It happened while I was in the midst of the most mundane of things—I was washing the dishes—when my mother cried for my attention, gesturing to the birdcage, panic plain in her voice. I hurried to find one of the birds on the floor of the cage, shallowly breathing.
“Is it dead?” My mom asked, worried. I nudged its feathers lightly; the yellow lovebird blinked a few times in response. It was breathing rapidly. Already, I could feel the tendrils of panic and helplessness gripping me, rooting me to the spot. What could I do? Opening the door of the cage, I cupped the tiny bird in my hand and brought it out. It didn’t fight against my loose grip.
My mother’s clinical eye noticed the shallow breathing and decided that maybe it was dehydrated. This summer has been particularly hot, and heat stroke is far more common than one can be comfortable with. I checked the bird feeders: nearly empty. Then it struck me that they were like that for what must have been days already, since our household help told me we were out of birdseeds. My mom ordered me to mix an oral rehydration solution, which I fed in tiny drops to the bird using a small tuberculin syringe.
Occasionally, the tiny bird would flap its wings and fight against my grip. I took this as a good sign; perhaps it was getting its energy back. It drank the small drops from the syringe. I watched as it blinked. I could feel its tiny avian heart beating vigorously within my hand. My mind was focused on only one thing: nursing the bird back to health. I kept the guilt at bay—of not tending to the birds myself, of not buying birdseeds, of almost completely ignoring them.
I wrapped the bird loosely in a handkerchief while I continued feeding it small drops of the solution. It tried to flap its wings a few more times, wanting to take flight. Then all of a sudden, the tiny bird closed its eyes and grew limp in my hand. I nudged it gently, talking to it. Birdy? Stay with me. My mom came to me and did the same to the bird, and I told her I couldn’t feel its heart throbbing anymore.
The tiny bird died in my hand.
And that struck me so hard. Just a few moments ago, that bird was alive and breathing, moving, blood flowing through its veins. Wings getting ready for flight, wanting to go back to the air where it belonged. Then, nothing. Just one last closing of the lids and a softening of taut muscles. Soon enough, the tiny feathered body would grow rigid. No more soft, warm flesh underneath that sunny plumage. Simple, unceremonious. A death universal.
Gently, I pressed the still-soft body to my lips and kissed it. My apologies for not looking after you.
I feel responsible for that small death. Maybe it wasn’t just dehydration; it could’ve been nearing the end of its life, but that doesn’t lessen the sadness of a quiet death. My first death, before becoming a doctor, and it was only a bird. But it was also a life. A winged living thing, yet existing like us humans. It had a brain; it knew how to live, to survive. Like us.
I mourn for the loss of that bird. Its death was due to the irresponsibility of us owners. I wish I could’ve saved it. I wish I could’ve seen the bird earlier. I wish we could’ve avoided it by tending to the birds. Please, if you’re a pet owner, be attentive to the needs of your pet—be it avian, aquatic, or terrestrial. Birds can be low-maintenance in the sense that you can just leave them with food and water for a while, but not to the point that you can forget them, and somehow think that they’ll get by.
Rest peacefully in flight, my little bird.