Riley the Rollerblade Bird

Jun 30, 2020 | Nature & My Gardens

I was so stunned, I didn’t even think to take pictures.

We had been on vacation for a week. My daughter had left her Rollerblades on a chair on our back porch; they’d been there for weeks, if not months, and she had outgrown them. I should have simply thrown them out, I suppose. But it is said that everything happens for a reason, and apparently I’d left them there so that a Carolina Wren could build her nest and lay her eggs in one of them.

Unfortunately, she didn’t build a barrier against the downward slope of the skate opening, and one of the eggs had rolled out and lay smashed on the concrete. Another had hatched, only to wriggle out of the safety of the nest and onto the chair. But at the very edge of the opening, a tiny bird still struggled to live. Precariously caught up in the nest, but wriggling towards its doom, this little bird was clearly hungry and thirsty. Mom was nowhere in sight.

The thing wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t cute, adorable, charming, sweet – the only adjectives that came to mind were hideous, pitiful, pathetic, and not long for this world. Where was its mother? Had she given up at the loss of the first two? I went back inside and waited. Now and then, I looked out to see if I could catch a glimpse of her, for surely she’d come back to feed her baby if she was anywhere nearby.

Nearly 24 hours passed. It’s hot here in July. That this little bird survived so long without food and water, that it continued to struggle with such determination, convinced me that I had to do something. But what? What do I know about rescuing a baby bird, particularly one that looks like a preemie? I found a shoebox and lined it with grass and leaves. I put it on a heating pad, set to Low. I carefully lifted the creature, which by now we’d dubbed “Riley the Rollerblade Bird,” and laid it in the box. I could see its heart and stomach and other organs through the translucent skin of its tiny belly. The thing wasn’t even as large as my thumb. What did I think I was doing?

I mashed up some fresh plums and a little distilled water. Probably a bad idea, but it was dehydrated and if it opened its little beak any further, I thought, it would swallow its own head. (I learned later that it’s a miracle I didn’t kill it trying to give it water and fruit; Carolina Wrens need a very special diet containing certain enzymes that only the mother herself, or specially-trained wildlife rescuers, can provide. And one drop of water gone astray would have gone straight into the bird’s lungs, drowning it or paving the way for an upper respiratory infection that would likely kill it.) I bought mealworms from PetsMart, chopped them up as fine as I could, and tried to offer those. The hungry little baby wanted them, but couldn’t quite manage such a mouthful. In desperation, I turned to the Web.

There, I learned about wildlife rescue organizations. Our local organization put me in touch with a wonderful woman who lives nearby and was willing to take Riley in. She had the enzymes and special food he needed, as well as an incubator and medicine. It was touch and go for a while, but under her care, he thrived and grew and eventually was rehabilitated and learned to fly. Then, one day, he left her to join the other Carolina Wrens.

These are some of the pictures taken by Elaine, the woman who rescued Riley. You can see his transformation from tiny, featherless monstrosity to fine young bird in just a matter of days. I can’t find the photo she sent me of Riley outside sunning himself, just before he took off to join the others, but I can tell you that he was a healthy, handsome young bird.



The next year, a small wren took to sleeping in one of the hanging baskets on my porch. Never even bothered to build a nest, just snuggled down into the dirt in the midst of a tangle of ferns. I like to think it was Riley, come home.


I found this lost tale, and the photos, while going through the “archaeological dig” of a home office that’s gone largely unused, in favor or working nearer the coffee pot downstairs. I’ve been clean it out to set up as my writing nook, and 20-year-old photos I once thought were long lost are one of my rewards.

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

4 Comments

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Aww. The memories we have of when we tried to help.

    Thanks for sharing. I learned something. I have a friend who’s a wildlife rehabilitator in NJ – she has stories.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…The point in writing with careMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’ll bet she has some great stories!

      It’s funny to think that Riley’s descendants may still visit us, from time to time. I wonder what stories birds tell, of us?

      Reply
  2. Marian Allen

    Oh, how I needed that wonderful, happy ending! Congratulations on putting a big-hearted chunk of joy into the universe. 🙂 <3
    Marian Allen recently posted…Sunday Snapshot: Yes, No, YesMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      It felt needed. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to find it – to find a lot of old pics I had thought I’d lost. And I’m glad you found it when you needed it.

      Reply

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