Nursery attendants have shifted into high gear to accommodate the every thirty minutes feeding schedule for the bird newborns and fledglings who now and will claim the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport as their foster home this summer. The incubators are full and the table and counters are covered with crab boxes, waterless fish tanks and netted doll playpens, all housing a variety of infant and juvenile 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. We learned this the hard way when we tried to buddy a Titmouse with a House Finch years ago. We never knew a cute, tiny Titmouse could be so vicious. It was a frenzied evacuation, and we apologized to the terrorized Finch for the rest of the day. Wildlife rehabilitators squeeze in between and around 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 birdnapped, bobble-headed babies to the shelter every day. Unfeathered infant birds are the most fragile of all babies we receive during spring breeding season. The list of admit reasons is quite extensive; “I think they’ve been abandoned” (probably not) or “the big birds keep flying at me when I go near the nest” (but that’s understandable – protecting their children), or “they leave droppings on my car” (so . . maybe. . . move your car?), or “they nested in my mailbox” (how about . . . using a temporary mail container on top or to the side of the box for a few weeks, just until the little birds wave thank you, adios, hasta luego!). It’s a very slim chance they’ve been abandoned in most cases. Even if something happens to one bird 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 weight at the shelter 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 do not have the defenses needed to save their young from domestic or feral cats and dogs that 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 just don’t have the Disney Ninja kick they need to do business. So, there are some good reasons to disrupt the family unit but not many. Although natural mothers provide better care, nutrition and survival training than any wildlife rehabilitator, we do our best as foster moms for the orphans in our care. We can feed the babies comparable diets, be it syringe fed formula, fruits, 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 might want 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. Wildlife mothers (and fathers) are devoted to the survival of their offspring, but Mom must leave the nest from time to time to feed herself and find food for the babies. After fledging, young birds will still hang 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 we came in contact with a while back was a Mourning Dove who nested in a hanging plant every year at a hardware store. 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 dive. One year, during a tropical storm, the torrential rains didn’t let up for hours, and we couldn’t help thinking about her; wondering if the hanging plant could possibly drain fast enough to prevent drowning the babies. A wildlife rehabilitator threw on her rain poncho and headed to the store, which was closed due to the hurricane threat, only to find the Good Mother hunkered down on her nest and although soaked herself, keeping her dependent brood dry. If you come across an active bird nest you feel is in a danger zone or has become a nuisance to you, please call us (OWLS) at (252)-240-1200 or a wildlife shelter close to you before displacing it. The bird world will thank you!
The first wild babies displaced this spring who reached our rehab door were mammals; squirrels, opossums and cottontails. They arrived in all stages of development, and our staff morphed into the Good Mothers needed for each species. We have already released the strong, feisty and ready to go their wild way early borns, and we are prepared to steadfastly stay the course throughout the summer, ensuring all wildlife orphans are properly raised and become strong and cleverly keen enough to live their second chance!
Best Always, (and have a safe and sensational summer!)
Author of “Save Them All“