Helen Macdonald teaches at the University of Cambridge and her most recent bestselling book, ‘‘H Is for Hawk,’’ has won numerous awards. In this week’s NY Magazine, she writes about Judith Wakelam who rescues baby common swifts, “birds so exquisitely aerial that they eat, sleep and mate on the wing and spend the first two or three years of their lives migrating between Europe and Africa in continuous flight.” Macdonald calls on wildlife rehab experts to explain why people rescue wildlife: “…there’s something inside humans when they’re faced with a helpless creature. We have an imperative. A duty…I believe most people, especially children, simply cannot see an animal suffer…The Lindsay rehab center receives everything from bobcats to snakes, ducklings to songbirds, brought in by concerned members of the public who have driven many miles to deliver them…rescuing animals draws out ‘‘raw emotions that unleash our deepest insecurities about our humanity, mortality and place in the natural world.’’ Macdonald then closes with an evocative description of Wakelam releasing rehabbed baby common swifts back into the wild:
It stares into the wind. Then it starts shivering. Nothing has visibly changed, but something is happening. On Wakelam’s open palm a creature whose home has been paper towels and plastic boxes is turning into a different creature whose home is thousands of miles of air. It is as extraordinary a thing to witness as a dragonfly larva’s crawling out of the water and tearing itself out into a thing with wings. Then the swift decides. It hunches itself forward on its wings and drops from her flattened palm. ‘‘Up! Up! Up!’’ calls Wakelam. I’m terrified it will hit the ground. But it does not. For five or six seconds it flies with halting, unaccustomed wing beats a foot above the grass, then hitches and pulls into gear and starts to ascend, flickering upward until it becomes a remote pair of winnowing wings among all the other swifts up there. For weeks it has sat in a plastic box preening and snuggling with its foster siblings. Now it is gone, and Wakelam’s hand is its final memory of earth, the last thing it will touch for two years.
Don’t miss Helen Mcdonald’s full essay here: Rescuing Wildlife is Futile and Necessary