“Smooth like velvet” sprang into my mind when thinking of a name for our latest patient – a rook baby. It was May 2014. The lady who had kindly picked up Velvet underneath a rookery, situated in a massive cedar tree, cared for him at her home until she got overwhelmed by the task. When we were asked to take over, we noticed a nasty compound fracture of his left leg – the bone had pierced through the tender skin. It was a surprise Velvet had survived such a deep fall anyway, landing next to one of the busiest roads on the island. But the fractured leg needed to be treated, although we knew it would be too late to even hope for full function of the limb.
Just one week without treatment is too long for the ultra speed healing capacity of bird bones to adjust a fracture to its former position, and with it giving the best chance for the surrounding tissues to survive, like nerves, crucial for firm standing, landing and a proper grip of the foot. Velvet’s sweet nature and trust from the very start made him an extremely likeable patient and companion to be with. He tolerated bitter antibiotics as much as the annoying splint and remarkably, the fracture healed. Only the nerve supplying the foot had not survived the ordeal, which is why Velvet would grow up with and noticed by a limp foot. But this didn’t stop him.
From the very beginning – he spent his “childhood” with fellow new arrivals Chili and Pepper, two carrion crow fledglings – he would be a full part of the gang. Company of his own kind was important, but so was the proximity to his human family. He learned quickly to use his floppy foot in the best possible way, and when Chili and Pepper were ready to move outside into the big mixed rook and crow aviary, so was Velvet.
He would develop into a strong minded and independent young rook gentlemen, respected by his peers, yet keeping the bond to us humans too. He found his distinct voice, and would train it with great enthusiasm – the variety of sounds was mind-boggling, even for rook standards. In his second year he would get closer to Dobbie (or did she get closer to him?). She is another rook resident who joined us the year before Velvet came. Like Velvet, she had a ”dodgy” foot. The two became our first true rook couple. Like other couples, they would show huge affection for each other, but also have arguments and go their own ways, only to quickly sit intensely close to and preen each other again. They started building a nest very seriously, showing astonishing skills, despite their disabilities. Naturally, they would become extremely protective during this time, but again, even then, Velvet was the one who accepted us humans around with ease.
Being in his sixth year, nobody of us expected Velvet to die. After a very short illness, very likely related to his brain, Velvet passed away in our arms last week. He was with Dobbie right to the very end, yet we had the privilege to be there as well, which we are very grateful for.
Velvet has left a space that’s hard to fill, for Dobbie and us. We all miss him immensely. Interestingly, Dobbie has been supported from the very moment when Velvet died by fellow rook Brambles, one of our longest residents. We will never forget Velvet who beat the odds and became an ambassador for what Corvid Isle wants to achieve: to create a safe haven and opportunities for those individuals, who usually would be persecuted just because of their species or their intrinsic value as a sentient being denied, because they are “just a rook”.