Father Of The Year

Father Of The Year
Sarah Mankowski

I could hear a frantic flapping when my neighbor placed the shoebox into my hands. He had found the fledgling cardinal on the road. She was lost and frightened, and it would be impossible to locate the nest in the dark. Could I look after her? What could I do? The wildlife hospital is nearly 30 miles away. Since the cardinal appeared unharmed, I decided to keep her overnight. She seemed content to drink water from my finger, and soon fell asleep in her makeshift nest.

The following morning the eager, gaping mouth devoured bits of raw hamburger from my finger. But how inadequate I felt in the role of mamma cardinal. If I were careful, and lucky, I might keep her alive, but she needed her family!

Where was the nest?

My son and I took her out onto the screened back porch, to let her flap her wings a bit, before taking her on the long drive to the wildlife hospital. Since we could not locate her parents, we needed to get her into the hands of people who were properly trained to look after wild birds.

She didn’t seem interested in flapping her wings. She sat on my finger, silent, alert.

Then she began a steady, persistent chirp. After a few minutes I heard an answering chirp, and then, to my astonishment, I saw the bright red wings. The father circled the yard a few times, each time circling closer to the porch, always answering his frightened daughter’s chirps.

He settled in a nearby tree and I placed the fledgling on a lower branch. We backed off and watched, ready to assist if she should fall. She did not fall. She sat quietly, waiting for her father to come to her. He made peculiar sounds as he approached, some sort of mysterious, cardinal communication, assuring his daughter that all was well.

He lit on the branch directly in front of her, flapping his wings, urging her to do the same. Within a matter of minutes, father and daughter had vanished into the upper branches.

The father didn’t try to coax her back to the nest. He seemed to understand her limitations. I suppose he found some suitable spot in the vicinity, among the higher branches. During the week that followed we saw him frequently, foraging for insects. Since that day, both the father and mother are often seen at the feeder. And the fledgling? I suppose I wouldn’t recognize her, nor would she recognize me.

I will never forget the frightened fledgling and the devoted father. During those brief moments he exhibited every characteristic necessary to be a wonderful father. He came quickly when he heard his daughter’s cry. He comforted her fears, and with gentle persistence he taught her how to fly.

UPDATE: One evening, a few weeks after we returned the fledgling to the father, we were astonished to see both parents and daughter foraging in the herb garden, right outside our living room window. They hung around until it was almost dark, while we watched with joy. She really was ok!

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