Nest friends for life: Rescued bird is free, but stands by her man
She was just a little pink puff of next to nothing — featherless, helpless, her eyes not even open yet.
Paul Sanders noticed her outside Elite Care, where he’s a physical therapist. In a rare instance of gravity being kind, the tiny sparrow had fallen on a two-by-two foot rubber mat instead of the surrounding rock and cacti. Sanders glanced up and saw a small nest spilling from the gutter more than 12 feet above his head.
She was so fragile, so tiny, with no mother bird hovering over her. And he’d tried this many times before, helping an abandoned or injured bird, only for it to die because it was just too delicate, too gossamer a thing.
But “I just had a feeling,” he remembered. “Sometimes you just do, you know? She was special.”
So, he walked next door to Sonic and got a 16-ounce styrofoam cup and some napkins, which he layered as padding in the bottom of the cup. Then, with the lightest of touches, Paul, 35, picked her up, put her in the cup and took her to his Grand Junction home.
He didn’t know how long she’d been on the mat, but since she was so young and tiny — and luckily uninjured — he figured she was hungry. Borrowing some food from his dog, Buddy, whom he’d found on the side of the road near Houston, Texas, he mixed it with water, heated it in the microwave and fed her with a toothpick.
He named her Lucky.
In those first days, he repeated the dog-food-on-a-toothpick routine every 40 minutes. At that time in early May, he’d just started seeing a woman and he remembers having dinner with her at a Main Street restaurant. Several times during dinner, he dashed out to his car to feed Lucky, who he’d brought along in a box.
And this time, with this bird, it was working. Lucky began sprouting feathers and within six weeks was fully feathered. Wherever he went Paul took her along — on a camping trip to Telluride in June, he brought Lucky in a beer box.
She perched on his finger like a round little Buddha and sometimes in the evening, when it was just Paul, Lucky and Buddy at home, she alighted on his head.
“It was really nice to have her around,” said Paul, who grew up in Newbury Park, Calif., and has always loved animals. He cut up carrots and broccoli for her, experimenting with what she’d like to eat (she didn’t want the lavender, it turned out), finally learning that parakeet food from Walgreens was her choice.
It was a fine line, taking care of her but trying not to let her be too dependent on him so that she couldn’t survive outside. Because she’d been doing some experimenting of her own, with flying.
One day in summer, Paul doesn’t remember exactly when but probably about three months after he’d found her, she flew off to the balcony of the apartment next door and didn’t come back for six hours — and she was so thirsty when she did.
After that first foray into the semi-wild, it became the routine. Paul leaves the glass doors to his apartment’s balcony open when he leaves for work, and Lucky flies out at about 8:30 a.m. She flies back in for a little nibble of lunch, which Paul leaves on a tray on the kitchen counter, leaves again, then returns for the evening around 5:30 or 6.
“It makes me happy that she can survive outside, that she hasn’t become too tame,” Paul said. “I know it may bother some people that it’s a sparrow, it’s a non-native species, she’s too tame, but… she’s really great.”
She spends the night in the living room’s square ceiling light fixture — Paul laughingly admits that he has to clean it out often — and makes free to perch on the kitchen lights, the back of the couch, near Buddy, wherever.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when the weather starts getting cold,” he admitted. “Maybe I can leave the patio door open a crack? I guess we’ll figure it out.”
And with that, lucky little Lucky flew up to her perch on the edge of the light, peeping down over the edge at her Buddy and her Paul.