Krumpit was only a House Sparrow, but he was one of the most unique of the many creatures who have shared my life. Brought to me as a nestling by my prodigal daughter, he was all I could not resist. A helpless and unwanted creature for whom I had all the bittersweet hopes a parent has: that he would grow strong and leave my nest. Wildlife rescues never returned her calls, I was unsure of the legal status of an invasive House Sparrow, and none of the nestling feeding information I am finding today was available on the Internet during the summer of 2009. Named, ironically, for a current hiphop dance, I spent his first two years wondering if my ineptitude caused his legs not to grow strong. I know now that krumpit must have been broken from the fall from his lofty nest, and that he would not have lasted the day, had not my daughter brought him home.
From her descriptions of the site and the horrific fates of his nest-mates, I believe a crow tore apart his nest, high in the poplars towering above the college campus. Setting baby Krumpit in a substitute nest, in hopes that his parents would resume their care, would not have been a reasonable option. The companion who promised to “take him tomorrow” if my daughter would only take him home tonight, well, we know she was never heard from again. And so this helpless creature made his way home to me. How many times did I ask her “Ready to take your sparrow now?” Knowing I could never let him pass beyond this door.
The annual fly infestation that we endured that summer supplied baby Krumpit with the best food he could possibly have had. In addition to egg yolk, soaked finch seed, greens, and canned crickets, he was well fed and grew strong. But he never walked. He learned to fly, but his legs never cooperated, so his landings were frightening crashes. Perches were useless. The fleece blankets lining his cage were soft and yielding, his appetite relentless and unfathomable. As he grew, the responsibility for his handicap became more apparent. He would never become independent and releasable.
Krumpit and I explored several cages throughout his life. I tried several open hammocks, but he never seemed to like them. We eventually settled upon a horizontally oriented cage with an enclosed hammock. He never learned to fly into it but would insist at the end of the day that I lift him up to the big hammock for the night. Until I tried the enclosed hammock, though, he spent his days at the bottom of his cage, his nights in a little wooden hut. His toenails would get caught in the fleece from time to time, but generally he stayed out of trouble. One time his bent legs became stuck outside the cage bars, leaving him in a very awkward position. I looked over at the cage, wondering what piece of junk had become lodged up there in such a bizarre way. You, Krumpit, YOU are the bizarre piece of junk!
Yes, I actually do know how he became lodged there in such a crazy position. Krumpit was an angry young bird. He lived next door to The Blues Brothers. I had adopted Jake and Ellwood, two blue parakeets, and brothers, from a local rescue. Krumpit hated them with all the bluster his tiny sparrow body could muster. All day long they would call to each other, hollering their respective sparrow/budgie epithets and posturing in their respective sparrow/budgie styles.
Krumpit’s existence, his very purpose in life, was to best those silly blue birds. He very nearly ended his own existence trying to attack them through the cage bars. When they died, first one, then the other 6 months later, little Krumpit fell into a funk. He stopped eating his mealworm salads, he stopped screaming at the popping and sizzling dinner in the frying pan, and he refused to leave the little wooden hut at the bottom of his cage. Then I found Spike the Budgie in the back room at Petco. Nursed back to health, Spike could no longer be sold with the other pets and was one of their “adoptable” pets. Spike came home, the sparrow started eating again, and the raucous repartee resumed.
Krumpit also had a smaller cage on a shelf outside the kitchen door, and he spent his summer afternoons out there, flirting with the wild sparrow women. Bathtubs were ignored, food and water seemed to go untouched, and yet he positioned himself to be transported to his outdoor cage with enthusiasm. Toward the end he nearly flew into my hand to be moved from indoor to outdoor cage and back again. It was a sparrow privilege he took very seriously.
When I told my daughter how he had died, she responded that he was always going to go that way. And she was right. I like to let my birds fly free in the house, but she reminded me of the time that we had tried that with Krumpit. He had flown like a demon throughout the house, darting here and there, and then silent. Like some crazed kamikaze sparrow, he had flown til he could fly no more, then dropped to the ground. We looked for him for hours, off and on. I kept thinking he would call to us, would ask for help. But people who rehabilitate wild birds understand that never can be. A wild bird knows that to call out in distress is to invite predators, and so they stay still and silent. Until, what? Until whatever happens next. Of course, we did find him, under my bed, up near the headboard. He must have hit the wall and slid straight down. And so a tiny brown bird stayed under my bed, waiting, waiting until the next thing. He was lucky that we found him, and we decided that he could not fly free again. There was no single room in the house where he could fly free without peril.
The years went by, cages changed, hammock experiments came and went, and we settled on the cage with blankets, the little wooden hidey-hut, and 10 mealworms a day. He also had a suet log like the outdoor sparrows, wild bird seed, and greens. That bird loved his greens! In winter he settled for parsley, but all summer long, he had fresh dandelion greens. The dandelions just outside the steps to the front door yielded a particularly fine crop, just the right size, always tender, and I picked them for him daily as I walked in the door. I still instinctively reach for them when they are the perfect size, but no, there is no sparrow now. Do wild sparrows eat dandelion greens? Who knows? Krumpit ate a tiny dishful daily. A mealworm salad, the ten mealworms stealthily hiding beneath his greens. Sometimes fifteen, sometimes only five, his greed changed with the seasons, the daylight hours triggering his appetite. I cross that threshold easily now, dandelion season has passed, but as they grow again in the spring, for whom will I gather the tiny greens?
I have known just a handful of wild beings, but had close relationships, to the point where communication flowed both directions. The capybara, well, he is unto himself, and his story is still being told. The wood ducks, the teals, the mallards and the Canada geese taught me patience and restraint. The raccoon and the vole, though, taught me about survival and the peculiarities of behavior when all is at stake. In the dark ages, before the Internet, care of wild creatures was a challenge to be faced alone. On my own, I had to listen to my wild ones and interpret their needs. The raccoon tale is a convoluted story to be told another day. Rocky’s predictable yearning for freedom was a poignant relief and his transition from pet shop prisoner to woodland creature was seamless. Vincent the vole entertained me for over three years with his charm, his reserve, and his passion for pine nuts and his precious blanket.
This feisty sparrow argued and resisted me for five years. In just the last six months he had learned to love his summers on the porch, and had reluctantly responded to his name by peeking at me from the bottom of his cage. He was not dumb, just reserved, punishing, as if I was the cause of his handicap and incarceration. After years of responding to his calls, he reluctantly responded to mine, and we bantered though it was clear I was not a worthy opponent. I will never understand why, in his hour of need, he did not call out to me. Why his flock, Spike the Budgie, Jorge and Vincent the cockatiels, and The Pirate did not alert me, why all these redundant alarm systems failed to screech, when they so often do so for no apparent reason. Why his little life had to grow still, with all of us around him, is a mystery and a tragedy I cannot seem to get past. Becky was right, though. He was always going to go like that.
Late June 2009 – October 27, 2014
Sparrow by Paul Simon
Who will love a little sparrow
Who’s traveled far and cries for rest
“Not I,” said the oak tree
“I won’t share my branches with no sparrow’s nest
And my blanket of leaves won’t warm her cold breast”
Who will love a little sparrow
And who will speak a kindly word
“Not I,” said the swan
“The entire idea is utterly absurd
I’d be laughed at and scorned if the other swans heard”
And who will take pity in his heart
And who will feed a starving sparrow
“Not I,” said the golden wheat
“I would if I could but I cannot I know
I need all my grain to prosper and grow”
Who will love a little sparrow
Will no one write her eulogy
“I will,” said the earth
“For all I’ve created returns unto me
From dust were ye made and dust ye shall be”