“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it,” a well-known Bible verse says. And not one can be suffering without Paul Graziano and his 13-year-old stepson, Philip Borkowski, doing their best to save it.
Last Saturday Philip called his stepfather to tell him that not one but two sparrows had gotten caught in wet caulking in Glendale.
Graziano went to the site — on Union Turnpike between Myrtle Avenue and 88th Street — to collect the small birds. The poor creatures were covered in the white tar all over their bodies and wings, and one of the two had its beak sealed shut.
Someone had caulked a gap in the sidewalk next to a fire hydrant, which Graziano said implies that a city contractor was involved. “This is negligent on part of the city for not taking proper precautions. If whoever laid the cement down would have waited for it to dry or at least protected the area, this would not have happened,” he said.
It was 7 p.m. on a Saturday when Graziano rescued the birds, so many veterinarian offices were closed. A 24-hour animal care center in Manhattan told him it could try its best to help the birds, but that the best thing to do would be to euthanize them. Graziano found this to be unacceptable and decided to take matters into his own hands.
He picked up Palmolive and Dawn dish soap, which is what wildlife rehab centers use on animals caught in oil spills. He proceeded to remove the caulk with the soap, a small needle and a tiny pair of sewing scissors, working for six hours. He was successful in removing almost all of the material and the sparrow that had its beak closed was able to open its mouth, but it died an hour later.
The second bird only had a little left on one of its wings and tail feathers, and started to fly around Graziano’s kitchen after being cleaned. He wanted to keep the bird in a box under a heat lamp outside, but the bird escaped and flew into the trees behind his yard in Flushing.
This is not the first time Queens has seen such an incident which, for Graziano, is a big issue. In July 2012, the same situation of small birds trapped in cement filler occurred on 67th Avenue in Rego Park, and was covered by NBC news. “It’s standard procedure to cover this wet rubber tar with plastic while it’s drying and remove it the next day, which they failed to do back in 2012 and again last week,” Graziano explained.
The urban planner and faunitarian, or animal lover, feels that this problem warrants more attention by the city as well as its residents. “Animals are life and there is no reason not to care about them,” he said.
This article originally misstated the community where the birds got stuck. It was Glendale. We regret the error.