Julie Zickefoose‘s husband is an editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, a magazine I have enjoyed for several years and which I give to friends who enjoy birdwatching. Julie has written articles for the digest and has contributed many paintings and drawings to it. When I read that she had recently published The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds that was full of her artwork as well as her experiences rehabilitating birds, I ordered it immediately.
Zickefoose’s book is a would-be-artist and birdwatcher’s dream come true. Each chapter concerns a different common bird which finds its way, usually with human help, to the author. As a wildlife rehabilitator, she has kept anecdotal journals full of drawings and paintings about each bird in her care since the early eighties. For this book she writes about these experiences.
On a recent trip to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I had plenty of time to read while my husband drove, and frequently I read out loud to him. Some of the stories are funny, all are informative, and a few are cautionary tales. Some even changed my attitude about birds I thought little of, like the cardinal and the mourning dove.
The chapter about the Turkey Vulture demonstrates the lengths to which the author is committed to wildlife. Seeing one sitting beside the road, Julie stopped the car, asked it what was wrong, “tucked the unresisting bird under [her] arm and rode the rest of the way with it lying on [her] lap like a tame hen.” She determined the bird was starving, but when she tried to feed it, she found it would only eat from her hand. She is able to make the reader care about and root for the return of good health to a vulture.
One summer Julie became mother to two different nests of hummingbird infants when the nests were blown out of trees, and two different women called her to ask her to take them in. Feeding the nestlings entailed eyedroppers full of a “seventy-nine-dollar jar of powdered hummingbird diet” and “beheading and squeezing mealworm larvae, like miniature toothpaste tubes, and offering the pastelike substance on the blunt end of a toothpick.” Her routine was repeated every twenty minutes. When she had to shop for food for her family, Julie took the two nests of hummingbirds and her two children to the store. All the birds fledged by the twentieth day, but the author couldn’t leave the house for more than two hours at a time, as the fledglings would starve.
In The Bluebird Effect–Part Two (to be published tomorrow), I will discuss the most poignant chapters of the book, explain the meaning of the title, and suggest other books you might like.