In my town, there used to be a neighbourhood of old wooden houses. Each of them had a garden and an old shed built of an old leftover wood. After a hot summer day, the evening rain would come. But just before the clouds would gather, a swarm of birds arrived to hunt for low-flying insects. The big, red sun would roll over the horizon, and hundreds of common swifts would dance the most complicated sky choreography. We would sit at the fence of my grandmother’s garden and listen to the chirps in the last light of the day. ‘The rain will come soon,’ said my great-grand mother, who I had a suspicion, from her abilities to forecast the weather, was a witch. Growing up, I never questioned the existence of birds. They lived in harmony with civilization: finding crevasses and holes in the buildings to live in, pleasuring us with their dances every day.
I remember when an elderly neighbour died. His children decided to demolish the old wooden house and build a concrete mansion instead. The central location of the neighbourhood promised an astounding deal. The new house was sparking clean: the garden was transformed to a parking lot for luxurious cars, and the walls and under-roof were cleaned twice a year to remove the bird nests, so they would not dirty the walls. Young and flightless birds were just dropped on the sidewalk for neighbouring cats to eat, and I took one of them home. I took care of the bird for about a week, digging rainworms and feeding them to the bird in small bits. The little bird was jumping around happily, and my grandmother was saying merrily that it was learning to fly. A few days later, the bird was gone. I was told that it flew away and returned to the wild. I know now that the bird died that night, and my grandparents, wishing to not upset me, told a story of a happy ending.
By the time I became a parent myself, the tiny old neighbourhood was almost demolished and exchanged with glass skyscrapers. I work now in one of them and can enjoy the beautiful view of the city every day. Yet, the birds are not there any more to dance in the evening sun.
One windy day, a lusty sound came from the office balcony. I ran there to be surprised by a colleague holding a bird wrapped in a scarf. I heard someone already calling the animal rescue organization, and I volunteered to bring the bird to them. It was a young common swift, not even fully feathered. The rescue shelter was full of birds: pigeons, crows, even a big swan with a broken wing, but also surprisingly many common swifts. The latter are birds of flight, and since their first flight out of the nest, they never land on the ground. Often, if it happens that the bird must land on the ground, it can not lift itself up again. Many birds get in trouble and need our help: be it broken wings due to hitting glass windows, getting injured by domestic cats going for a play-hunt, or becoming ‘homeless’ birds via removal of their nesting places.
I never realised how much time and energy it takes to nurse a bird back to health! A common swift must be fed every few hours. The tiny fellow I brought to the organization was too young to survive on its own. It had to be fostered until the right moment to release it back into the wild. He was not a big eater and was rapidly losing weight. Volunteers fed the bird every few hours, 6-7 times a day, but it did not help. The situation was frustrating and seemed hopeless until the idea came up to return the bird to the freedom earlier. The organization knew where some of the common swifts were nesting and decided to sneak the infantile bird into one of the nests, hoping that the bird would be accepted as an offspring. It was a risky move, but the tiny bird had more chance in the nest.
It was a nervous week after the bird was introduced to foster parents. We checked on the nest daily from afar to see if the new bird was pushed out or neglected. It turned out to be a successful mission, the bird was not only accepted but soon grew stronger. Together with its new foster family, the bird trained its feathers, dancing in the setting city sun.