It was the look on my brother Phil’s face as I invited him into the eagle mew to rake it out that told me more clearly than anything else that maybe, just maybe, not everyone voluntarily enters an eagle’s pen when the eagle is in residence. He told me he’d take my back and be ready to fling the door open if the eagle attacked but that was as close as he was getting to the whole situation.
I really couldn’t complain. After all, he’d come all the way up from Delaware to spend a week in Alaska and here he was washing poopy bird dishes and cutting up smelly salmon during my Bird TLC shift.
Being Italian, I firmly believe that there is nothing that is so bad that a good meal can’t fix it. You can do all the soaking and wrapping and antibiotics you want, but if you don’t make a good presentation of a tasty dinner, the bird will never get well. Not that you will necessarily ever find that in a textbook. It’s just something Italian mommas have known since time immemorial.
So when the injured birds arrive at the clinic and need their veggies, I find myself tastefully arranging them on the plate. Grated carrots in one quadrant, beautifully strewn rotting parsley in another. Sliced apple drops like little dollops of joy on top of slightly moistened game maintenance kibbles. No one can resist the right presentation.
Of course, this belief was sorely tried the first time I had to thaw out frozen mice and plump them up by injecting an IV solution into their abdomens for an owl. No matter how I arranged them, they still looked like mice that died from some serious form of malnutrition that had left them with grotesquely swollen bellies.
And of course, if it’s hard to make a pleasant presentation of mice, rats are darn near impossible. No matter what you do, they have that funny little overbite that anyone who ever lived in a big city will never look at neutrally. After treating babies in a pediatric unit of a major inner city Brooklyn hospital for rat bites on their toes and head, I find it hard to not run screaming from the room every time I have to take them out of the freezer.
But worse of all when it comes to presentation is food prepared for ravens and magpies and the occasional lost crow. If rats and mice don’t look all that hot the first time around, there is no describing what it’s like when you have to cut the leftovers up to feed to these scavengers. Perhaps this is why I get so much quiet time in the kitchen to mull over life while I’m preparing food. There have been days where I saw people visibly flinch before coming in as I cut up a particularly ripe piece of hooligan or day old rat.
Working at the Bird TLC kitchen means getting used to opening freezers and seeing Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail curled up in frozen balls waiting their turn to become part of the cycle of nature…or, as One Wing and Witch would call it, lunch. And this is from a woman who used to routinely brave ice cellars in Barrow to haul up frozen duck and geese for dinner. Hum, sounds like I’ve really come full cycle. From making them for dinner to making dinner for them.
The eagles are really the easiest to feed. Cut up a hunk of salmon and they act as though they are dining at the Corsair. Of course, ever since I started cutting up that old salmon for them I’ve found myself less and less inclined to order salmon at dinner. Halibut is ok but the smell of salmon will never hold the same connotation for me today as it did before I found out how to feed the eagles.
I’m not complaining though. I’ve got the best job there is at Bird TLC. I don’t grab the birds in blankets so that they dread my appearance. I don’t suture their injuries, wrap their wings, medicate their feet or shove tubes down their throats. When I show up, I have food in my hand that has been lovingly prepared from both a nutritious and visual perspective. And I like to think the birds recognize this and that’s why they don’t try to bite my face off.
As Martha would say, “And that’s a good thing”.
Join Bird TLC this Saturday evening, February 3, at the ConocoPhillips Atrium for a fun night of food, drink, and Mr. Whitekeys at our annual fundraising auction. Call 562-4852 for ticket information. Help us help injured birds return to our skies where we can all enjoy their beauty.