Mar 22, 2015

The Bird Hospital

by Caroline Crowninshield Bascom

Another old book I picked up at a used sale somewhere, that wasn't quite what I expected. It's the firsthand account of a woman in the early 1900's who kept wild birds in her home, attempting to nurse them back to health. It began when as a young girl she was bedridden for long periods due to illness, and her mother brought in an abandoned baby bird someone had found to amuse her. Soon children in the neighborhood started to bring her birds as well- young ones fallen out of the nest, injured birds caught by cats, etc. Pretty soon she was known locally as the woman with "the bird hospital" and had a steady stream of avian patients.

While she was obviously kind-hearted and well-meaning, tenderly caring for her charges, it was also obvious that she was unfortunately ignorant about what the birds needed. This is my guess, because I'm not an expert myself, but I was surprised to read that she fed many baby birds a steady died of bread or crackers soaked in milk, that she gave birds she assumed had asthma sugar cubes dipped in whiskey, and many other birds got table fare on a regular basis, whatever they seemed to fancy. One bird she didn't know the name of but described in detail (I think it was a starling) became ill after eating some roses, was dosed with alcohol and promptly died. They also met with frequent accidents from swallowing string, or being attacked by her cat (which she constantly let into the room, with stern but unheeded verbal reprimands) and many simply died from unknown causes or escaped out windows the first chance they got.

All in all, it seemed from reading between the lines a dismal success rate, though she never lost her enthusiasm and conviction that she was doing well by them. It is fun to read about the birds' antics, her attempts at training them to sing along to the piano or come when called by their names. But I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for them all, in spite of her evident fondness for them and desire to help.

Rating: 2/5      190 pages, 1905

No comments: