THREE CHEERS FOR SID by Morag Campbell
Alison was baking when she heard her children urgently calling her, "Mummy, Mummy, please come!"
Was one of them hurt? It didn't sound likely, there weren't any wails of pain. She rushed upstairs into Ben's bedroom to find him and his sister peering out of the window.
Her son turned to her with a worried expression and pointed, "Look! There's a baby bird down there. He's fallen out of his nest - what can we do, Mummy?"
"Can we help?" his older sister, Jenny, asked. Jenny was very a maternal eleven year old who liked helping those weaker than herself - stray cats, some dogs, injured birds, lost frogs and younger children, excluding Ben! Looking out, Alison could see the tiny creature, fat-bellied and fragile, sitting in the guttering of the old outhouse. The mother bird was fluttering around, anxious to get him back into the nest.
"If we interfere whilst his mother is there we may chase her away, and his brothers and sisters will die."
Jenny looked upset, "We've got to do something, Mum, we can't just let him die. It's not very warm out there today." "Tell you what," her mother said, "let's bring our elevenses up here and keep watch. If the mother bird gives up then we will rescue him but I can't put him back under the eaves - I couldn't squeeze him back through a hole that small."
Ben jumped up and down, "Then he'll have to come and live with us, won't he, Jenny? Please say yes, Mummy."
"We'll see. " Alison went to fetch orange juice and biscuits.
By lunchtime the mother starling had given up the struggle and left her fledgling to the elements. She had to feed the others left in the nest and was busily searching for food for his greedy siblings.
Jenny looked down from the window, tears in her eyes, "He's not going to make it, Mum, and it's going to rain."
Alison nodded, "Come on then, we'll fetch the ladder from the shed and bring him indoors." She didn't hold out much hope for his survival. Even she was beginning to think of the tiny creature as 'him'.
"Better boil the kettle. Ben, can you fetch me a hot-water bottle? Jenny, we'll need a couple of your dolls' blankets and an old woollen scarf. You two make a nest whilst I fill the bottle. We'll make a little incubator in an old cardboard box - don't expect too much though, he'll probably die. He's much too small to survive without his mum."
When the bottle was full of warm water and topped with a small human-style nest, Alison went out to the garden shed and fetched the stepladder. The odds were that the fledgling was dead or dying but she had to try to help it.
As Alison lifted the tiny, rapidly chilling body from the guttering, the mother bird flew back and perched nearby watching.
"It's all right," Jenny said softly, "we'll look after your baby."
She held out her cupped hands to receive the little, almost bald bird, then squealed with delight, "Would you look at that, he's got a tuft of hair on top of his head just like that rock star on TV! We'll have to call him Sid! "
And Sid he was! In no time the little fellow was snug in his new nest, beak wide open, demanding that someone feed him. His eyes were beginning to open as well and Alice realised that it would need a miracle to keep him alive. She believed that he had fairly recently hatched. In one short morning he had taken a tumble from his nest, been cold for nearly two hours, and now he was starving. It didn't look promising.
"We'll use the eye-dropper in the bathroom cupboard to feed him with well-diluted Ready Brek."
Little did Alison expect to spend hour upon hour that night feeding Sid or refilling the hotwater bottle. She was bleary-eyed with lack of sleep when her husband and children came into the kitchen at seven thirty looking for breakfast.
"Is he ... ?" Jenny couldn't bear to ask.
"No - Sid is alive and kicking up a rumpus! He's quite the hungriest little creature I've ever come across, must be to make up after getting so cold yesterday. Come and see."
The minute the four of them tiptoed over to Sid's home-made incubator, his eyes and little orange beak flew open. "Not again!" laughed Alison. "Here you feed him, Matt, I'm going to get breakfast ready, any volunteers to set the table?"
It was soon clear that Sid needed a bed that stayed permanently warm. Changing the cold bottle for a warm one was very time consuming. And each time that Alison approached Sid thought it was another mealtime!
"I'm not going to get any housework done, Sid, if we don't find a solution to your nesting problem. I think we'll try the Slow-cooker! " She padded round the inside of the pot with cottonwool and a put a doll's blanket on top. Then she cut a hole in the cardboard box for the flex. "There we are, young Sid, try that for size and comfort!"
After school, Ben and Jenny threw themselves noisily through the kitchen door to see how the fledgling was. They chuckled at the sight.
"It looks as though you're cooking him for tea, Mum!"
The little bird sat with his tiny wings spread wide and his beak open - if he could have panted he would have done! "He's too hot. We'll have to think of something else."
And Sid progressed to the yoghurt maker which, until he outgrew it, kept him at just the right temperature! The young starling grew fast and took to following Alison all around the house when the children were at school.
"You're one daft bird, Sid. How are we going to teach you to fly, eh?" Sid would sit with his head cocked and look at Alison, thinking she was his mother. If she whistled at him he whistled back. Then he'd strut up and down the kitchen table as though he owned the place!
"You're going to have to teach him how to search for food for himself and how to fly, love. How do you plan to go about it?" Matt asked one evening as the school term was drawing to a close. "It's only four weeks until we go on holiday and Sid needs to be able to fend for himself by then."
"I've got a brilliant idea," Ben interrupted, "Why don't Jenny and I take him out into the garden and get him to look for bugs in the ivy?"
So Ben led the way with Jenny and Sid walking behind.
"Come on you silly bird, find yourself a nice juicy earwig! You're big enough to take care of yourself." Both children felt sad. Their parents had explained that Sid was a wild creature, and he'd be leaving them as soon as he'd worked out how to fly and fend for himself The starling showed no inclination to be a bird - in fact, most of the time he though the was a human being!
"It's no good, we've got to try harder if Sid's going to fly. Let's take him down to the woods this afternoon." Alison packed a flask, some fruitjuice and flapjack. "We'll make an outing of it and see if a certain bird gets the message." The family ambled through the dappled sunlight, Sid running behind. With one swift movement, Alison turned to him and clapped loudly, hoping to startle him. The starling gave her an offended look and flapped his wings, lifting himself a few inches off the ground. Real mother birds didn't behave like that.
They all laughed at his expression.
"If all of us clap he might take off," suggested Matt.
And that was exactly what the bird did but, as he reached out to grab a nearby branch, he misjudged the distance. Sid spun round, toppled off his perch and fell at their feet - his pride more ruffled than his feathers! After a few more attempts he was airborne! He might be lop-sided but he was flying at last!
Ben was delighted with his progress, "Good old Sid! Time to go home for tea!"
It wasn't quite time for Sid to leave his human family. His flying technique needed perfecting and he'd still rather beg for food or steal it from the kitchen. He was almost grown-up Ben and Jenny knew in their hearts it wouldn't be long, The young starling sat on the fence between the two houses watching the humans. His people and their neighbours were having a barbecue. There were lots of tasty titbits to cadge, lots of fun to be had. He took off and, swooping towards Matt, landed on his shoulder, ran nimbly down his arm, and dipped his beak in his glass of red wine. "Delinquent bird!" growled Matt as Sid leapt off his arm and landed on his neighbour's head where he sat triumphant, shaking the drips off his beak. "It's time you grew up and left the nest, Sid. All you do is teach the kids around here bad manners!"
Whistling cheekily, the starling made a bee-line for the neighbour's dog who, fortunately for him, was patient and elderly. He was well used to Sid's little tricks! With a raucous squawk, Sid swooped down on the piece of roll that Jenny threw to him. He grabbed it and made off to the nearest tree, afraid that someone might steal it.
"He's never done that before. Perhaps he's ready to go." Alison watched him for a minute, then, with a smile, squeezed ketchup on her son's hot dog, "Having fun?"
Everyone was enjoying themselves so much that they forgot all about Sid. Later that night there was a loud tapping on the lounge window. Sid was strutting up and down just like his namesake, the rock star, did on stage. Alison opened the window, "Coming in?" She could have sworn that Sid shook his head. With a little trilling sound the starling took off, confidently flying towards the trees in the nearby wood.
"Bye, Sid. It's been fun knowing you!"
Ben and Jenny came downstairs in their pyjamas, "Has he left us, Mummy?" asked Ben, clutching his teddy a little tighter.
"He has, darling, but we always knew he would. Three cheers for Sid - he's finally grown up!