A bird in hand

We were returning home from an evening walk when the twittering and chattering and fluttering of a dozen or so mynahs attracted our attention. Just then a car swept past and the mynahs flew up in alarm, and we saw that they had been pecking at a baby mynah. There it lay, flopped over on one side, its legs stretched out and only its brilliant, frightened eyes showing it was alive.

We have four different varieties of mynahs in this part of India -- the common or garden mynah; the Brahmini mynah with its smooth tuft of feathers on top of its head; the pied mynah, black and white and very natty looking; and the hill mynah with its bright yellow beak and legs and bright yellow ear flaps or wattles.

The baby bird was a hill mynah and the others were the common variety which probably accounted for their hostility to the small stranger.

"It will certainly die," I thought, picking up the little creature and feeling its heart flutter against my hand. "But at least it will die in peace, in a quiet place, without being pecked to death."

We took him home and put him into a basket lined ewith soft grass. Both legs seemed broken, the joints swollen and misshapen. He lay quietly, without moving.

But the next morning, a lively and enquiring eye was turned on me when I peered into the basket. It was not at all afraid and cheeped loudly and persistently for food. We fed it on chopped meat, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, and fruit. We squirted water into its mouth from a doll's plastic feeding bottle and within a few days he recognised the bottle and would open his beak wide for water as soon as he saw it.

Within a few days he was able to stand, unsteadily it is true, but still he could stand. Now he began to improve rapidly. He flew about the room, perching on our shoulders and heads and turning his head to look enquiringly into our faces.

He had a very distinct personality of his own -- cocky, gay and impudent. We let him loose in the garden and he would stagger about, falling over every now and again, but improving steadily. He learned to feed himself, to give himself a bath and to drink water from a small bowl. His expression was perpetually fierce and he would peck angrily at our hands if we were slow in feeding him. At other times however, when he was sleepy, he would rub his head and beak against our hands, making soft noises in his throat.

The dogs didn't know what to make of him. They were forbidden to chase him or even to bark, so they would move close, creeping on flat bellies in the grass till they were near enough to grab him. He would turn at once and peck fiercely at noses or ears, spreading out his wings and screaming noisily. The dogs would look at us mournfully and remove themselves from his vicinity. They never could understand why they were not allowed to chase him as they did the other birds, making them fly high into the branches of the guava trees.

We planned to release him as soon as he was strong enough to fend for himself , but one day, when he was still small, his legs still naked and unfeathered, his tail stubby and half-grown, he flew through the open window and disappeared. We looked for him everywhere. We called and called and searched all over the garden, but he was nowhere. Sadly we gave up looking. Three hours later however, there was a loud familiar cheep cheepm and a small and rather bedraggled bird flew into the room.

We were delighted to see him again. HE was ravenous and thristy and hot. He gobbled up all the food we set before him, drank water and had a bath, shaking himself vigorrously and splashing water all around. Then he flew up to his perch on top of the closet, closed his eyes and went to sleep. Since then he has flown away twice and returned to us each time.

The Chinese have a proverb about saving a man's life. If you have saved him from certain death, it says, then he is your responsibility for the rest of your life. The mynah seems to think so too. We would like to set him free -- free to use his wings under the wide blue sky, to live unfettered among his own kind -- but he doesn't want to go.

We are now faced with a curious problem. How to get rid of a bird who should be flying free but who won't leave us and who, moreover, seems uncertain of the fact that he is a bird at all.

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