Sunday, July 20, 2008

All About Baby

American Robin
Photo by David Powell

You might have heard the old myth, the one that says you can’t put a baby bird back in its nest because the mother will smell the human scent and reject it. Today, avian savvy folks know that this just isn’t true, as evidenced by solid data. We also know that branching is a normal stage for baby birds of all species. This is the time when they have left the nest, but are not yet able to fly.

At this time, the parents are still caring for their young, although many young birds run into problems at this time of their life cycle due to cats, dogs, vehicles, and human intervention.
Yes, it’s true. This is the time when well-meaning humans notice those unflighted youngsters, think they have been abandoned, and KIDNAP them. They gather up the avian equivalent of a toddler, put it in a box and begin calling rescue groups looking for help for their “orphan”. We, along with wildlife rehabilitation groups nationwide, receive loads of call each spring and summer from frantic humans looking for other humans to take care of baby.

Flash back to Memorial Day 2008. It had been a gloriously long, full day of hiking in the Ojito Wilderness Area with friends, but I was tired that evening. While I reclined on my sofa, watching the news, I heard frantic shouting in my Rio Rancho back yard. Puzzled, I arose to investigate the cause of all the commotion. A male voice shouted,

“Gail! Gail! GAIL!”

Neighbor John leaned over the fence looking very relieved. Seems he had found a baby robin running around in his back yard, and felt the need to rescue it. Shortly, he produced a small cardboard, holding a small, very confused fledgling robin. We talked about nature, and how it was best to leave them be, but John wasn’t having any of that! Proudly, he handed over the box.

I waited until he went indoors, and promptly opened the box to set the little one on the ground near some dense shrubbery. My logic was that since our yards were adjacent, surely Mama Robin would hear her baby only 20 feet further away in the next yard. But, the baby didn’t cheep, or beg, or do anything except stare at me. I hid behind the door, peeking out every once in a while. After 30 minutes or so, baby was no longer visible. A few minutes after that, a plaintive cheep, cheep, cheep arose from the shrubs.

It was about then that I began to doubt all the literature, as well as my hands-on experience, and the worry set in. It was windy that evening, terribly windy. What if Mom could not hear her little one calling? After all, I hadn’t seen a robin in my yard in days, nor had I heard one. What if I had made a terrible mistake? The cheeping went on; the wind kept blowing, and I knew that I had done the WRONG thing.

Just before dark, I heard an adult robin call. But the irrational worry didn’t end there. In fact, it continued for three days, even though I was now noticing robins foraging in my yard every day. But, there was still no sign of baby. Maybe one of the neighborhood cats got him.
Finally, three days later, when I looked out my back window, there he was, and quite proud of himself too. With a stubby little tail, and half-grown wings, he had climbed up to the lofty height of about 2 feet in a sand sage. He preened; he stretched; he exuded confidence as only the very young can. Mama Robin returned and stuffed a giant worm down his throat.

All was well. There was nothing to worry about! Really! I knew that it would work out just as I intended. Whew! I hope that particular issue doesn’t happen again anytime soon.

Speaking of orphans: Hawks Aloft has already placed one Cooper’s Hawk fledgling back into its nest at an apartment complex in Albuquerque. Its kidnappers had driven it all the way to the Wildlife Center in Espanola, where it spent four days in captivity while we coordinated its return to its natural parents. Coordination meant working together to get baby back to Albuquerque, as well as assistance from our friends at PNM who donated the use their bucket truck and crew. Fortunately, there were two other siblings in the nest so the parents were still in attendance. Baby settled in nicely and, when our biologist checked on it an hour later, all three were being fed by Mom. This particular hawk baby just got an early lesson in human avoidance.

If you find a feathered baby bird on the ground, observe it from a distance to see if it is being attended by its parents. If the bird is constantly begging and the parents are not responding, only then should it be caught and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation organization. If, however, you find a naked baby bird on the ground, try to return it to its nest. If that isn’t possible, line a berry basket or shallow plastic container with some ventilation holes punched in the bottom with paper towels or tissue to simulate a nest and securely fasten that to the tree as high as you can place it. If the nestling is in danger of being harmed by pet animals, then capture it and call a wildlife rehabilitator.

The two largest rehabilitation groups in New Mexico are the Wildlife Center, Espanola, at 575-753-9505, and Wildlife Rescue, Albuquerque 344-2500.

No comments: