Nursery attendants shifted into high gear last month to accommodate the every thirty minutes feeding schedule for the huge number of birdnapped newborns and fledglings that now claim 100 Wildlife Way as their foster home. The incubators are full, the table and counters are covered with crab boxes, waterless fish tanks and netted doll playpens, all housing a variety of infant and juvie bird species. Same size and compatible youngins like robins, blue jays and mockingbirds can room together, while some loners, who don’t get along with anybody, get their own space. (Just a tip to other wildlife rehabilitators if you haven’t found this out already; don’t try to buddy a Titmouse with a House Finch. I never knew a cute, little Titmouse could be so vicious. It was a frenzied evacuation believe me. I was apologizing to the terrorized Finch for the rest of the day.) Rehabbers squeeze in between and around larger canopied, human baby playpens on the floor used to restrict fully feathered adolescents who are still learning to eat on their own before the big move to an outside enclosure for flight school. Well-meaning people, who do not understand the natural behaviors of wildlife, deliver bobble-headed bird babies to the shelter everyday. The list of reasons is quite extensive; “I think they’ve been abandoned, or the big birds keep flying at me when I go near the nest (duh!), or they leave droppings on my car (so . . . move your car?), or they nested in my mailbox (how about . . . use a temp container on top or to the side of the box for a few weeks, just until they wave adios, hasta luego!). It’s a very slim chance they’ve been abandoned. Even if something happens to one parent the other will continue to bring food to the nest until the newborns are ready to take flight. The only excuses that really carry a lot of weight with me are ” The cat was about to get them” or “I pulled the snake out of the nesting box, but he’d already eaten two.” (Yes, the snake must eat, but two is more than enough.) Living in the wild is harsh, even the semi-wild such as your backyard or workplace. Unfortunately, bird parents don’t have the defenses needed to save their young from domestic or feral cats and dogs who injure, kill or orphan millions of birds each year, and they don’t pack the punch to whip up on an aggressive snake, either. Those little hollow legs aren’t capable of the Ninja kick they need to do business, despite what is represented in Disney’s animated features. So, there are some good reasons to disrupt the family unit for the greater good (but not many). Although natural mothers provide better care, nutrition, and survival training than any wildlife rehabilitator, we do the best we can for the orphans in our care. We can feed the babies comparable diets, be it syringe fed formula, fruit, crickets, a variety of seed, meal worms and for the robins, juicy earthworms we dig out of the compost pile, but we don’t look like their parents (although some of you might choose to debate that) and try as we might, we can’t teach them to be wild. They just don’t take us seriously enough. They will have to depend on each other for that. Our golden advice is and has always been; if they are not in danger and there is a possibility the mother is around, wait. There are plenty of good mothers out there, even if you don’t see them. They are hidden and patiently waiting to see what the gigantic human is going to do. Wildlife mothers (and fathers) are devoted to the survival of their offspring, but Mom must leave the babies from time to time to feed herself and in the case of birds, find food for them. After fledging, young birds will still hang out with their parents and beg for food, much like human babies old enough to leave the nest but smart enough to know a good thing when they’ve got it.
Have faith in the good wildlife mothers. They possess instinctive loyalty and tenacity far beyond our awareness. One of the Good Mothers I loved to visit was a Mourning Dove who nested in a hanging plant each year at Pal’s Hardware. After situating herself, the clerks would pull other plants around her for safety, place a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and pile straw beneath her chosen nesting spot to cushion a fall if a baby dove took a tumble. Last year, during a tropical storm, the torrential rains didn’t let up for hours, and I couldn’t help thinking about her; wondering if the hanging plant could possibly drain fast enough to prevent drowning the babies. I threw on my poncho and headed to the store, which was closed due to the hurricane threat, only to find The Good Mother hunkered down, keeping her dependent brood safe and dry. This year Pal’s Hardware discontinued the foliage and plant service they provided for so many years, and I miss her.
If you come across an active bird nest you feel is in a danger zone or has become a nuisance to you, please call your nearest wildlife shelter before displacing it. The bird world thanks you.