Feeling lonely? Make friends with a bird

One woman’s tender persistence with two birds is an affecting story
May 12, 2022
Hannah Bourne-Taylor
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When Hannah Bourne-Taylor moved to Ghana for her husband’s work, she felt purposeless and isolated. In her memoir, Fledgling, she describes how wives at the “trailing spouses” club “circled like hyenas dressed in culottes and floral maxi-dresses.”

Real animals are much easier to get along with. At dusk she sees a man destroy a swift’s nest—leaving the baby bird on the ground, almost certainly doomed. Prompted by nostalgia for her youth growing up in Somerset, she takes the bird home to rear it until it is ready to fly. She constructs a nest from tea towels and a cardboard box. After gathering termites, she painstakingly feeds their bodies to the swift using a paper funnel. It clings onto her shoulder and nuzzles her neck—“its little toes digging into my shoulder tightly”—the best proof she has that the bird returns her affection.

When it is time to set the swift free, tragedy strikes. So she tries again, forming an even closer bond with an abandoned mannikin finch. A man who sees the fledgling respond to her chirping call marvels at the “magic.” She becomes so wrapped up in the bird that at a party for expats she feels she is a “finch in human disguise.”

The book is sometimes overwritten. In just one paragraph, for example, Bourne-Taylor describes how current events “sifted through my mind like plankton through the gills of a basking shark,” while scrolling the internet “like acid on a surface, starts a process of erosion” as “my mind flew around like a moth looking for light.” But her tender persistence with the two birds is still affecting.