The story of a little bird – or possibly several.

I ought to be editing – I’m working to three deadlines simultaneously – but I wanted to tell you a story. A true one.

In the outside wall of our kitchen, there’s a small hole in the stone. It leads into a cavity.

For the last couple of summers, birds have nested in there. As the chicks develop we hear them cheeping for food when their parents fly in. Inevitably, the fledglings look for the way out. Most of them find it but sometimes one ends up in the house – having flown over the back of one of the cupboards, we think. Getting them out into the world is easy; we just open the doors and windows and give them a bit of encouragement.

A few weeks back, we heard another clutch of baby Blue Tits chirping away behind the cupboard. Not long after that, we went on a camping trip. On our return, we found a Blue Tit by the leg of a dining chair. It was tiny, about half the size of an adult but must have grown enough feathers to fly the nest. It had found the wrong exit and died trying to escape the house.

Looking around the place where it had fallen, it was obvious how it spent the final hours of its very short life. There were hundreds of beak marks and feather prints on the east facing window. When the sun had come up in the morning the chick had flown at the light again and again, only to meet with a hard, invisible barrier. In the afternoon and evening it had done the same at the west facing window.

The evidence of its repeated batterings was all along the glass. It might have survived a few days without food but not without water; it’s reasonable to assume the chick died of dehydration rather than concussion.

I’ve thought about that baby bird a lot since then. How long did it spend trying to escape? What did it think about each time it flew towards the freedom instinct told it was right there for the taking? What, I thought, must it be like to never succeed; to die trying?

Know what I couldn’t help but compare it to?


Not necessarily young writers but people who batter away at the keyboard year in year out, doing their level best to be noticed. Maybe they meet with a modicum of success. A publication here and there. An occasional review. A flirt with self-publishing that goes nowhere. Many novels, almost accepted but turned down or passed over for reasons beyond their control. Deals done that go south before publication. Worse, perhaps, after an initial flurry of successes, a slow decline into unpublishablility and anonymity owing to ‘changes in the market’. Front list. Back list. No List.

As well as feeling sick over the poor little bird, the allegorical aspect of the whole episode really unsettled me. Some of us simply aren’t going make it. And even if we ever do, there’s no guarantee we’ll stay ‘made’. Scares the shit out of me.

Fucking Blue Tits. I’m a wreck.


5 thoughts on “The story of a little bird – or possibly several.

  1. Yowser, I thought I was feeling down until I read this!

    Horrible thinking about the poor little dude trapped inside alone, I wonder what went through his head every night when he had to give up his escape plans and get some sleep. Although I think it’s much more depressing how much I feel like I have in common with a doomed from the start bird.

    Something to think about.


  2. I found it depressing, too. And, of course, I felt responsible.

    But, being as what’s done is done, what do you take from an experience like this?

    I’m convinced that nature (even when it finds a way into your unnatual house) holds a mirror up to the parts of ourselves we have difficulty seeing under normal circumstances. (Not talking about your sigmoid colon here, guys.)

    There was a very strong message in that bird’s death. At least for me. And all I can do now, is keep reflecting on what it points to. It’s a personal thing and it’ll probably mean something different to me than to others but that is the beauty of it.

    I saw the episode as a warning about The Hero’s Journey. Each of us is the hero of our own life story and we simply have to accept that the flip side of a successful quest is a quest that is never completed. A person has to hold that knowledge and yet never quit.

    I use nature to guide me a lot. Stuck on an idea or wondering where a story is going next, I might ask a very specific question and then go for a walk, knowing that, by the time I return, the answer will have been held up for me. The landscape and its flora and fauna reflect back the things we already know but can’t easily access.

    For anyone wanting to learn more about this, I recommend a Vision Quest with David Wendl-Berry as a starting point.

  3. Pingback: Confidence – please may I have some? « ihijinx

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