the other bird as if not recognizing his own species. This was when we realized our mistake in keeping him so close to us. We had never considered that he might not fly away as soon as he was ready. The first 2 weeks he been so needy and then he had so loved being with us it was just natural to let him join in.
I bought him a mirror for his cage and although we tried to wean him from the raw meat, we were unsuccessful. Tuffy would come home thru the day to be fed. We kept his cage on the porch in the shade with food and water and he would pop in during the day for sustenance and in the evenings he would sit on his swing in his cage until we brought him inside with us. Tuffy discovered grapes and melons and fruit immediately became a favorite treat.
David began teaching Tuffy about catching his own food and patiently showed him the basics of Insects 101. He had been bringing Tuffy small flying bugs to eat but it was important that Tuffy catch his own food.
David would take Tuffy on his hand to areas around the yard with moths or flies and Tuffy would half heartedly peck their way but would only eat them when served to him in his cage. He hated flies and would spit them out and wipe his beak off.
So David took Tuffy into the tool shed where insects flitted against the window pane but he was only half-heartedly interested in pursuing them.
One day while Tuffy was in his cage on the kitchen table a small moth flew by and Tuffy turned his head to look. This was a huge step forward. – Tuffy had recognized a food source! The next time Tuffy saw a moth he tried to catch it and from then on he got better and better at catching flying insects.
By week 5 Tuffy was spending his days away from us almost completely. He would come back a few times a day for food and would fly away again until dusk. All through the day Tuffy would sing his little tunes and fly around us, often landing on our hats or shoulders. He would hang out in nearby bushes for hours while we gardened or tended to our animals. He brought so much joy into our lives and our lives pretty much revolved around this tiny bird. People would come by to visit or buy produce and Tuffy would rush out from nowhere to land on their head and greet them. He was quite popular with everyone and enjoyed all the attention.
You are wondering how we knew Tuffy was a male. We didn’t. We just started thinking Tuffy was a boy and always referred to him in the masculine tense.
We found Tuffy in late June. In mid-August Tuffy finally realized who he was. A SHE!!!! We started noticing the males were larger birds and had a light orange breast. Tuffy was noticing them, too. Tuffy, our tough, little rescue is a female and when she knew it was the right time, she flew off with a male Chickadee. For the next few days Tuffy was truly a wild bird, not coming home nights or visiting throughout the day. Each day she would buzz by us at the speed of light, a fast greeting from a busy bird. Then she came to see us with her new friend and mate – she came 2 days in a row. It was surely to show us her new found happiness and life mate. Nothing could have brought us more joy.
Thru the summer we would hear her among the other birds and would know she was doing fine. We have only had a handful of chickadees around feeding here in the past winter months but apparently Tuffy told all her friends about us because the air is constantly alive with these delightful little birds and we have had to put up many more feeders!
Having Tuffy in our lives this summer was so special, so miraculous so profound and it had such a happy outcome. We still hear Tuffy and always respond to her song.
This winter we have seen Tuffy many times. Just yesterday she was performing acrobatics on an icicle hanging from an eave over the living room window. We have no doubt Tuffy keeps a close watch on her ‘family’. It is wonderful to know that we were able to rescue this amazing bird – she is a breath of love and light in this world.