“The Tiniest Need Our Help!!”

Blog_CSMag_BabyBirds_The incubators are filling up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC because the tiniest need our help! Baby birds aren’t the cutest little critters to come through the doors of the shelter, but they are the most fragile and definitely will not make it on their own if abandoned or displaced. If they are newborns, we might not be able to make the call on what they are until they develop a little more because many baby birds start life looking quite similar and the smaller the bird species the more similar they look at birth; a skin blob of a body with no feathers, a limp neck trying to hold up a tiny head with a beak that shoots straight up to let Mom or Dad know when it’s hungry. When we admit newborn birds, we might even refer to them as UBBs (unidentified baby birds) until we hear a sound we recognize, the shape and coloring of their beak becomes more pronounced or they start to feather. Then we will know for sure!Blog_CSMag_BabyBird_
Larger song bird babies are easier to identify. When the nursery is full of baby birds, it becomes a full time job for baby bird feeders because these little creatures eat every 30 minutes because their metabolism is so fast and they develop much more quickly than mammals do. Also keep in mind, their meals don’t stop, this is seven days a week! Most people outside the shelter probably do not have the time to devote to this strict feeding schedule. If you add “day olds” or newborns to the mix, the feeding schedule for them is adjusted to every 15 minutes! We also need three shifts (morning, afternoon and evening until the sun goes down) to get the job done because that’s the way their parents would do it! There is no down time for the nursery workers. By the time you finish one round of feeding, it’s time to start all over again. Along with feeding, of course, is cleaning, because just like human babies, baby birds spend all their time eating, sleeping and pooping. Mom and Dad would be cleaning their nest area continually, so wildlife rehabilitators will do that as well. Recently, a nest of five House Finches were displaced when their nest gourd fell apart and the babies found themselves on the ground, four infant Carolina Wrens were discovered in a propane tank, a featherless baby Grackle was found sitting in the road (how that happened is anybody’s guess) and two Nuthatch babies were sighted inside a screen door with no Mom around. When you don’t see how it happened, it’s all speculation and pure wonderment on our part. There will be more baby bird calls and more to join the nursery this summer. Blog_CSMag_I7Z1049__Of course, when someone calls the shelter to tell us they have found baby birds on the ground or their nest is in a dangerous or precarious location, we initially give instructions on how to re-nest the little ones because that would be best for the whole bird family, but when that is impossible, we ask them to bring the youngins in for the care and safety they will need to survive. Wildlife rehabilitators are so important in the equation of raising and giving songbirds the second chance that they definitely deserve because, quite frankly, it’s usually human interference that displaces the little ones and causes a perilous situation for birds that are so important to our ecosystem, and as we are all aware, songbird numbers are on the decline. Blog_BabyBirds In NestWildlife rehabilitators are well trained and licensed, so they possess the “know-how” to provide appropriate species specific diets and habitat, as well as, anticipate and monitor species unique behaviors that when evaluated will let us know when bird youngsters are ready to spend the time needed in an outside enclosure to perfect perching, flight and eating on their own, which is one step away from a wild release. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter raises them all! We are not bias on which species to accept. Need is the key word!!! So, in our nursery in any given Spring, we house the tiniest of our feathered friends from Hummingbirds (although rare) to Finches, Wrens, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Warblers and Sparrows and the larger songbirds (who are usually the easier babies to raise because one: they are bigger and two: aren’t as ‘flitty.’) Larger nursery birds would include Eastern Blue Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Robins, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Gray Cat Birds, Starlings, Grackles, Boat Tailed Grackles, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Fly Catchers, Barn Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and the biggest nursery babies; a variety of Wood Peckers or Flickers, Mourning Doves and Pigeons. They are all so different, and they all have special needs!Blog_CSMag_I7Z1054__ Some are bugs and worm eaters (and we go through thousands of meal worms per week!), while others prefer seeds and berries, then again, some are omnivores and will include all the choices in their diet, but yes, we proudly raise them all!

Please enjoy your Memorial Day and always remember the reason this day has been set aside to be honored by those of us who owe so much to sacrifices made by others.

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

All Fly, but All Different!

Feeding tiny birds is a full time job when springtime, baby season rolls around at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC where I volunteer. There is no down time between feedings because baby birds, especially songbirds, eat every thirty minutes or less, depending upon their size when admitted to the shelter. By the time a wildlife rehabilitator at OWLS has made the baby bird feeding rounds in the infant nursery, it’s time to start the process all over again. And because birds eat from sun up to sun down, the shelter adds a third shift of volunteer personnel to cover evening hours until the sun dips beneath the horizon.
Baby birds are admitted for a number of reasons; some understandable to rehabbers and some not; a tree holding a nest might be cut down, a nest may have been built in an inconvenient place such as on a lawn mower or in a mail box where Carolina Wrens are known to homestead, a baby Robin might have fallen out of a nest and a cat brought him home, high winds could have blown a Cardinal’s nest apart which spilled newborns on the ground for power walkers to find or House Sparrows built a nest in a hanging plant on the porch causing bird parents to dive bomb the residents whenever they were too close to their babies. Now, that last reason is puzzling to wildlife rehabbers because our first thought as an animal caretaker, which we sometimes verbalize, is ‘can’t you use the side or back door until they fledge?’ Songbirds grow and fledge very quickly, in a matter of weeks. Remember, the smaller the bird, the faster they mature and become the capable flyers and self-feeders they need to be in the wild. If an alternate door is not an option, our next inclination is to see if there is a way to relocate the babies to a safe place in the vicinity of their parents. If that is not doable, they or the loner is admitted to the shelter’s nursery, formal identification takes place and care begins.
The keys to taking care of baby birds is possessing knowledge of dietary needs for a certain species, being aware of their unique behaviors and knowing what physical set-up is required for specific birds. Yes, they are all birds and all fly, but they are all so very different. Some birds are Passeriformes or mainly seed eaters, such as the House Finch while a Mockingbird enjoys fruit more, insectivores, like a Chimney Swift, eat bugs on the wing and some birds metabolize protein better than others. Hand held tweezers, that keenly resemble Mom or Dad’s beak, deliver mealworms that are quite popular with most baby birds, and our shelter provides 10,000 a week to nursery mates during peak baby season. At OWLS, we also have species specific infant formulas that are somewhat pasty but filling, nutritional meals we administer with a syringe. We have the gapers, such as Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Starlings and Sparrows, who cooperatively hold their mouths wide for feeding time and those who don’t gape at all, such as Mourning Doves or Pigeons, who have crops to fill. Some birds, like Killdeer, are precocial, which means they start eating on their own shortly after hatching. Most birds are built to perch on limbs, but Woodpeckers, Flickers and Chimney Swifts need to cling vertically to a rough surface and still, others, such as Woodcocks or Quail, sit or hide from predators in tall grasses or shrubby areas.
Wildlife rehabilitators need to know what makeshift habitat is best for each bird youngster admitted and provide that environment when they have grown beyond their incubator stay and need to stretch their legs and wings a bit. The knowledge required to appropriately and successfully care for an array of baby birds is quite extensive. That’s why when someone calls the shelter to tell us they found a baby bird and asks what they need to do to keep it alive, we advise the caller to try to get it back into the nest or place the baby bird in a small basket high in a tree so the parents can find the infant and feed him or her until ready to fledge. If that isn’t possible, we ask them to bring the youngin’s to us. Not many people outside the shelter have the time (every thirty minutes from sunrise to sunset, 24-7), particular diets available, specialized equipment and bird know-how to devote to these fragile little beings most of us love to watch in the wild. Birds need to learn to be birds and experience a series of developmental stages very quickly during that process. We don’t want them habituating with human caretakers. So, the faster we get them fully feathered, physically strong, eager to fly and out to our pre-release flight cages the better. Sometimes, in the nursery, a few juveniles are more eager than they are ready and may escape during feedings for short bursts of freedom until we encourage them to return to their enclosure mates. We deal with their acting out!
It’s a busy time at the shelter, but I eagerly invite you to tour the facility at 100 Wildlife Way (252-240-1200) in Newport, NC on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays at 2 pm. Take the opportunity to check out baby bird care in action! It’s amazing to see birds in their unique developmental stages; from homely bobble headed, skin blobs clad only in fluffy down, if not naked, to the beautiful, fully flighted and self-reliant wildlife they become.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”