A Tale of Natures Achievement

Anna Boyle

© Copyright 2021 by Anna Boyle

Photo of Jack, the magpie.

The day in question was special. A happy day. Jack was home. Back where he belonged.

Jack had been with us for about six weeks. We had been looking after him. He wasn’t well when he came to us. He also came without a name, so we had to give him an identity. After a couple of days, he was named Jack. His gender was in question too – he could even have been a Jacqueline. But for the purposes of discussions about him at the time, and for this story Jack is ‘he’. Jack was a magpie.

On a lovely day in June 2018 Jack was rescued from certain death. My husband was working on some paving at our daughter’s house. The French windows were open so that Rosie, the family dog, could wander into the garden at will. The trouble was that when a young magpie inadvertently landed on the grass Rosie pounced. She was chased off and the poor traumatised bird scrutinised. He was then transported to our house in a bucket securely covered with wire mesh found in their shed.

On arrival, Jack looked in a poor way. The tail feathers which would have been long and beautiful were completely missing and one wing was obviously damaged. He was put straight into the boot of the car to be transported to the local ‘country’ vet’s surgery. These lovely people have a great reputation. We used to take our last dog to them many years ago. Jack was examined and found to have, apart from the obvious lack of tail, a small puncture in his chest just under the wing. Which was why he was holding it in its peculiar position. It may survive the vet said. Just bathe the wound with salt water to keep infection away and see how it goes. He very kindly didn’t charge for the advice and we took Jack home.

Now, at the time we were busy renovating our house, so the last thing I really wanted was another responsibility but was game to try bringing young Jack back to a normal life if possible. My only worry, born from experience of trying to help other waifs and strays, was that they sometimes won’t eat. So they don’t thrive. A small cage was made quickly, and Jack deposited into it with food in a tray. He was taken out a couple of times to have his wound bathed. The handling, of course, didn’t help. But it had to be done. After a couple of days, I stopped as it looked better. It was after that that Jack took a few morsels of food. He was finally settling – a little.

I began looking on the internet for animal hospitals who may help. I found only a couple in the area. Both said they couldn’t take him in. Sorry, we’re full they assured me. Eventually, I found a bird sanctuary which sounded more promising. It transpired they were in Scotland! Now, I don’t know about you, but even for this little stray I wasn’t for travelling over two hundred miles to deposit him. We had a long-term visitor now. But the young man at the other end of the line gave me a lot of advice about what to feed Jack and how to get him back to fitness. He also assured me that Jack’s tail feathers would grow again.

Duly, a larger cage was constructed. We had, in our garage, an old dog cage which had come from another daughter, and other odds and ends with which to complete the job. (Did I tell you our garage is always full of other people’s possessions and odd bits of wood and such – ‘just in case’?) Jack’s new home had two sheets of marine ply – only the best – fitted to two adjacent sides so he had a darker corner to retreat for sleep. This is where he spent almost all his time for at least a week. It also gave him a cooler area to go to as the weather had been so glorious of late. An old curtain, used as a decorating sheet, was draped over the roof of the cage to keep the sun off. We gingerly carried his cage out of the garage each morning and back each evening.

Jack took to his raw mince and soaked mealworms and began to grow a bit. And he tried jumping in order to use his good wing. We now, as per advice, added three perches at varying heights. He managed to jump onto the first one. So far, so good. Then one day, Jack hopped from this one to the next level. Later still he progressed further, he was flexing the wing where he had been hurt! We were delighted. After another couple of days, we removed the lower perch, hoping this would help to strengthen the wing. He managed very well.

It was about this time that Jack began to have visitors. The family living in a tree at the back of our house came down to investigate. First one, then another, then all of them. A family of magpies. They and Jack were a bit wary at first. It became obvious that they couldn’t understand why he couldn’t come out and join them. Although I wasn’t sure the intentions of all of them were good. There was one in particular that seemed aggressive. I’m convinced it wanted to get to Jack to finish him off. The others seemed more concerned. They tried all ways to release him. The curtain often ended on the ground as they pecked at it to get into the cage. They also pecked at the cage for ages each day but couldn’t help the luckless Jack to escape. And they stole his food through the lower bars. They made lots of noise too – wouldn’t be magpies if they didn’t. But Jack, although his beak opened often, made no sound at all. Which could be from the trauma he suffered I suppose.

All this continued for about month and gave us hours of fun watching their antics. Jack grew stronger and bigger. He still couldn’t chatter, but he flew up and down constantly from perch to perch (tail tufts slowly emerging to give him a little more balance), hung on the sides of his cage, popping his head out, trying to get out and welcomed his friends each day. Apart from his protagonist, who sent him scurrying back into his safe corner.

So, the best thing about the day is that we were back where the story began. We took Jack back to the garden where he was rescue., Rosie was firmly shut in. We opened Jack’s door. He didn’t move for quite a while. He possibly had forgotten where he had come from, but we knew we needed to let him free where his own family may be. Finally, he left the cage and hopped and flew in short bursts. Into the corner! A little later he rose onto a small pile of paving slabs, then ventured higher. He spent time hiding behind a bag of compost on top of the slabs. We sat quietly for about three quarters of an hour and wondered if he would ever go. His little beak, then a beady eye ventured out at intervals. His nervousness was palpable.

Then, look at that! He flew straight up, onto the fence! Yes, he could fly properly! Albeit a bit jerkily. I held my breath in anticipation of the next move. He’d either set off or plummet to the ground. Yes! He was taking little hopping flights along the fence. And then. He was off! To find his roots again.

Relief flooded in. We were so glad that our little fighter was back to good health. Jack could look forward to a life of freedom again. Hopefully, his family would find him. We just had to trust to luck and the marvel of nature that we had helped him sufficiently to be fit enough to survive. Our daughter looked out for him occasionally in the beginning. She thought she saw him once, identified because his tail had not fully grown back. Only the couple of tiny tufts evident.

I live in West Yorkshire, England - 'God's Own Country'! I am seventy-two years of age and live with my husband. We have four children and six grandchildren, which gives many experiences and anecdotes to draw from.

When young I was an avid reader, mostly fiction. I studied Literature at two levels in school but did not progress to university. Other commitments such as family/childcare and working career created at times a 'reading wilderness', but I still managed to complete books occasionally. In work latterly I was a learning support in schools progressing to teaching English and maths to level 3, delivering mostly to age sixteen to nineteen.  At various times throughout my young adult life, I have thought I may be able to write but didn't had the confidence. Later I did a bit - you could count my attempts on one hand.

I finally got down to it when retired, joining a Writing for Pleasure group, responding to bi-weekly prompts. Enrollment on a course to learn short story writing (2019 - 2020) was one of the best things I have done. It has awakened the elusive confidence, through positive support from group members. Currently I am working on another course to hone my nonfiction skills.

Although I have not thought seriously before about publication, I feel ready to 'dip my toe in the water' and see if anyone else likes what I write.

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