“Mummy, there’s a baby penguin in the backyard.” He was standing with his nose squashed against the window, his eyes fixed as he bellowed again. “Penguin!”
I turned away from the dishes and saw that he was right. Or half-right. There was a penguin-ish little bird hopping about on our patio. Webbed-footed, grey and fuzzy with black spots and bright eyes. But penguins don’t frequent Cardiff. Besides, penguins stand upright, don’t they, and this little fellow was squatter. More like a duck, I thought. And then I heard them calling.
Above our house, the sky was full of seagulls, screeching and tearing the sky with their calls. Down on our patio, the small bird looked up and peeped.
“See, Mummy? He’s cute. Can he be our wild thing for today?”
Over the month of June, we’d been participating in the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild Challenge. Each day, we committed to do – or see or find – something wild. It didn’t need to be ambitious; it could be something right on our doorstep. The point was to notice. The month started with the arrival of a cheeky fledgling blackbird in our garden. His parents were attentive and kept him supplied with beetles and fleshy-looking bits that the kids thought might have been slug, and we watched as he fluttered about.
A perfect start for a “noticing” month.
Throughout the month, they noticed interesting spider webs, snails and feathers, ladybug larva on a tree trunk and the strange shape of rainclouds before a storm. And now, halfway through the month, another fledgling. This time, it was only Plum and me at home, and I worried that this might be the beginning of a different kind of wild story.
This little bird was not ready to fly. He was too young and too fuzzy. I watched the parents wheeling fiercely in the sky overhead, but neither of them ventured down into the garden. I wasn’t even sure they could see the chick. It was one of those shockingly hot days when the patio stones were baking hot, and his feet were black, leathery and soft.
I googled baby seagull backyard and found out that this happens all the time. In the wild, chicks often fall from their cliffside nests and their parents will feed them on the rocky beach below. In cities, gulls nest on rooftops and people find fallen chicks in their gardens. The advice was to leave chicks alone. If a parent spots you trying to help, they will divebomb and attack.
From the racket they were making, I could believe it. But it was such a hot day and I couldn’t do nothing. I filled a saucer with water and slid it out the door, hoping that the little thing would have the sense to drink. The adults still screamed, but stayed where they were.
Worry and wonder
I worried that the chick had no way of leaving the garden. That even if the parents spotted it, they wouldn’t be able to move it. That we would find it later, motionless and covered in flies.
I’d need to explain it to the kids. And they might want to bury it, but we only have patio stones in the garden, and gravel and flower pots. No proper soil to dig. I wondered if they would want a funeral. A prayer, maybe? What words would soothe this?
When Plum and I left for nursery, the gulls overhead still screeched. I walked home slowly, worrying and wondering what to do. But when I came back to the garden, the chick was nowhere to be seen and the adults had stopped their weeping. The garden was quiet and empty again.
I could spin so many metaphors from this little story. It all felt like a parable. The prodigal son and the birds of the air and Talitha Koum and Lazarus all in one.
I would have liked to see the rescue. I would have like to see how the seagulls managed it. I like a good rescue story. But sometimes, perhaps, all we are asked to do is notice.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matt. 10: 29).