The Day Of The Living Goldfinch


Yesterday started off innocently enough with me sitting in the backyard with my coffee and journal when a male goldfinch suddenly landed on the peak of the hibiscus plant about two metres from me, puffing himself up, chirping with bravado and staring me down, with me half expecting him to break into song “Who’s Zooming Who?”.  He moved to the bramble of raspberry canes equidistant from me and then to the top of the railing of the steps that lead to the basement within reach of me.

I looked backed at him and grunted, “hmmm, show off”.

He continued his display, landing strategically and behaving boldly.

Not long after, the female landed on the wires that lead from the house to whatever or wherever it is those wires lead to. Her behaviour was far from demure with her head turning frantically. She was anxious. I looked up from my journal and mumbled, half way between talking to myself and addressing an audience, “what’s wrong?”.

“How can I help?”.

One of the many great lessons I have learned from my parents is to look around because there’s so much to see.

Something caught my eye on the post that after almost 60 years, continues to haphazardly support the awning my father built that connects the house to the shed. The post has transformed into something otherworldly, a hybrid of an extended two by four and decades of familial ivy. Something about the size of a toonie (the Canadian two dollar coin) was shaking back and forth inside the tangles of the vine. Something that said to me; “alert”.

I reclined further back in the Muskoka chair in which I was already comfortably reclined to get a better look.  For some reason, my first thought was that it was going to be some strange and large insect that had evolved in such a way that camouflaging into old ivy vines had become a successful trait for survival.

Due to the nature of large insects and my cautious nature thereof, I proceeded slowly to examine the beast within the vines.

I was surprised to see a very juvenile goldfinch had gotten himself tangled up in the mess of things. I moved closer to junior and could see that he was pretty fresh from hatching. He wasn’t an attractive creature, but with his tuft of feathers on his head, his fragility, he was really quite beautiful  in a vulnerable kind of way.

I enjoyed the moment of resolution. This explained the behaviour of the adults and what I was experiencing now was a day in the life of a juvenile goldfinch. I had that feeling of “problem solved” for a moment and then the feeling evolved into something else. This day is going to be a problem for the juvenile, and then the dialogue goes internal; how can I actually help, how can I not mess with nature,  how can I not get in the way of what was just another day in the life of parenting.

How can I be part of the solution and not part of the problem?

I seem to recall that it’s not always a good idea to handle juvenile birds because their parents may abandon them; I am not too sure where that notion came from, but something told me that cradling the bird in my hands and feeding him raspberry pabulum and serving water out of a thimble may not be the best longterm strategy.

Whether I liked it or not, he’s going to have to make it on his own.

I get that.

I decided to let nature take its course but also to check-in intermittently. I knew there were little things I could do; keep him from getting tangled up again because his little legs seem to be barely attached to his tiny body and I had a vision of them popping off as he tried to disencumber himself.  I also wanted to make sure that my presence didn’t add to the distress of the parents and I also wanted to be on guard for cats and for raptors.

My job description was now defined.

Just doing my bit and as the day went on, junior climbed his way up the pole and through the vine.  For a moment I thought, now this is when I should be Tweeting, but I couldn’t think of anything to Tweet when the juvenile goldfinch was chirping so splendidly and could out-tweet me with his wings in his back pocket.

I went out to run an errand and came back a few hours and couldn’t find the little bird who had fallen out of his nest.  At this point, I decided to name him Virgil.  He was so much more deserving than an “it”.

The adult goldfinches had returned and were making quite a fuss and behaving rather anxiously. I looked around. I listened. It truly is amazing how much there is to see and hear out there. Virgil has somehow made himself into the shed and was at the front corner where one of the planks of the beloved shed had fallen off, not through neglect but in the spirit of being rustic, it had never been replaced.  Virgil’s mother, unaccustomed to having to fly down and under was having quite the dilemma over how to feed Virgil but I was pleased when I looked over and could see Virgil puffed up and proud with his Mother on the floor of the shed feeding him.  All was well as well as it could be and soon night would descend.

I was concerned about Virgil and how he would make it through the night. For him, the world would probably be a scary place for that night and I get that. I feel that way sometimes too.

There really wasn’t much more I could do, nor is there much anyone can do in some situations other than hope for the best.

This morning I woke up early, did a quick check, fearful that when I looked into the shed I’d see a set of legs and nothing else or a few feathers and a grinning cat. The coast was clear. I went to the farmer’s market to get fresh corn and haven’t seen Virgil since.

For a young bird, the first few days of life are the toughest, the chances or survival are slim. If Virgil could make it through the night, I felt comfort that he would mature and eventually find his way on his migratory path this fall and I was somewhat envious that Virgil would be wintering down south while I remained in Canada.

Good for you, Virgil. Good for you.

I  was hoping to have another sighting of Virgil today for reassurance. No harm, no foul.

I did hear a much louder but very similar peeping today from the maple tree so I am going with the notion that Virgil has built up strength through food, through attention and support through the night and through time.

I didn’t intend on having a moral to this story, however, perhaps there is one.

If we all found a little bit more love in our heart and directed it to another person, or to ourselves or to nature then the world just might be a better place.

You’ll see.

13 thoughts on “The Day Of The Living Goldfinch

  1. Hello Harlon,
    For me reading this was a “defining” article. I could see through your eyes, it would seem; and for that I am grateful.
    Little/teenage Virgil, whether in Canada or down South, hopefully gets to continue his journey. It’s a good thing that you didn’t interfere, having had the knowledge
    of the possibility of the mother’s rejection thereafter. I appreciated your choice of checking-in intermittently, and your reasons for it. I love the rustic shed and the decades of familial ivy.
    Proud of Virgil, happy for your Mudita.


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