July 10, 2020


Peter found a baby bird. He came upon her, tossed from her nest, presumably while on a walk somewhere in La Jolla. He found a way to bring her home, put her in a Beer Nuts can, and, for two days, nurtured her along with food, water and what he could muster for creature comfort. He named her Pat.

[For purposes of this tale, I’m calling her a she; she could be a he, but let’s just agree for blog purposes that her pronouns are she/her.]

Jim and I don’t really know the full details of this story.  Was this a joint effort? Were Ray and Sean part of the rescue, naming, care-giving effort?

Today, while talking to Peter, we learned a tiny bit of the backstory.  But we spent a great deal of time talking about the logistics and responsibilities that attend the finding of an orphan baby bird…and most interestingly, the moral issues. Being a 22-year-old analytical, math-y, physics-y guy in the deepest throes of higher education, given generally to beating logic problems to death, and always, ALWAYS enjoying deep philosophical discourse, he challenged us and played devil’s advocate on a variety of moral issues around baby bird life and death, his arguments mostly grounded in some kind of logic, choices evaluated on some kind of cost/benefit scale.

Like.. do you leave a baby bird that has been booted from her nest by her mama; what does nature intend? If you take her home, what kind of responsibilities have you taken on? How far are you obligated to take these responsibilities? How long do you sustain her? How far are you obligated to drive, how much time are you obligated to take, to transport a baby bird to an animal rescue facility? To what degree do baby bird issues compare to finding, say, an injured, abandoned dog? Where does a baby bird land on the orphaned creature rescue scale, a scale that might range from dog to tiny insect? When is a creature expendable?

We covered a lot of philosophical territory. We contemplated some classic scenarios, too, like the one where a train is barreling down the track, heading for five unsuspecting children playing on the rails ahead. You have the power to switch the train to an adjacent track that has a single child in harm’s way. Do you change the course of the train to spare five children in favor of killing just one?

How does that relate to baby birds? It doesn’t really, except that we were spiraling deeper into philosophical questions, and except for the part about playing god, and even then it’s not a comparable scenario. But honestly, we went on and on about the emotional v. practical aspects of intervening in baby bird care, Peter trying to argue the case for an emotionless calculation. We talked about tossing logic out and going with one’s gut, we talked about bonding and the caring for creatures big and small.

It was a worthwhile conversation, if tedious and circular at moments, and we wondered, after we hung up, whether Peter would wind up driving an hour or more to an animal rescue center to deliver this tiny, vulnerable bird to folks more equipped to care for her, or whether he’d continue to feed and fuss over her, or whether he’d return her to a spot close to her original nest and let nature run its course.

Not thirty minutes later Peter called to say Pat had died.

Gut punch.

His emotional reaction to finding her dead in the Bear Nuts can provided clarity and simple answers to what had been heady philosophical questions and sporty intellectual arguments. Revelations were had. He felt like maybe there was a limit to logic.

I love that he could tell me that. All that.

I always admire his lively intellect, and love listening to him spin academic arguments often well beyond my attention span… but today I loved his tender heart.


Photo credit: Wes (thanks, Wes).

2 Responses to “Pat”

  1. Elliot Margolies Says:

    I once found a bird on the ground in the evening while I was a college student. Spent the night with the guy on my stomach until morning when I took him to the Bird studies building. A professor and hopefully a bird doc arrived and I approached. As I opened my hand my little friend stiffened and died. The Prof asked if I’d brought him in to be categorized – not realizing he’d been alive til a second earlier.

    I hope your brother Chris is doing better. What a scare.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: