ことり … A Little Bird


I cannot even begin to imagine the depths of Callousness
in those miserable, conscienceless, self-centred creatures
who would not even put out food for little birds
on a cold winter’s day …

nor the type of immaturity and ignorance
which presumes that, because THEY are irresponsible wretches
too lazy to pick up any fallen food that might attract rodents,

therefore, so is anyone else who possesses
the moral conscience and empathy
to feed the birds in the wintertime.

A highly unusual fall of snow the day after
photographs from “The 1st of February … in the Garden”
were taken,

has meant that for most of February
the garden has lain beneath a blanket
of (slowly) melting snow.

At some point in the night, I awoke remembering
that I had not put away a 5-gallon pot
after planting the blackberry bush it contained
into the newly-built cedar garden bed.

Waking as usual just after 5:00,
I stumbled out into the pre-dawn darkness
of Friday morning, the 22nd,

noticed the pot in the dim light,
lying on its side beneath the large Rhododendron
and leaned forward to pick it up.

I stood up infinitely faster than I had bent down.

Having closed my fingers around
the edge of the pot – something soft
brushed the back of my hand.

We have, here, a very friendly resident skunk
along with a frequently-visiting family of Racoons
and I instantly thought that I had just disturbed
one of them who had been using the plant pot
to catch up on a bit of sleep.

Even in the darkness, however, I could see
that the blur of movement … was a bird.

I knelt and tried to gently catch him
– feeling certain that an active bird
on the ground at 6:00 am, surely meant
that the little creature was injured.

As the little fellow ran between my elbow and thigh
I realised the futility of it: I could not see properly
in the darkness, never mind also being underneath
a large Rhododendron bush.

I went to do my Wing Chun practice but –
never able to get the idea of the little bird
on the snowy ground, out of my mind –

kept looking out the window
into the slowly lightening gardening.

After practice, I called to the birds while
setting out their morning breakfast at 7:00 o’clock.

Normally, they arrive en masse in the pre-dawn
light – often, even standing on my feet
in their anticipation of a meal.

Sure enough, the little chap from this morning
began to move from the bushes towards me …

but, Oh, it was a tragic sight:

His wing drooped on the snow; and his right leg
was tucked against his chest. He hopped on one leg,
then fell on his chest … hopped, fell – and then stopped.

(Without pausing to focus, a hurried snap-shot
from my wife’s little ‘work camera’ … )

In the morning gloom, the first sight after my
initial clumsy attempt to catch him in the darkness –
the ‘pouring’ snow (more icy rain than snow) can be seen
as blurred streaks against the darker tree.

Wanting him to come closer, I went out,
left some crushed sunflower hearts on one of
the slabs of the path for him; returned inside,
and watched.

Large flakes of wet snow covered him.

My heart was broken watching the pathetic sight
of this dishevelled, utterly disabled little bird
hopping and falling in his efforts to reach the food,
and then find shelter beneath a blue spruce.

At least now he had food in him.

But I had to catch him, and warm him,
as well as provide shelter from the snow
and cold.

With the morning light now brightening,
I took a piece of shade cloth (a large sheet
of very fine net used to shield nursery plants)
and strung it in a ‘V’ – the net making one side,
the solid side of the porch steps, the other.

Placing more sunflower hearts on the flagstone,
I watched for half an hour as dozens of species
of bird came – clearly ignoring their regular
feeding areas for this new, novelty location:

at this rate they were going to finish the food
that I had left for the little bird to find.

I had turned away from the window to dip
the little bowl into the Sunflower bag
and was turning the handle of the door
to go back outside when –

the little shape caught my eye.

I froze and released the handle.

The little bird was standing – pitifully
misaligned with his drooping wing and
tucked-in foot … the wet snow falling on
and around him.

Wet shoes notwithstanding, I turned
and walked quickly through the hallway,
leaving quietly through the door from the kitchen.

Looking across the garden, I could see him:
still in the same position, now almost covered
with snow.

I remember actually wondering if he was dead.

The birds were exceptionally well used to me
and I reasoned that, if I began ‘sneaking around’
– far from hiding my presence, I might as well
beat a drum to announce it.

I would walk into the garden, talking aloud to
the birds – just as I always did.

“Ohaiyo gozaimasu, mina san!

Tabemono ikega desuka?”

Calling gently as always, I walked past the fish pool
(which positioned me behind him in the garden)
and only then, turned right, hoping regular movement
would allow me to approach the little shape.

He hopped. And fell.
Hopped, and then pecked feebly in the snow.

He was moving away from me … but not in any panic.
Most importantly, he was moving towards the “V” shape
of the net.

I waited as he casually paused to peck at bits
of sunflower that had clearly been spread
by the other birds.

He was in the “V”.

I stepped more directly now.
Hop. Hop. He was on the folds of the net
that lay on the ground.

He moved … into the soft, fine mesh
that now folded around him.

I moved … and the bath towel that had been
draped around my shoulders,
now gently covered him and the net.

A pull of the thin garden twine released
one side of the net from the stair railing;
another pull opposite, released it from the tree
that had held that side.

He never struggled: wet snow and ice
covered his feathers – but I now had bird,
towel, and net in my arms, held against my chest.

I took the whole package inside the house,
and carefully unwrapped net from towel
while placing the bird into a food cooler
used for giving the fish visual medical exams
twice a year.

The little bird was (literally) ice cold to the touch.

I breathed gently around his beak and set him
into the towel. Placing food beside him,
and a small plastic lid full of water,
I added a night-light and positioned a clear lid
to allow fresh air, but protection from the cold.

Wanting him to be able to hear the sounds
of the other birds, his new living arrangement
was set out on the porch, where the other birds
were enjoying their morning buffet.

I noticed – when checking on him an hour later,
that those wet, dishevelled feathers were now dry;
and he held his wing properly in position.

He spent that first night warmed by the night-light.

The following morning, surrounded by birds
that arrived for their daily breakfast,
I slid the lid back and gently turned the container
on its side:

still unable to fly, he was now able
to walk around the porch –
standing on his leg,
rather than falling to his chest.

While birds flew into the porch
to eat alongside him;

others paused to stare in amazement …

… before joining them in the morning meal.

His second day was spent
hopping about or watching the garden
from the comfort of a hand towel
which we had formed into a ‘nest’
in his own little box, from the security
of the covered porch.

We watch him, feed him, change his water,
and welcome his company until such times
as he is able to fly away.

[ At 6:03pm on Monday, 25th, I heard a rapping on the window:
turning my head to see, my little friend was standing looking in
– from the top of the tiny table that was supporting the 3’high net
that was keeping him from leaving the porch until he could fly.

He now had the strength and ability to gain “lift” and,
as I opened the door to the porch, he flapped his wings,
flew in a steady arc, and disappeared into the hedge
30 feet away.

At least now, he was able to lift himself into the hedge
or trees, away from predatory mammals.


He has shown up for breakfast Every Morning since –
(in fact, he is the first to appear, in the pre-dawn gloom,
at half-past six) – I even found him on the morning of
the 2nd of March, standing in the covered porch
staring up at the door … yes … Waiting.

Seen throughout the day, he stops for lunch at around noon;
and again after three, for a late-afternoon meal.
He is – as I write this update on the 18th of March
– clearly determined to live in our garden). ]


My wife and I had had a television in our home
from 1996 to 1999. But we could not stand
the vulgarity, viciousness, vacuity, and
constant normalisation of moral depravity
that it delivered in everything
from ‘dramas’ to ‘documentaries’.

We both felt immense relief when returning home
after discarding it in the town dump –
Our household felt … clean … once again.

The garden has never failed to provide me
with hours of mindful (not mindless) entertainment;
it has edified my mind by obliging me to learn about,
observe, and understand the plants
with which I am working;

it demands the exercise of patience, gentility,
and common sense – thinking always about what a plant needs
– and not what I want.

Anyone who gardens out of appreciation for its flora
and wildlife – (as opposed to neighbourhood posturing;
or competing in some vanity-driven gardening competition) –
will share that same sentiment.

Gardening cultivates everything that is
contrary to modern mentality:
empathy, selflessness, and attention to detail.

Even, sometimes, when it is covered in snow.

Everything that I value in this life
is found in, and nurtured through, the Garden:

the joy of caring for fragile life;
a serene setting for a quiet cup of tea;
the peace of a home without ‘technology’;
the simplicity of a Plain Life indoors … and,

– in a world where human beings feel no shame
in being vulgar, crude, and vicious –

a personality which becomes easily obsessed
with the need to show tenderness
and compassion

to a little bird.

P Livingstone

Author: Mr Livingstone


2 thoughts on “ことり … A Little Bird”

  1. Absolutely beautiful Phillip, thank you for sharing. You definitely see through extraordinary glasses and a heart of gold. Proud to be your friend and neighbor. Lynn

    1. Dear Lynn,
      Many thanks, the little chap has returned for breakfast Tuesday and Wednesday mornings – about 7:20;
      and we see him hopping from the hedge again in the afternoon, at about 3:30. He has clearly decided to stay here.
      All the best for now – Many thanks, again, for visiting.
      Yours With kindest regards,

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