Knocking against the low-hung branches of the bush, the grackle fell over onto the lawn. Jimmy sprawled on his stomach for a closer look. The bird was black and had an iridescent green-blue head and neck. Two yellow eyes stared in alarm. Seeing Jimmy, the bird tried to scurry away. But each time it hopped, it fell over sideways. Spreading its wings, the bird tried to steady itself. However, it seemed to use only one leg; its other leg dangled helplessly. The bird made one last attempt and fell back underneath the bushes.
Jimmy ran into the house and brought his mother outside to see the injured bird. “Can we help it?” Jimmy asked, bending low to see the bird huddled deep in the dimness of the branches.
“I doubt if we can get close enough, Jimmy,” Mother said. “Perhaps the injury will heal by itself. Many times in nature this happens.”
“Would it help if I brought some food here by this bush?”
“Maybe. Why don’t you try it!”
Every day Jimmy dropped pieces of whole wheat bread near the bird, and every time after he left, the grackle would emerge from its haven and gobble them up. Soon the bird began to realize that Jimmy was not going to harm it. As long as Jimmy sat quietly a few feet away, the grackle fed unafraid. Although Jimmy never tried to touch the bird, he still felt that they were good friends. However, he was worried. It seemed to him that the bird’s leg should have healed by now, but it hadn’t.
One day the grackle did not come when Jimmy called. No soft chirps came from the bush. In the evening Jimmy took more bread to the usual spot. Still his friend did not come.
“Maybe the bird was strong enough to join the other grackles,” Father suggested. “Let’s just wait and see.”
The next morning Jimmy sprinkled more bread by the bush, but only a crow swooped down and gulped the tidbits.
Now Jimmy was really concerned. He told his father and mother about the crow at lunch. They listened sympathetically and afterward Dad suggested a game of catch.
“Here comes my fastball!” Dad shouted. “Ready?”
The ball whizzed low and Jimmy felt it smack the edge of his glove and ricochet into the bushes. Crawling under the low limbs, Jimmy reached for his ball. But his hand suddenly stopped, for in a knot of brown leaves he saw his grackle, its bad leg curled and shriveled.
“No! No! Dad, my bird is … is dead! Why? I fed it …”
“Its injury was too serious to heal by itself,” Dad explained, coming over to the bushes. “It wasn’t strong enough to survive. Perhaps nature knew best, son. Even if it survived for a time but couldn’t fly away with its friends, it wouldn’t have had a very happy life. You did a good thing by making its last days as pleasant as possible, and it’s best it didn’t have to suffer long.”
“But I wish it didn’t have to die,” Jimmy said, tears welling in his eyes.
“I know, Jimmy, but the rule of survival has been nature’s way ever since life began.”
Jimmy was silent. He thought about the grackle—chirping, pecking, hopping, falling—always falling. He looked away from the bush and out across the lawn. Several other grackles strutted through the grass.
“I see you’re watching the other grackles in the yard,” Dad said. “Robins and sparrows too. And there’s a cardinal. They all seem to be looking for food.”
“Well, I guess I could feed them even though they aren’t hurt like my grackle,” Jimmy murmured slowly.
“Sure you could,” Dad agreed. “All birds have a problem finding enough food, especially in cold or stormy weather.”
“I could build a feeder so they could have their own restaurant,” Jimmy suggested, a note of excitement creeping into his voice.
“That’s a great idea, son!” Dad encouraged. “And I’ll help if you need me. I can see that the birds around here will never go hungry.”
“That’s right, Dad,” Jimmy said. “Now I know what you mean about that survival rule. It’s sad when a bird dies, but we have to think about the ones that are still alive. And now I’m going to help take care of them.”