In the Middle of our Street

A couple of months ago, Neva pointed to a narrow slit in the facade of the building across the street and said she observed birds go in and out. They must have made a nest in there! Sunday morning she told me she saw something fall out of the slit. We stood by the window and watched two women kneeling in front of a parked car. A few seconds later one of them stood up holding something with both hands. She hesitantly placed something on a window sill and then on the pavement in front of her. It looked like a tiny ball of fluff. We also saw two more balls of fluff. The three of them were hopping about and eventually hid themselves under another parked car. We live in the very heart of Antwerp, an old Flemish city with narrow cobbled streets. It’s a relatively quiet street, but there are cars passing by every few minutes and the precious parking spots across our window are always occupied. There’re no trees, no bushes or grass patches. Even if we had those around, the balls of fluff were so active you couldn’t possibly keep them in one place, unless it was a cage.

As Neva later read in related articles, little chicks almost never fall out of a nest. They fly out to polish their beginner’s flying skills on the ground, while their parents stay around and continue feeding them for several more days. This means that unless a nestling is wounded, it should be left in peace and anyone trying to “help” is probably going to disrupt the natural process and make things worse. None of the articles mentioned a situation like ours, when a titmouse bird builds a nest in a wall in the city center and her chicks practice flying in between car wheels.

That whole day everyone in our street helped guarding the little tits (I’m sorry but who comes up with bird names in English?) as their mother (or maybe their father, as Simon remarked) kept in constant contact with them and rushed to the ground every ten minutes or so to stuff their beaks with yummy treats (like bouquets of caterpillars she miraculously produced from in between the stones of the building facade). She called them melodically, singing several tunes in a row and they responded in a more monotonous, begging tone.

On day two, after two balls of fluff had been run down by parkings cars, we found the remaining chick about a hundred meters down the street, also underneath a car. It was dirty and trembling in the cold and the rain. We placed it in an opening under the wall where I had spread my agora shawl the night before, in the hope they would all prefer its warmth to sheltering under the cars. The mother was devastated because she couldn’t find her last chick anymore. And then, once she finally rediscovered him, under the car parked next to my shawl, both of them just couldn’t stop cheering. It was like listening to an emotional dialogue between a parent and a very young child who had been lost and then happily found again.

How many days would have to go by until the fluffy one learns to fly properly? He would rise about a meter high and then stumble upon a car or a person in front of him and fall, time and time again. He tried flying across the street. Most of the time, however, he would just hop under a car and sit there.

As it got colder, he didn’t call for his mother as often anymore and I no longer knew if she would find him. I didn’t see her for a while and started to google what could be done. Take him home? I came across blog stories written by people who saved little titmouse nestlings. At that moment I saw a neighbor passing by carrying a shoebox with holes in the lid. She had contacted an animal rescue center and they said she could bring him in, if the mother wasn’t around anymore. Or was she?

We all felt like we were responsible for that remaining chick. Neva burst into tears that night. The whole situation really hit her in the heart. She was wondering whether he would survive.

The next morning we called the asylum and they told us all the titmouse chicks they got were doing great.

Neva has read that the same bird will most probably make a second nest this year.

the “safe place” where the nestlings refused to stay
the mother feeding the nestlings
this is a heartbreaking photograph…
our attempts to warn the drivers; I also placed notes on the parked cars
the little chick sleeping next to my shawl, weakened by the cold

Every time I walk outside now, I hear birds talk to one another and to their young. Why haven’t I understood them before? It feels as if my ears have popped open.

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