An animal rescue story.
I found Oscar – a baby Swallow – at the edge of a road in a sleepy village along the coast of western France. It was an intensely hot day, not a cloud in the sky to slow down those scorching solar rays, and this little tiny bird had likely suffered them all morning.
I picked him up from the edge of the road. He barely flinched at all and as I attempted to put him in the shade. It was out harms way but still in sight just in case his parents were watching. But after trying to put him down, he wouldn’t leave my hand.
If I tilted my hand one way, he would clamber up to the other side, never taking his eyes off me. I tried this multiple times so I had to document it..
He did not seem injured, and he still had some fluffy feathers on his chest. This is what lead me to believe he was still a youngster. I waited around for about 90 mins without seeing another bird in the sky. At which point I decided he was coming with me. He was not vocal which made me believe he’d been lost a while, and had probably jumped the nest prematurely when he saw all his brothers and sisters taking flight before him.
So! I cleared out my handlebar bag, which was my food bag at the time. I tore up some tissue in a spur of the moment attempt at making a nest or at least some cushioning for the little guy. And after a little bit of bird juggling, I finally managed to get him off of my hand and into his brand new bird box.
It was at this moment I named him Oscar. The french word for bird is ‘Oiseau’ so i gave him a name beginning with an O. Therefore he was dubbed Oscar the Oiseau.
We set off. Oscar made sure to keep a careful eye on me and almost immediately I began thinking ”He’s probably hungry.. What on earth do baby birds eat?…Worms?”
A few kilometers later I was cycling past a field when I decided to lean my bike in the shade and go digging for worms. It was fruitless, wormless I guess you could say. All I found was Ants.
Still, I had to try it though. I singled out 2 or 3 Ants with an empty tub of hummus I was waiting to recycle, apologizing to the colony. I picked one up with the pliers on my multi-tool and offered it to Oscar… He was not interested at all.
I did manage to get him to drink some water droplets from the end of my finger, which was good enough for the time being.
So the ants got to return to their colony and I got back on the saddle.
I asked google and some locals for help with finding a vet or somewhere to take Oscar. But the closest Veterinary centre was hours away by bicycle and I’d never make it before they closed.
It looked like he was stuck with me for the day.
My worry about finding him something to eat grew until I had the idea to look up sports stores. It was kind of a long shot, but maybe they’d have a fishing section. We were near the coast after all.
It was roughly a 20 kilometer ride to closest sports store (an eternity in the midday June sun) but I made it and found a secure place to lock my bicycle in the shade. Then I very nervously left Oscar alone to pace the isles looking for live fishing bait.
It worked! I found live fishing bait in the form of some very colourful maggots and Oscar was delighted. He ate 4 maggots and drank some water in the shade of a tree near the car park of the sports store.
So now it was time to find somewhere to camp for the night. I had passed signs for a campsite on my journey to the store so I figured that was my best bet.
Almost immediately after setting off, Oscar came to life and was clambering up the side of his bird box.. I had no Idea what he was doing but I was scared he was gonna jump out. Stopping as quickly as possible I put my hand out to support Oscar on the edge of his box. He walked very briskly to the other side of my hand and span around, I swooped my free hand under my occupied hand to catch Oscar expecting him to jump or fall off. BUT. The moment I swooped into catch him – he pooped. I caught his poop.
Just as quickly as the commotion erupted, it settled away.
Oscar calmed down, sat back in his bird box and didn’t make a peep until dinner time.
After some more scrummy maggots, another drop or two of water and me falling for the poop trick again, I put Oscars bird box in my tent for a bed and sat down for some bird time (please excuse the borderline sunstroke face – it was a hot day).
He became very excitable and active, then began climbing up my arms and shirt. No matter how many times I put him back in my lap he persisted to climb. So in the end I just left to climb up to my shoulder, which after a few minutes just wasn’t enough. So he scrambled up my neck to sit on my head.
Considering he was so active, and had eaten a lot of food, I thought I’d see what he’d do if he was given a high perch, somewhere to fly from.
Imagining my arm as a branch he stretched and spread his wings, gave himself a little shake and leaped from my hand into the air! He flapped wildly, only to come tumbling down into the soft, spongy grass. He found his feet, gave a little chirp and scuttled back towards me.
I decided to record his next attempt, in hope of catching his first flight on video.
As you can see, he thought about it, but that was enough excitement for one day and he scrabbled back up my arm to his semi-permanent post on my shoulder. Perhaps he was camera shy.
That night he slept in my tent with me and he didn’t make a sound or leave his makeshift bird box. I must say that Oscar was very cute, all curled up in the corner of his box surrounded by tissue.
My first waking movement, as any self-respecting volunteer bird parent would agree, was to lean over and check on Oscar.
His little beady eyes looked back at mine and I just couldn’t help but grin, what an amazing experience this little guy has gifted me!
We were up before the sunrise and Oscar was very patient whilst I packed down my tent and loaded up my bike. He ate a hearty mixed maggot breakfast, drank some water and I didn’t fall for the poop trick this morning! I had learnt my lesson(s).
Oscar had a lot more energy today. I kept watch of him whilst I was panting and peddling, like some sweaty overseer. He appeared to be cleaning himself very thoroughly, later on when I took a breather in the shade I could see that he had stripped himself of all of his fluffy baby feathers. Oscar was now a little man bird.
I continued cycling to the next village and I could see Oscar was becoming restless. I found a small park where I stopped and fed him his lunch. After a quick sip of water I perched him on the handlebars of my metal stallion and gave him some room. Overhead were birds of his kind, flying, chirping and enjoying the early afternoon sun.
Oscar stretched his wings and took flight! He swooped very close to the ground, I thought he wasn’t going to make it at first. But the wind caught his wings and he ascended effortlessly as if he’d flown a thousand times before. I was surprised and shocked (maybe you heard it in my voice..) but I was also proud. Proud of him for trusting me, proud of him for fearlessly trying again, and I will admit that I was a little proud of myself for taking care of something so delicate and wild.
I waited around for two hours just in case Oscar wanted one last easy meal. But hey, if you just found your wings, would you come back?
I couldn’t blame him!
In my mind Oscar is now a Wise Old Bird. Surrounded by noisy Grandchildren, telling them the story of a sun-burnt tourist that became his friend.
For more of my animal adventures, please click here!
Special Thanks to @xt5tourist for taking some great photos of Oscar and I.