Poem for a Greenfinch (Dedicated to Grizelda)
My eye is bright with the hope
of lace-leaved shelter
of finding answers to hunger
in things that do not speak
my song is a chatter
my feet grip as delicately as
a petal to flower
If you run a finger down my feathers,
the colours of moss and sunshine
they have the comfort of oiled sleekness
underneath they are soft
and light as dandelion seed
and smell of warm honey
when they are wet.
© Liz Brownlee
When I was 12 my brother and I raised two baby birds. They were just pink sacks with beaks, not even pin feathers. I took them to the vet (where I helped out on Saturdays at the time) to find out how to raise them and he told me they were greenfinches (by their beaks) and said give then half an egg yolk, half milk mix with wholemeal breadcrumbs in then start to grind corn and mix with it and then gradually give them bigger and bigger pieces of corn. I can still smell that mixture now, so many, many years later.
I was 12, my brother 10, and it was the summer holidays, and we fed them every half hour, keeping them in a shoebox in a tissue and cotton wool ‘nest’. They both survived. One of them flew away when old enough, but the other one never did – she had a bald neck for some reason. We called her Grizelda and she had an open cage in the kitchen. She was completely free, and came out with us when we were playing on our shoulders. She’d fly up into any trees we were near, but come back when called.
She loved eating from our fingers, and when I took her to school once she accepted a piece of corn from every class member. She loved polo mints and would do anything to get one. She did eat mainly sunflower seeds and corn and seeds but she also probably had a range of rather unsuitable foods when we were younger!
She loved bathing in a saucer – the water had to be warm or she wouldn’t get in, just sit by the side and chirp. When she did get in she had no idea about bathing conservatively, and went on till she as drenched, and her wings dragged on the floor. Then she’d hop out and climb my leg, and either sit on my slipper if it was a warm day, or climb up to my neck where she’d snuggle inside my collar to keep warm and dry off. She smelt of honey.
One day, a windy one, she flew to my brother’s shoulder from mine and got caught by the wind and sailed off down over our housing estate. We went on the hunt and called in very house and asked people to look out for her, and searched every garden, even into the night with a torch. The next day was a school day, and I went to school round the corner. My brother was further away, and refused to go, so he sat in the garden with Grizelda’s cage. My parents both worked, and my mum got a phone call from a neighbour to say she thought she might have seen our bird walking up the pavement. She phoned home to learn form my brother that Grizelda had walked under the gate and hopped up his leg and into her cage. She had a cut on the back of her neck.
Mum phoned my school, I was let out of a lesson, allowed to go home, and Grizelda was rushed by me to the vet, who said she had pneumonia as well. So she got antibiotic seed. She survived.
She lived till she was 13, when she lived with my OH and me.