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SIX DAYS OF CEDRIC
May 25, 1997   by Lady Barbara Hall
 

I often wonder what it is that propels me around this huge conference-center farm where I am the Head Gardener. I'll be doing something, and it suddenly occurs to me to go do something else. More often than not, that something takes me to a place just in time to see something that needs to be seen.

Such was the case on Monday, when it occurred to me to walk all the way down to my house for something insignificant, perhaps a bottle of seltzer. I came in the bottom door from my front porch, and although I was going to walk back up the same way, for some reason I went out my side door.

There, at my feet on the side porch was a small bird lying on its back with its feet up, but breathing. My first thought was "Oh, no." I figured it had hit my glass door and had broken its neck and I would have to witness its death. I picked it up gently and cradled it in my hand whereupon it turned its head around and looked at me. I figured at this point it would fly out of my hands and all would be miraculously well.......

No, it lay quietly in my hand. What a neat little creature it was. Its shiny black eyes resided in a velvet black mask across its face. It was sort of grayish-brown and had yellow tips on its tail feathers. I turned it over gently to see if it would flap its wings and still it lay quietly. It had amazing red tips on the mid-feathers of its wings, and I had no idea what it was. cedric1

So I went looking for Butch, our resident canary-raiser. Butch would know what to do. I stroked its head and smoothed its wing feathers and marveled at how content it seemed in my hand. I carried it around while I went looking for Butch and Whitey. They came by in the truck and I handed the bird to Butch who handled it with great confidence, but much less gently than I did. He checked out its wings and legs and said it seemed fine, nothing seemed broken, it was probably just stunned and if I let it go it would fly away after awhile. None of the three of us could figure out what kind of bird it was.

So I went up to the apple orchard, bird in one hand and bird book in the other, to show it to Michael, my gardening assistant. I gave Michael the book to try to find out what this little guy was and we looked at it carefully and marveled at its wonderful mask. It seemed pretty alert and Michael laughed at how very comfortable it seemed to be in my hand. Now we just couldn't match a single picture with the bird in my hand, so I went up to show it to Judy who is our most avid bird-watcher. She knew right away that it was a Cedar Waxwing. The picture in HER book looked just like him. She told me a very interesting thing that Cedar Waxwings have been seen doing which is to line up along a branch and pass a berry, a crabapple or even an apple blossom from one bird to another all the way down the branch 'til one of them eats it. How neat.

Judy got right on the phone to the Taconic Outdoor Education Center to talk to someone who knew about rehabilitating wild birds and the assumption was the same as Butch's. It was probably just stunned and would fly away when it got itself together. It was suggested that I just leave it outside, but both Judy and I felt better about putting it in a box turned on its side so it would have some protection until it felt well enough to fly away. The man on the phone said I might get it to take some water, but I'd probably never get it to eat anything.

We clucked over it and stroked its feathers so very gently, with great wonder at the treasure of being able to touch a bird. All day long they fly around us and perch at the feeders, but we may not touch them, no matter how soft and shimmery and wonderful they look. This little guy lay contentedly in my hand, not the least bit bothered at the gentle, gentle stroking.

cedric3

So. I set up a box on its side, made a bit of a resting nest from a dish towel, put a jar-lid full of water near the bird and went up to finish my work day, sure the box would be empty by the time I returned.

As I said, I am never quite sure what it is that propels me around the farm, but didn't I come back just at the very moment that the little Cedar Waxwing decided to try its wings and fly from the table on my back deck.

Fly he did, but he came in for a spectacular crash landing all sprawled out on the lawn. Uh-oh, something's wrong. I gathered him up in my hands and put him back in the box only to see that his legs didn't work. He couldn't stand up at all. Oh no, what good is flying if you cannot land. OK, forget being outside, you'll be Purina Hawk Chow in no time.

So I brought him back in and I put the box on the living room floor. Pretty much every time I left the room and came back, the box was empty and the poor bird was crash-landed behind the spinning wheel, or off in a corner behind a chair. This was getting truly difficult, he was really going to hurt himself.

I gathered him up yet again and held him in my hands to have a talk with him. He lay on his back in my left hand watching me carefully as I gently checked out his feet with my finger. His right leg had the tiniest bit of resistance to it, but his left leg was utterly limp. I looked back at his face and he was fast asleep in my hand.
Would you look at this, he's sound asleep on his back in my hand. I just sat there watching him sleep, breathing so quickly as I suppose birds do. What a treasure. In a few moments he wakes up suddenly, looks at me in some astonishment, blinks a few times and then rests his head against my finger and goes back to sleep. This is just too amazing.

I lay him down in his dishtowel nest and go to try to figure out what I may be able to get him to eat or drink. I remember how the Cedar Waxwings cleaned off the cherry tree near Judy's house and how they feasted on the tiny crabapples in the rose yard, so I chopped up some raisins and soaked them in water, hoping he might eat. That Monday night I actually got him to take just a few tiny sips of raisin water from a spoon.

 
cedric2

Next morning of course he's out of the box again, flapping around on the floor, but there's a bird 'dropping' in the dish towel, that's progress. He drinks a little more raisin water from the spoon, but he won't eat any of the raisins. I soon realize that I cannot leave a food or water dish in the box with him because with all his flapping about, he just crashes through it and gets raisin water all over himself. His stomach feathers are all sticky, so I wet a tissue and wash him off.

I get Butch to come take a look at him again and with careful, thorough checking Butch wishes he could tell me he feels a break in either leg, but he doesn't. A broken leg would be easy to heal. This must be a back or hip injury. Butch assures me that if he can even get one leg working so he can hop and perch, he'll be fine.

At this point I have GOT to get him to stop crashing around the living room, so I put a plastic milk carton over him. I feel so sad for him, how he must miss flying around outdoors. It seems so dark on the living room floor. I decide to call him Cedric (what else does one call a Cedar Waxwing) and leave the CD player on for him while I go off to work. He seems most calm when I have the Loreena McKennitt CD on, her voice is very soft and sweet and there's not a lot of percussion.

I come back to the house every few hours to offer him more raisin water from a spoon which he is drinking well now. Finally by Tuesday afternoon he eats a tiny piece of raisin. I am elated. Still he spends part of my lunch hour napping on his back in my
hand. I watch him sleep, his eyes closing from the bottom up. I am sure he is dreaming as I can feel the tiniest quivers in his wings and his little beak opens and closes every so often. (Rapid Beak Movements?) But I realize what a responsibility I have "on my hands" as it were. He is totally dependent on me for every drop of water. He canít stand up, he canít feed himself. I have to hold him upright in my left hand and offer him the spoon with my right. I give him time every day to flap around on the floor and with each day he can propel himself farther across the floor with his wings, but always dragging his legs behind him. I do see him tuck each leg under him from time to time, but they just have no strength. He gets to where he can actually hold his chest up off the floor by holding his wings out in front of him and pushing up. He struggles and flaps and sometimes rolls completely over in his valiant attempts to move around, and then puts his little head down in utter exhaustion and my heart breaks for him. So I gather him up once more and let him nap in my hand. What a wonderful heart he has.

I move him to the top of the wool-drying rack where he's at least near the window. I tried to put his whole 'cage' outdoors, but he went crazy with wanting to fly away, and that seemed cruel. Every day he eats more and more fruit from the spoon. I am now making quite the fruit salad with raisins, cranberries, melon and strawberries and he seems very fond of pineapple juice.

I don't know how I'll ever be able to make him well. He may have truly damaged his spine, he may never be able to fly away at all. But I keep hoping and watch carefully and he truly does seem to be getting stronger every day. I know the right leg is pushing back against my finger better each day, but the left leg is still very weak.

At every feeding he takes more and more fruit and I get to where I can tell, when he stops eating and looks like a thoughtful two-year-old, and the tail and feet begin to twitch, that I'd better get a paper towel under him, he's about to eject a load. This exercise keeps us from having quite so many messed up dishtowels, which I have been running through the washing machine at an alarming rate.

One by one the other folks on the farm come to visit him and everyone marvels at the fact that this little bird will let me hold him while he eats and drinks from a spoon. While others will reach out ever so gently and stroke him, no one else asks to hold him and I'm glad, we have quite a bond going here.

One friend, who got lost hiking in the woods and wound up at the Farm totally by accident does a good deal of hands-on healing. After softly saying "Wow" quite a number of times as he watched how comfy Mr. Cedric was in my hands, he was willing to hover his left hand over the bird as I held him in my left hand. The energy vibration between our hands was truly amazing and he said he could feel quite a flutter in the hum, which meant a pretty serious injury. I told him I didn't know what else to do, so a couple of times a day I just hold Cedric in my left hand and run energy through him with my right. Who knows, it just might work.

Saturday was quite the enchanted day, with lots of visitors, and many feedings. My friend Heidi was here for most of the day and took photos of Cedric eating from the spoon and sleeping in my hand. He was becoming such a presence in my life (and living room) that I rather needed Heidi to remind me that it was pretty amazing that I was off-handedly cleaning pineapple juice from the chin of a wild bird with a tissue.

Any number of times I had come in to find that he had propelled himself to the side of the milk crate and had his beak sticking out one of the holes. This gave me an idea of how he might be able to feed himself. I managed to set up two jar-lids like stair-steps right at one of the openings so the lid itself stayed outside the milk crate wall but he could reach the food and water. He struggled and aimed himself and panted and flapped and I nearly cried when he maneuvered himself to that very opening and triumphantly fed himself, but I couldn't watch him for too long. All that struggling and flapping was painful to see.

Heidi and I planted a wonderful spiral of Anasazi corn out in the big vegetable garden, taking every opportunity for returning to the house to see that Cedric had more food and water. When we were all done, I actually carried him out onto the deck and we sat talking as he napped and looked around. She kept saying over and over "Do you have any idea how amazing this is?"

I put him back in his cage while we ate dinner and I asked that she go check on him to see if he was asleep. She came back to the kitchen reporting that he had his head turned around and his beak tucked into his feathers. I told her I had come to know that that meant he was down for the night.

After she left I quietly took a flashlight to check on him once more without waking him. He had fallen asleep like a little kid who had played too much, rather mid-struggle. His wings were all askew and he was scrunched up against the side of the cage. I reached in and woke him up and tried to lay him down in the dishtowel nest. He was very startled at being awakened from his true night's sleep. I had to put him on his back in my hand once more to settle him down. I got him into his nest and went up to bed.

For some reason I came back down and checked on him once more. Now he was contentedly lying on his back, breathing his quick little bird breaths. Goodnight, Cedric.

Sunday morning I allowed myself much lounging around in bed, knowing I would go down and feed him at the first sound of a flap. I was continually astonished at having been able to hear him up here in the bedroom, but all week it was the sound that would awaken me at 5:30.

Ah, there it was, wings against the cage. I hopped out of bed and came downstairs wishing him a good morning before I entered the room. I walked up to his cage but didn't see him look up.

I peered into the cage. He still didn't look up. His little chest wasn't moving with tiny bird breaths. Oh no, it can't be. I lifted the milk crate and the instant I touched him I knew he had died. How could he have died? He was doing so well. If he was so cold, what was the sound that had awakened me?

I picked him up and cradled him in my hands, even hoping that I could warm him back to life with my touch and I cried. Of course I cried. He had died in his sleep, his eyes were closed and his wings calmly folded. He lay in my hand as he had so often this week, but he didn't dream and he didn't move and he didn't look up at me. I sat there a long time and wept. What a dear, dear treasure he had been.

The heartbreaking saddness was tempered by just a thread of relief at the lifting of the heavy responsibility of having a living creature depending on me for his very existence.

Cedric had had a very good six days. A very rich and rewarding and magical six days. My life is truly blessed for having been touched by a small bird.

My first thought was to bury him in the center of the spiral Anasazi corn field. It seemed like the perfect thing to do.

In the drizzling Sunday morning I decided to go sweep off my front porch. As I finished and stood looking across the road at the wetlands, I saw three Cedar Waxwings in the cherry tree just across from my house. Amazing. I had been looking for any more of them since Cedric had come to me because they are truly flock birds, but had seen none. These three birds sat in the tree in a perfect triangle, which would have been a perfect square if the fourth one had been there. I leaned against the porch pillar and let myself cry again. I watched them for the longest time and thought to them "I am so
sorry, I tried to make him well so he could fly away, I really tried."

Suddenly the bird perching above the empty space flew off very quickly. Perhaps it was his mate. The other two stayed awhile longer and flew off into the wetland. I knew then that I would not bury him in the cornfield. I would just lay him down in the wetland.

It was so hard to hold him in my hand one last time. I was glad Whitey came by in the truck as I was going out so I could tell someone that Cedric had died.

I laid him down in a beautiful soft tuft of wetland grass on his back. He looked very beautiful and peaceful. I will see him everytime I walk through the wetland path and he will slowly disappear as Nature takes him back. That's as it should be. I kept one red-tipped feather.

I'm sure there are some tears left,

he was very, very dear.

He was truly an amazing gift

as so many things are these days.

 

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