Baby Bird Cradled in My Hands


Written by Lana Winter of Ontario, Canada

On a late afternoon last May, my partner and I were walking home from a friend’s house when we saw an older man standing on the sidewalk, looking down at something lying there. As we approached, what we’d thought was perhaps a piece of gum or other small bit of trash started to move: it was a tiny baby bird, completely featherless, with its eyes still sealed shut.

I immediately scooped it up into my hands, and we told the man that we would take it home. It was only then that we realized that he was developmentally disabled, and seemed to have been guarding the little one. He nodded, said “OK!” and walked off, and we just stood there with this tiny, fragile little life cradled in my hands.

For the entire walk home, I think I prayed to every power out there that we’d be able to save the bird. Before we left the area where we’d found him, we had looked around for a nest that it may have fallen out of, but the closest possibility seemed to be an overhang above a storefront, and that was a good 12 feet above our heads. Both sparrows and starlings were flitting around, so we guessed our little foundling was one of those species, but there was no indication of which it was.

He Needed a Nest

Once we got home, we made a little nest for it: just some layers of arctic fleece nestled into a bowl. The wee one nuzzled down into the warmth and got comfortable, as we did our research on how to keep it alive. We found, which offers a comprehensive guide on how to raise baby birds, and we quickly whipped up a baby formula out of soaked, mashed cat kibble, avian vitamins, hard-boiled egg yolk and mashed fruit. We fed that to the bird from the end of a chopstick every 20 minutes as its beak stretched open and it “meeped” plaintively for food.

Not knowing the gender of the bird, we defaulted to calling it “him,” and decided on the gender-neutral name of Robin. According to the starlingtalk website, he only had a 2% chance of surviving, as not only had we found him the day he was hatched, but he had likely been tossed out of the nest because he has a couple of deformities: a club foot, and a twisted wing (probably from having been stuck to the inner membrane of the egg while he was developing). Still, we fed him 3 times/hour for several days, and once his eyes opened and his pin feathers started to develop, we realized he actually had a good chance of surviving, and we started to add more protein to his food, and to only feed him twice an hour.

We Learned His Identity

His feathers developed quickly, and it then became obvious that we had a little House Sparrow on our hands. Though he had difficulty standing because of his deformed foot, he managed pretty well and learned how to compensate and balance. He also turned out to be incredibly affectionate: he’d curl up in the palms of our hands for a nap, or snuggle into the hollow between neck and shoulder while we worked or read on the couch.

After a couple of weeks, our little boy took his first flight, and the sheer joy that poured forth from him was unbelievable. As soon as we’d walk into “his” room, he’d flutter towards our faces, beak wide open as if to say “Mom! Dad! Look at me! Look what I can do!!” and then he’d do his awkward little flap-flight around the room. His twisted wing doesn’t allow him to fly too well, but he can get around a room fairly easily. Since he’s a “special-needs” bird, he wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild, so he’ll be a true house-sparrow for life.

We’ve learned how to communicate quite well, having learned what his different chirps and meeps mean, and he understands most of what we say as well. Once his adult feathers started to come in, we learned that he is indeed a male, and like most human boys, he likes to play with toy trains and balls, and likes to “play-fight” with us. He’s made a little home for himself in a cubbyhole of our Victorian writing-desk, though he also likes to spend time behind a clock on our mantle. He’ll steal broccoli from our soup bowls, loves quinoa, marzipan, and cherries, and will fluff up and meep in delight if we share mango juice with him.

I never imagined I could love something so small so much, but he’s one of the greatest joys in our life, and we are grateful for him every minute of every day.  See More Wonderful Photos of Robin and watch the video below.

Brought to you by The Great Animal Rescue Chase


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Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.5 years ago

I've just read the barn swallow story mentioned further down. I was thinking, - how good to raise a swallow because that can't be easy, and I was so sorry that he didn't make it! But you tried, and he had a second chance at life! Thank you for trying!

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.5 years ago

How lucky you people in North America are to have so many wildlife rehab places! At least it seems that way from the comments here, if you have to take birds there!

House sparrows are in decline in their native country and we certainly aren't plagued by them. I'm pleased to have them join the blue tits and starlings on the feeder in front of my window.

Of all the comments here I especially love the story of the brave cockatiel!

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.5 years ago

Lana, thank you so much for sharing the story of Robin, and what wonderful people you and your partner are! As a life-long bird person, I've seen these little naked hatchlings that fall out of unreachable nests (or nests they were thrown out of, as in Robin's case.) I know they have a very slim chance of living if they are so small. It's the feathered fledgelings that usually make it! I tried, but the only bird I ever raised from such a tender age was Misty the parrakeet.

He had to be hand reared because his mother, Midnight, had six babies, but they hatched at intervals, so she missed the youngest, huddling under his larger nest mates. In the wild, he would have starved to death. As it was, my mother and I were kept very busy, while my father said: 'He'll have to learn it's self-service, not waitress service.' Guess what! He grew up with a preference for my father! He lived happily with us for eight years.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Manuela B.
Manuela B6 years ago

how lovely...

Robert K.
Robert K6 years ago

We just did the exact same thing. The wildlife center told us it was a house sparrow and being a non-native species they refused to take it. We went through the exact same ordeal as the author, except that we used to breed parrots and were already trained in bringing up chicks from the first day, and we had also rescued previous wild birds.

Anyway, we named him/her Icarus as a testament to his flying (hopping) out of the nest. I fell deeply in love with the little guy, but once his down feathers dropped off and his regular feathers came in it became clear that it was a very small robin, and it's illegal to keep robins, so we found a better rescue center and gave him up last week. I was heartbroken, but he is now with a whole bunch of his own kind, and that's what we had planned from the beginning.

When I was 14 I also rescued a robin, but I was able to bring him up in his own nest and for the next 3 years he would return there every spring. Birds are the pinnacle of God's work!

Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago

what a privilege

Tanja Z.
Tanja Zilker6 years ago

a great story

Zana Zatanique
Jan Alexanian6 years ago

Awwwwwwww...what a little heart breaker! Robin is so cute. I'm so happy for all of you, that you happened along that day and chose to help him out. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you have a joyfilled life together.

Maria Angelica P.

Robin, you are my little angel.