Natural inventiveness is absolutely a must when dealing with wild animals in need because to be successful, we must often improvise. This was the case when a young swallow, found in woods close to farmland, was brought to my house. The bird would not accept anything so when the young couple who found him arrived on my doorstep, they and the little bird were all desperate. What they didn’t know was that swallows feed on the wing. They fly very fast, often swooping low while chasing insects. And so, faced with such a challenge, I had to put on my innovator’s cap. I placed the youngster on my shoulder and tentatively we entered the garden. Low flight had to be simulated by my somewhat ungainly gallop through the bushes, eyes peeled for anything moving. As soon as I spotted an insect, mostly I am ashamed to say spiders, I would call excitedly: “Here, here!”and hold the web for Beady Eye. He would surge forward at the speed of lightning and grab the offering. By the end of the first session, he ate just about everything in this part of the garden, and the little fellow was full and happy. That night he would not settle in a carton box, lined with a blanket and with a branch propped up in the corner. As he was loudly scratching the sides of the box , there was nothing for it but to put him on my shoulder and settle in my bed. Immediately he moved onto my head and made himself comfortable in an improvised “nest” he had fashioned from my hair. That way we could both get some sleep.
During the next three weeks, passers-by and all my neighbours became convinced that I had finally flipped. From early morning till dusk, with only small rest periods, I could be seen tearing around the garden in my dishevelled and torn rags, my hair wild, seemingly talking to myself. From a distance nobody could see the reason for my madness – a little exquisite bird nuzzling my neck. In the course of those weeks, we became firm friends, and I learned that he was as clever as he was beautiful. He would deftly remove an insect from the tips of my closed fingers although he wasn’t to know what was there. When tired he would walk up my neck, over my ear, and settle on top of my head to warm his feet in my hair. Sometimes we would stroll downtown to a local supermarket, with Beady Eye nonchalantly perched on my shoulder, and purchase a few ounces of prime Angus fillet steak mince, which he adored to devour, sprinkled for maximum potency with powdered vitamins. The staff and all the other customers would smile at seeing him. In case you are wondering what was wrong with him, let me tell you nothing apart from a bruised wing when he fell from his nest. During his time with me, he was absolutely free, and this was the reason why our partnership was so successful. When after two weeks he started practising a little flying across the room, I knew that he was going to leave soon, and I was happy for him. On the day before his last with me, he suddenly took off during our gardening session and disappeared. I stayed in the garden, a little sad (no goodbye), and hopeful at the same time. Forty-five minutes passed and suddenly I heard a joyous, silvery trill just behind me. I turned and there, in all his finery, sat Beady Eye on the washing line, singing his greeting. When I approached him, he jumped onto my shoulder as if nothing had happened, and together we strolled to the kitchen for a helping of steak. The next day, he was gone again, this time it was for good. Summer was ending and chattering groups of swallows were gathering on the telephone wires preparing for migration in a few weeks’ time. Looking at the sky I could only wish him all the good luck possible.