We had a very early start of our usual fall waterbird season this year with several birds coming down with the October storms. These two are grebes, and if you know me, you know I think these kinds of birds are some of the coolest around. This picture gives us an excellent view of the differences between the Clark's Grebe and the Western Grebe. The Clark's is the one in front, and an older bird. The one is the back is the Western and is a young, likely first year bird. Both came down on wet pavement thinking it was a river or lake. Both were very thin, needed worming, hypothermic, and needed a solid rest. For some reason all the birds that came down, including one loon, were extremely thin which indicates they were not finding enough food on their breeding grounds prior to migration. The worms didn't help either.
These birds cannot fly from a stand-still, they must have water. For the Western at least 20-30 feet of a water 'runway' is needed for them to get into the air. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, like a penguin and for that reason they cannot walk well, much less get a running start to get in the air. Their bodies are heavy and their wings small in relation to their body size - this is because these birds are excellent fishers. A Western can get moving so fast underwater they can spear their fish. THAT is impressive! Its that heavy body and those small wings held flat against their bodies that allows them to dive and stay down to fish. But with these very neat anatomical features comes a heavy price to pay if they are not fit enough for reaching a watery destination. Sadly, these guys in an emergency (hypothermia, fatigue) must choose whatever looks closest to water and make a gamble. If lucky, some kind soul finds them and gets them to a rehabber who can warm them up, worm them, get them waterproof again, fed a bit, and released.
When they come in as thin as these did, it takes a few days for their digestive tracks to get to fully functioning again and for them to be able to handle fish. Many of these birds' intestinal tracks go through some atrophy prior to migration in order for the bird to be light enough to make their full migration. More on that in another post. This October we have had 4 grebes and one common loon. Wickiup was the destination for release as there is lots of little fish and other grebes for them to gather up with prior to finishing their migration. Western Grebes and Loons all winter on the ocean and head toward the Oregon coast where you can find them at sites like Yaquina Bay.
The most stressful part of working with waterbirds is their release. These birds absolutely must be 100% waterproof. And weakness, hypothermia, and worms all lead to loss of this critical feature that allows them to survive freezing water temperatures through the winter. If the birds are not waterproof, they will die. These two in the following video were two of the youngest. You can see them figuring out which way to go as they hear the calls of the group of other grebes out on Wickiup. They turn toward the group and as they get close two older birds swim out to them and herd them into the group. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful release. Good luck little ones, we hope you find lots of fish and make it over the mountains to the coast!
For a VIDEO of the release, see my fb page!
Had a fun call today. A gal in Arizona wound up with a little grebe that someone had found under a car, and had called her since she had a parrot. Well lucky for this Eared Grebe he wound up with an absolute angel who cared about him so much she googled grebes and found me on facebook! I have received calls from folks around the states and even Canada occasionally who have found these wonderful birds and just had no idea what to do.
With me advising, Michelle got this bird hydrated, cleaned up a bit - via a plastic tub and a shower - and then drove it part of the way on its track to the Salton Sea - where most eared grebes on the west side of the continent winter. These cuties cannot take off from land. They need a good bit of water to get running on and launch themselves. Their wings are excellent at swimming but not large enough to lift their heavy little bodies into the air from a static position.
Given clean water, these guys will clean and hydrate themselves. And a large plastic tub or a very clean bathtub will work for that. HOWEVER, its really imperative that the water is perfectly clean or they can wind up soiling their feathers with their own oily poop. So, the water is dumped and fresh put in up to 3 times an hour...every poop means fresh clean water.
Once they are warmed up (if their cold), hydrated, and floated for a bit, they can be taken to an appropriate drop off point. These birds - especially the Eared Grebe - have unique adaptions they go through to migrate. Their intestinal tracts atrophy (get smaller) by as much as 25% or more. And they do not eat in migration. This allows them to get as light as possible so they can fly faster and more efficiently. They should not be force fed, especially fish. Not only can the oils run down their chins making their feathers oily (which ruins their waterproofing), but the fish may not digest, instead rotting in their guts. So best, to call someone for help in evaluation (this can be done distantly) and then figure out what next to do.
We evaluated this bird (to be covered later) and decided he was healthy enough not to go into rehab. Which was a good thing since there was no one near to her. In the end, little Eared Grebe wound up loving his 'shower' (tub with light shower flowing into it), and got ready for release. Michelle and her husband took the cutie pie down to a lake that other Eared Grebes had been seen on (ebird is how to find these locations) and successfully released.
He was pretty darn close to the Salton Sea from his release site, so he should be at his destination in the next few days. The Salton Sea is a saltine lake that has a lot of brine shrimps and other foods that these grebes need to get through winter. Mono Lake in California and Lake Abert, and Great Salt Lake are other saltine lakes critical to these birds.
With all the tumult in the world, the last thing we need is beautiful, gentle spirits careening into our windows and killing themselves. The pictures above are just some of the birds that have come into Native Bird Care this year that hit a window. Some of these little souls made it, others did not. So why do they hit? What can we do about it?
Simply put - birds see the reflection of the trees and sky in our windows. As energy efficiency has increased, so has the mirroring effect. In fact, it is this effect that makes our windows efficient. Fix that reflection - you solve the problem. Its actually fairly simple.
Birds are not stupid nor do they have poor eyesight. In fact, their eyesight is exponentially better than ours. Birds have overcome incredible challenges that time and evolution have not had time to help them with, like habitat loss, invasive predators, buildings and windows. But without human intervention, our flighted gems simply will not succeed in the coming decades. We must do all we can for them now.
The facts: new research shows that nearly 1 billion songbirds die each year from windows. this is significantly less than cats, but critical and some estimate this at 10% of the continents population. Interestingly, 44% of these deaths are a result of hitting residential home windows (56% of deaths are from collisions with low rise buildings; <1% high rises). Sad? Yes. Good news is that this also means that there are solutions for 44% and more of these collisions. If everyone chose a few solutions for their homes, this problem could be solved significantly. And, without much cost or inconvenience.
Here are some simple solutions. You can find a lot more at www.nativebirdcare.org/windows. If you are worried about ruining your view or ability to see out. I get it. So was I. I chose low tech, cost efficient, super easy to see through netting. I have 100% success. But there are other more professional solutions. And no, you do not have to slather your windows with expensive decals that frankly do not work (birds can fly through tiny spaces, so unless these are installed close together they simply do not work).
1) One of my favs: Birdscreen.com
This is one of the best solutions out there. Not only can you see right through them, but they are enormously effective. This is essentially what putting up garden netting does, or installing insect screening on windows. Professionally done, these look nice, work great, and save your precious friends you have invited to your yard.
If you are handy, you can construct your own screens with old window screens or frames from a thrift store. Buy insect screening from a hardware store, and voila you have your own screen. Hang in some creative way.
Note: hanging anything is best done with 4-6 inches between the window and the screen/net. This way the bird has a chance to 'bounce' off and not hit at all, if they accidentally do fly into it.
2. Another of my favs: Birdsavers.com.
This guy loves birds so much that he teaches you how to make these if you do not want to purchase the professional product. Be sure to secure these at the bottom so they do not flap around in our winds here.
See These parachute chords hang from a nice rack above the window. They can be secured at the bottom. Click on their link for more installation ideas and photos.
Note: The view. Yes, initially you will see some of these window solutions. But your eyes will adapt, and soon with the ones listed here you will have to actually look at to see. Your view will not be ruined. I promise!
3. My low tech, economical, 100% effective solution: Garden netting.
My last home had contemporary windows that looked out into the forest, the overhang of the house was deep too. Pictures taken from outside of the house literally looked like one was looking outside from inside, the reflection was so perfect. Small to large birds killed themselves on that home until one day in tears and frustration I went to the hardware store, bought a 100' role of netting, and hung it from every eve, all the way around the house. Problem solved. Just had to be careful walking around the house or you'd get caught in it. My husband loved it. Not. See website for how to do this!
Summer is nearly over and we are nearing 200 bird calls since January. This is 4 times what we have done in the past. We have had a wide variety of very neat birds this summer. From common poorwills to golden-crowned kinglets, to a pied-billed grebe to a magpie. Mourning doves were plentiful, with babies coming in mainly from being found in situations where they were at risk from outside cats. We usually advise people to leave healthy fledglings (simply not enough help, money, or time to care for ALL at risk babies, we'd be swamped!). But, quite often its impossible to tell if the bird is in need or injured or healthy. Robins, doves, and flickers are most at risk because they must spend a couple weeks on the ground learning to eat when their flight ability is non existent or not great yet. These babes often come in cat attacked, or from hitting windows. We love all our babies here, and the injured ones too. We do our best for all of them.
So, What do we do for the birds?
(And why donations matter!) From babies to adults with injuries, Native Bird Care provides care. Often, this includes medical care - treating wounds, infections, broken bones, parasite infections, concussions, etc. Wildlife rehabbers are essentially nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, husbandry specialists, and mothers - all at the same time. Babies get raised with food and habitats that they need for good development - specialty housing, diets, flight cages. Injured birds need medical care, which if we cannot do it ourselves, we enlist a veterinarian. Birds with breaks must be treated and the injuries set and wrapped. Birds who have been mauled by a cat need to have wounds washed out, stitched, and go on antibiotics. Birds in poor condition usually need treatments for parasites. Native Bird Care also consults with rescuers over the phone, determining if a bird needs care or consulting on how to renest or reunite with a parent. We provide advice on protecting birds from windows and cats. And, we spend much time out relocating geese off buildings, capturing the injured, and putting ad-hoc nests up for families who have lost theirs to wind or raids. Its a long to-do list!
And all of it is expensive. The cost for caring for one bird runs from $50 to far more in a case like Hope the swan. This is medication, food, supplies, nutritional supplements, live food for insect only eaters, veterinary care (xrays), and aviary costs. We are very efficient and frugal here at Native Bird Care. We run a tight ship, and use our donations wisely and only for animal care. No one gets paid a wage, all work is done by our lead rehabilitator and volunteers. Each bird gets dedicated time, attention, and care. And all are cared for as if their lives depended on it, because they do!
Please help support our birds and the work we do. Donations are all tax deductible.
SAll babies are adorable, sweet, and fun to raise. But there are some that just steal your heart. Piper is one. This beautiful bird came in as a tiny nestling, blown out of a very high nest in a pine. After trying to renest and locate parents, Piper came in to care. These sweet birds take longer to rehab than other babies because of those heavy bills, which take time to get hard enough to crack the seeds and cones they will be eating. Our babies often get put in the outside aviaries before they are done hand-feeding. This gives them a head start getting their flight skills and developing their ability to navigate trees and branches. All young birds need time in an aviary to develop their physical abilities before going out in the wild. A"hard release" is when a juvenile bird is release straight from an inside enclosure to the wild. This is extraordinarily hard for young birds. Just like any athlete - and that's what birds are, aerial acrobats - young birds need time to develop leg, body, and wing strength. They need time to acclimate to the weather, and sounds of the wild. They need to develop agility - yes, birds can injure themselves specially when young, landing wrong, hitting branches, hitting windows. So, Piper, along with all our other babies get time in one of our 4 aviaries. Good luck Piper, may you have a long, happy life free from cat attacks and unprotected windows.
Several of these came in this summer, some babies, some adults from cat attacks or windows. We had another baby one come in right after this one, Dena is still in care. Little runt one, has a good ways to go and the smoke is not helping!
Who doesn't love these little Pygmy Nuthatches! Got a call about one falling out of its nest...then there was two....then there was three! They were getting too big for the tiny cavity the parents had chosen which was right in the crook of a split tree trunk. This was an excellent example of how you can renest some babies and continue to keep a family of birds together. We got an appropriate sized box for this kind of bird, installed a metal edging for predator protection around the hole, and then got it up on the tree. Now that was challenging, and we had some much needed help by a crew of guys with a really tall ladder (Thanks, you know who you are!). And voila' we had a new home for 6 baby nuthatches, and mom and pop took right to it and began feeding their crew. Let's hope they all make it!
The trick to renesting is keeping the parents around until its done. That means leaving the babies there and making noise so the parents do not give up. It only takes a few minutes for some birds to give up - especially if their tree or limb has been actually taken down (summer is never a good time to trim trees!!!). Crying babies though will keep mom and pop around, have someone else keep them in a box and outside where they can be heard. Or just put the box up temporarily while you get a real box together. Screw the new box into the tree next to the old site, and put all babies - those that have fallen and any still in the cavity - into the new box. New box should have some ash bark or dried grasses in it (don't use hay, pine or cedar bark, or pine needles). Make sure new box has horizontal grooves up the insides so the babies can climb out. Get away as soon as possible so the family can settle down and reunite. (You can also wire in a wicker basket for an open nest type. Cover the wire with duct tape so it can be seen by birds and not hurt them). Anyone can do this!
Its ideal when families can be kept together....little birds learn so much from their parents, like what kind of food to eat, where to find it, how to avoid predators, language skills for their flock, and so much more. We simply cannot replicate what mom and pop birds do in the wild with our rescues...its just not the same.
If you know you have to take a tree or limb down, check for nests. Prepare to replace the nest or cavity BEFORE you take the limb or tree down. It does take planning, but it is the ethical and fair thing to do.
photo by Jim Sedgewick, Wikimedia
It's baby season and they are out and about! Here are some tips on how to know if the bird on the ground you see needs help. First, is she injured? Did you see a cat, squirrel, dog, or other grab it? Is he a fledgling, or a smaller baby bird? Do you see other birds like him around, if it is a young bird? Can you find a nest? IF the bird is injured, is a baby bird too young to fly, looks ill and you can simply pick her up, if she does not fly away or run...rescue her. If it is a robin or dove (or junco and some other ground foraging bird, and is healthy, and you can leave cats/dogs inside, leave alone.
Are the parents around? Most songbird fledglings will be able to stay up in the trees for the parents to feed as they develop strength to navigate the air and tree limbs. But sometimes they fall out or even jump out onto the ground. If the bird seems fine, is not shivering, the parents are nearby, and the baby seems active...put her back up in a tree. If she falls out again, call a rescue and ask for advice. Texting a picture with the story is time saving. Some birds find food on the ground (robins, juncos, sparrows, doves, jays), and so it may be fine that the bird is on the ground. If it is naked, or has tiny tubes around its feathers, then the baby is not ok on the ground.
In the pictures above, you see the fox sparrow fledgling on the ground. He's a happy dude, finding bugs. No rescue needed. Nuthatch is also fine, sitting on a railing. Most of these birds (roll across to see names) if they are in distress, you will know it. They will look and act injured, quiet, not moving, eyes shutting, or unable to move at all. If they were must younger with pin feathers (tubes around the feathers) and on the ground, then we rescue or assess whether they can be put back in the nest (future post on that). The little tiny babies or those without a full body of feathers should never be on the ground. They have fallen, blown, or dragged from the nest. Rescue
When in doubt, watch for awhile and call or text. Better safe then sorry.
Next posts will be on what birds needing rescue might look like, some common rescues, and renesting fallen babes.
Got this little one in. Its a good example of the babies we get in who's identities can be super challenging. Any ideas what she is?
Ok. This is a robin. She is lighter in color than other robin nestlings, but she is still a robin. Note speckled coloring, particularly the black tips and spots on feathers, the longer, oblong yellow-orange mouth, also there is a stripe down under her chin, finally she has lite brown stripes along her eyes, like eyebrows.
This is a great picture to learn the anatomy inside a bird's mouth, at least this little robin. Note the arrowhead object at the front of her lower jaw. That is the tongue! Then right behind it, the kinda lighter color tissue to the left, inside her mouth, behind the tongue. That is the air hole (called a 'glottis'), this is where she breathes out of. The location of the air hole so close to the front of the mouth is why we suggest not trying to give water to a bird...its easy to drip water right down their air hole...which you can guess is not good!
So, if you find a little robin that looks like this, first try to find the nest and put her back but only if she is warm, thriving, and has a good nest and parents around. If she feels cold (cold body or cold feet), is injured, has no parents around, the nest is down or you cannot find it, and the bird looks lethargic and just not well - that's when to call us. Text us a picture, we can tell a LOT by one look!
PS: Robins make some of the most beautiful sounds in the animal world, so before you say its "just" a robin...think twice...these cuties grace our lives with beauty and entrancing songs ... :)
On this rescue, I think I might have not only played the role of rehabber, but also matchmaker! Mr. Sticky got increasingly defensive of his little female sweetie and would fly at my head when I opened the enclosure. Ha! Good for you little man!
With these two adorable patients at healthy weights, good plumage, mostly grown out tail on Sticky, and free from any injuries.....I Decided to take advantage of a couple days good weather to release these two. Poorwills are fragile, gentle little birds, and it just amazes me that they have withstood millennia and still grace this planet. They require such precise, tender, and specific care to keep them from captivity related injury. They are so at risk, with potential for injuries like broken feathers. And having to be hand fed, is stressful for the caretaker as well. Feeding these guys is an advanced rehab skill, as a volunteer learned today.
They are 'hiding' in the picture...their one defense is excellent camouflaging (other than flying at you). Their tiny feet are pretty useless for defense, they cannot even perch in a tree and have to sit on a limb wide enough for them to stand not grasp the limb. They meld right in with the log and the rocks. In fact, they are so well hidden researchers have a hard time figuring out how many we really have left.
One of the harder parts of rehab is letting go. It is quite stressful and worrisome to release birds back to lives that we know put them at real risk. I turned down an otherwise excellent release site for these two because sadly the owners dogs were allowed to run loose. And these guys are at real risk because they are ground dwelling and nesting birds. They fly to eat only, otherwise they are hiding on the ground. So, I put them somewhere I hope has no cats or dogs, water, and potential peaceful nesting places. I did not release them at my place as I have feeders for my outside birds, some of which are rescues. Feeders mean small hawks and owls which prey on the little birds that are drawn to our free meals we give them.
Wish them well and enjoy these pictures. Everyday, celebrate the unique, extraordinary birds that we have been so blessed with on this wondrous home of ours we call Earth.
Author: Elise Wolf
I have been fascinated by wild birds my whole life. The current stresses on our wild bird populations is extraordinary, and helping them is not only an act of kindness and compassion, but demonstrates that humans do have the ability to be selfless and act with love towards their non-human planetary family.