G is for Greenfinch
This is a slightly different post, and a true story. Greenfinches hold a very special place in my heart. When I was a child, my friend Sharon brought round two baby birds whose nest had been destroyed. I used to volunteer at the vets’ and I took them both along to find out how to look after them. The vet I saw said they were greenfinches.
Goodness knows how he could tell, they didn’t even have pin feathers, they were just two little sacs of pink skin, so translucent you could see their veins.
He told me to feed them on a half egg-yolk, half milk mixture soaked into wholemeal bread. I can still smell that mixture!
My brother and I both looked after them, we kept them in a shoebox in a nest of cotton wool, and we kept the lid on between feeds, which we did regularly every half an hour.
As they grew we started grinding corn and putting it in with the mixture, then cutting tiny seeds up and mixing them in, gradually increasing the sizes until they were eating whole seeds.
Both the fledglings survived – one, the male, flew away one day, but the female, who we called Grizelda, stayed. Grizelda never fledged quite properly – she was always a little bald round her neck.
She lived in the kitchen in an open cage, and she could come out when she wanted. She rode around with us in the garden on our shoulders or fingers. She went go-karting with my brother, down and back up the hill behind us.
She would fly up to trees, but she would always come back, and if you called her, she came.
She loved having baths in a saucer of water – it had to be warm enough, or she wouldn’t get in. She would still walk around that saucer for ages, dipping her her toes in and leaping out again with a chirp as if to say, ‘call that warm?’
Then she would decide to take the plunge – she would flap her wings in there for ages, and get so wet her wings were too heavy to hold up, and they dragged on the floor.
Then she would hop on my slipper, walk up my leg and body and on to my shoulder, where she would riffle her feathers and tuck herself in between my neck and my collar to get warm and dry. She smelled of honey.
She used to sing long trills, and always sang loudly when my mum and dad’s car drew up outside when they were home from work.
Being children, we fed her things I suppose we wouldn’t dream of doing now – her favourite food was tiny pieces of polo mint. She’d spot polo mints across a room and come running over.
I have so many memories of her – but the way she loved sunbathing is a favourite – she would raise her feathers and fan her wings and tail and just sit there, ecstatic.
One day, my brother and I had her in the garden – it was windy day, and as she was flying around she got caught by a gust and take down over the housing estate we lived on.
We spent the rest of the day, and the evening with torches, asking people, searching gardens etc. trying to find her. We didn’t.
The next day I went to school, which was only a road away, but my brother didn’t. He stayed at home with Grizelda’s cage door open in the garden.
A teacher came into my classroom and told me my mum had called, and could I go home. A neighbour had phoned my mum at work to tell her they thought they might have seen our bird walking up the pavement. I dashed home (can’t imagine a school allowing this nowadays!).
Before I arrived, Grizelda had walked under the back gate, up my brother’s leg and hopped into her cage!
She had a gash on the back of her neck – so I rushed her to the vet, where she was given penicillin coated seeds, as she also had pneumonia. She survived.
In fact she lived for 13 years, and I was still enjoying her company when I was first married. So now you know why I love greenfinches – they are intelligent birds, the first to learn how to use peanut feeders. And why I long to see her again. Grizelda sunbathing on my hand:
Sit in the tree
you don’t have to sing
and spread your wings
in the sun
sing if you like
All material © Liz Brownlee
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