I wasn’t sure if it was the sudden rush of air on my face, or the gentle pressure on my chest that first alerted me to another presence in the room. I froze, wondering if an intruder had broken in and I was about to end up in one of those Netflix specials about unsolved crimes, with the whole world gorging on the horrific details of my violent demise. Then a more likely explanation halted my tachycardia. I opened my eyes. Two intense fiery orbs stared into mine. “Finally,” they seemed to accuse, “I’m starving!”
Many years earlier, my toddlers had unique ways of waking me. My eldest would gently stroke my cheek. The middle child would fiddle with my earlobes, and the youngest would play with my hair braid. In some ways, caring for a nocturnal chick was a similar experience to nurturing a human baby. There is utter joy in watching their development, anxiety about their safety, killer sleep deprivation, endless poop to clean up, and unconditional love and affection. I never fed my children mice, spiders and insects though. Well, apart from the year of the great flour-weevil infestation, when my baked goods had added crunch.
For around two months, I had the extraordinary privilege of co-parenting a tawny frogmouth chick.
Much smaller and weaker than her two older siblings, she was found shivering and close to death on the ground after fledging far too early during several weeks of unseasonably stormy weather and heavy rain.
I learned many things during my time caring for this fluffball. She also made me laugh on a daily basis.
These birds are often known for their disapproving fierce stare, but I found her to be the most gentle and affectionate creature I’ve cared for.
When Tawny returned to the wild permanently, I was left with mixed feelings. I feared she’d become roadkill like so many of her kind that are drawn to flying insects in headlight beams, or that she’d end up as dinner for a marauding neighbourhood cat. Loving a wild creature means allowing them freedom though, just as we give our human loved ones the freedom to leave if they desire. They may no longer be with us, but the special memories of time spent together remain.
Eventually, I’ll share more details of our time together, but for now I’ll conclude by saying I benefitted just as much from the relationship as she did, if not more. In the words of songwriter, Chip Taylor:
“Wild thing…you make my heart sing.”