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A bird in the hand brings a Disney wildlife moment

Call me Pollyanna, but I much prefer that all wildlife adventures reflect a Disney mentality rather than the grim realities of the Discovery channel.

I watch real-life nature shows anxiously peering though splayed fingers, my other hand poised on the remote, ready to change the channel at the first sign of danger edging toward baby meerkats, seal pups or other wildlife innocents.

I know my denial borders on the delusional. And I've witnessed Mother Nature being less than maternal. Living on the banks of the Rogue River, I see bad things happen to baby critters on a regular basis. And simply switching television channels doesn't fix it.

But sometimes, when you least expect it, life gives you a Disney moment.

My niece Heather and her hound, Bella, came over for a visit the other weekend. As Bella made several fast laps around the lawn, Heather and I headed for seats out by the river.

"She loves it here," Heather said.

We were laughing at the dog's antics when suddenly Bella went streaking off diagonally across the lawn, making a beeline for the butterfly bushes. Afraid there might be a duck nest in the big shrubs, I tried to call her off. But instead of stopping, Bella raced on. And, to our horror, she jumped straight over the retaining wall before tumbling down into the cement-strewn banks about 15 feet below.


Heather screamed and raced for the boat launch. I raced over to Bella's launching point, fearing the worst. There are several old tree stumps now exposed since the Savage Rapids Dam removal rendered that section of the river no longer a "lake." Sharp spears of wood jut up from the muddy banks once buried under deep water.

But except for a slight abrasion on her chest and a nick on her right hind foot, Bella was unscathed. Heather reached down and hauled her back up to safety with the superhuman strength only an adrenaline-laced momma can know. I applied a disinfectant to Bella's boo-boos as Heather stroked her beloved hound.

Disaster averted. Phew.

That's when Heather saw the pink blob laying prostrate on the ground.

"Oooh!" she said, pointing. "What is THAT?"

I thought surely the baby bird was dead. But when I picked it up, the warm little creature raised a wobbly head and opened a yellow-trimmed beak. Not a sound came out. Only a day or two old. I knew the baby's only hope was to get back into its nest. But which nest?

I pointed out the four occupied nest boxes to Heather. Two are inhabited by sparrows, the others by swallows, I said.

"I don't know if he's a baby swallow or a baby sparrow. But if we put him back in the wrong nest, he's toast," I said.

Closest to the scene was a green birdhouse occupied by sparrows, the likeliest nest. But across the yard, a group of swallows swooped and chittered and fussed around the entrance of the old brown birdhouse under the eaves of my art studio.

"Look at them," said Heather. "They're really upset."

Pulling that box down carefully, I tried to peek inside with a flashlight. I couldn't see a thing. I also didn't hear any peeping.

But I gently rolled the baby into the opening and put the box back.

"He'll be fine," Heather said. "The parents will come back."

Later that day, not seeing any more action around the nest, I worried I'd simply condemned the baby to a lonely, slow death. The thought haunted me.

The next evening, while watering near the studio, I spied two swallows sitting up on the telephone lines.

"Oh please. Oh please," I whispered.

With a graceful swoop, one of the adult swallows glided soundlessly into the nest box. I held my breath, and the next thing I heard was the piping of a hungry baby bird.

My eyes filled. My heart lifted. And I called Heather.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.