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The Overnight Guest Cried 'Chip-Cheep!'

One evening, just after dark, a squall of cats drew me outside to investigate. My cat, Suky, was out there and perhaps needed to be rescued. But she's black, and it was too dark to see her. The noise stopped, and I turned back into the lighted kitchen.

There on the floor was a gawky young thrush, in brown jacket and speckled beige vest. He was not long flown from the nest, and still tailless. In Yorkshire, they would call him a "fliggie." His bright eyes and lively demeanor suggested the name "Clarence." He was glad to see me and hopped around, chirping joyfully.

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This was the first time I had met a small wild bird that wasn't afraid of humans. When garden birds blunder into the house, they usually flap frantically to escape or crouch frozen into a corner to avoid notice. But there was nothing abject about Clarence.

Innocent yet wary, he pattered around the kitchen at my heels like a household pet, keeping up a constant chirping request for supper. Chip-cheep, chip-cheep! He was sure that this was the right place and that I was going to feed him.

What do baby thrushes eat? I threw down some bread crumbs. He wasn't interested. I thought I had better catch him and put him outside, where he belonged. Swiftly he sized up his defenses and retreated under the big table. Using the legs and rungs of the chairs for maneuver, he dodged me with a minimum of effort, always just out of reach.

This would be his first visit to a kitchen, his first tussle with a human being, yet I couldn't capture him. At that time of night it was all too much. I left him some water, shut him in the kitchen, called in the cat by another door, and went to bed.

Morning came, sunny and warm, but clouded by the problem of what to do with Clarence. I'd heard that thrushes were becoming rare in this part of England. Maybe he belonged to an endangered species. And now I remembered what thrushes liked to eat. Would I have to snip up worms, grind snails? Oh, why had this happened to me? What could I do for this unwelcome waif?

Downstairs in the kitchen, Clarence was quite affable and bore me no grudge for our tiff last night. Still friendly and famished, he followed me around, loudly chirping for his breakfast. Amazing that the little fellow could make so much din. Chip-cheep! Chip-cheep! My cat could hear him from the hall and was pounding on her side of the door, eager to join us in the kitchen. All rather confusing.

I thought a little fresh air might help me, so I opened the top of the kitchen window, and Clarence's double-note of hunger floated out over the yard.

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Instantly, a small brown bird flew toward the house from the mulberry tree nearby. Of course! The patient mother-bird must have been watching all night for signs of her chick. Suddenly the picture changed. After all, it had been quite right for him to stay indoors for the night, safe from prowling cats. I almost felt ashamed of my reluctant hospitality, and that I hadn't given him a thing to eat.

Now I hurried to send Clarence back to his mother. With a long-handled soft broom I winkled him out from among the chair legs and gently swept him into the yard. As I turned to replace the broom, mother thrush was already shepherding him along the curving path toward the vegetable patch.

Just before he disappeared behind a cabbage, Clarence paused, looked back at me, a cheerful glance, as if he remembered the night's entertainment, during which he never once lost his cool.

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