Temporary Care For Wild Birds And How Not To “Imprint”

First My Story….

It was our fault, I think. We were having new eaves troves put in but, there was a nest behind our old ones. Once it was discovered by the men installing the pieces, we asked that the nest be removed, believing that birds would be trapped behind the new work if the nest was left in there after the eaves were installed. Unfortunately, the workers, doing their jobs, were unable to speak much English so, we couldn’t ask them if it would interfere with them, the birds or what. We had to make an instant decision. Of course, we chose to have the nest removed in one piece, keeping the “hatchlings” (birds seemingly just hatched) in the rather untidy and yet, well designed nest. It was done as we requested through almost playing a game of charades. They got our message.

Nestlings in nest

Taking the nest from the workers as a whole piece, we placed the entirety of what had been removed with the hatchlings into a low cut cardboard box and stuck it high up, not 20′ from the original spot in a bush or tree nearby. Once the work had finished, we waited with baited breath as birds seemed to land near or on the box. Without being disturbed, we figured that the parent birds had heard their young and were returning to feed them. Not so!

Much to our deepest regrets and chagrin, we looked into the box and nest the next morning to find 2 of the 4 hatchlings, dead with a third one almost dead and a fourth, barely clinging onto life. It seemed then that the birds doing the landings may have been “looked-loos” versus being parents, ready to feed and sit with the youngsters. In fact, it had dropped greatly in temperature that night and had literally killed off 2 of them overnight with a third one about to pass on and the fourth, not at all strong enough to deal with no parents, food or whatever was required.

Scooping out the dead birds, we quickly phoned a wild life centre who told us to bring in the 2 remaining hatchlings which we did. Sadly, by the time we got there (about a 15 minute drive away and after borrowing a vehicle to get them there), the 3rd one had passed away. There was still one though! We had something to grasp onto and hold onto hope that we could keep him/her alive.

The centre couldn’t accept any birds as they were short staffed (yes, it’s summer vacation time). Instead, they gave this poor little creature a Sub-Q dose of fluids which seemed to pick this little one up greatly and were sent on our way with a “makeshift” style nest, made out of a water jug with the original nesting materials placed inside of it and the tiny, featherless, eyes not open yet, bird. We had been instructed to place this as close as possible to the original nesting spot while placing the sounds of chirping nestlings/hatchlings nearby and watching from a distance to see if the parents returned. All were done according to instruction but, no parents returned. By night fall, the birds having gone for the evening and it cooling down again, we decided to take the little hatchling into our home.

I scoured the net, looking for a way to not only keep the little thing safe from our hunter style cat but, also to keep it warm and what on earth to attempt to feed it. Contrary to popular belief, worms are not suitable. As it turned out, water was out for choking reasons but, that the bird get its moisture from food. Thankfully, we had ingredients on hand. We had dry dog food that had to be ground up into a powder form, canned cat food, apples and I hard boiled and grated an egg, making it into a paste by adding a bit of water to the mixture. It had to be the consistency of peanut butter, then rolled into tiny balls no bigger than the size of half of the whites of my fingernail and fed to the bird by tweezers.

I did not know that some hatchlings do not what they call “gape” which is a fancy term for open their mouths when they want food. They have to be ever so gently tapped on the beak to open their mouths. I got the hang of it though and within a half hour, I had given the tiny, shivering creature its first feeding by me. A half hour later, I did it again, 30 minutes after that, again and so on until it was both ours and this bird’s bedtime.

The one thing that we did not seem to be able to find was the heating pad that we’d had for a few years. That was essential to keeping the tiny orphaned bird’s body temperature up. Did you know that hatchlings/nestlings won’t and can’t eat or sleep until sufficiently warmed up? I didn’t know that but, with some research, figured out how to send dear hubby to the nearest all night drug store to buy an electric heating pad which was placed under half of the box then covered with a closed door to keep Curious George (our dog) and The Hunter (our cat) from scaring the daylights out of this poor little thing or, worse.

I got 3.5 hours of sleep before this tiny little thing began to screech for more food, which it was given after warming my concoction up in the microwave for a few seconds. That was it for my sleep. I write this with half closed eyes right now but, to say that we finally decided some 4 hours later that it was best if this little creature was taken care of properly by a licensed rehab centre. We located one with several phone calls to find one accepting birds but, with an hour and a half’s drive from where we live.

Wrapping the plastic box up with a towel and shredded tissues as well as paper towels, placed into the bin, a thermal bag which held the food I’d made as well as tweezers, off we went in yet another borrowed vehicle. Did I mention that we’re really down on our luck with not only our home being destroyed by broken water pipes, the ER company the insurance people sent in to fix it all, causing secondary damages that undid everything done and worse but, that our car went on the fritz at the same time, too old to repair? No, well that’s another piece for another time.

This little hatchling/nestling was warm in the car with no air conditioning, no radio or noises that would startle it. We stopped twice to feed the tiny bird and by the time we arrived at the wild life centre, it was time for it to eat again. Not only did they place it immediately into an incubator but, they fed it quality, precisely measured and mixed food right away. That’s where I leave off with this little bird but, not before a complete meltdown in the car once outside at leaving it behind. I knew that I wasn’t able to give it the care that these trained personnel were able to give to it nor, did I have the equipment in order to do so. I knew that the right thing was done this time by leaving him/her with them however, in that nearly 2 days, I had nicknamed the little thing, “Chirpy” and had already grown emotionally attached to this little life. Never give an outdoor bird a name if you don’t want to get emotionally imprinted/attached to it. Big mistake for me. Hey, we all learn, right?

Here are a few things that you need to know right here for you so that you may save the life or several…oh yes, and your own sanity while we’re at it!

  1. Know the type of bird that you’re dealing with. If you don’t know, get help ASAP in figuring it out. It helps to know though I thought I knew and was right.
  2. If a bird is hopping across the ground, fully feathered but, looks wobbly, watch it but, do NOT pick it up if it’s not in any danger. It could be what they call a “Fledgeling” with isn’t ready to leave the parents entirely but, can’t exactly fly yet either. Leave it be unless you know that it’s not a fledgeling or has been mauled by a predator (ie: cat) or is in danger such as a roadway. Mom and Dad birds are usually watching this little one even though you cannot see them. Don’t kidnap!
  3. If you know the species of bird and can safely do so, attempt to locate the nest of a younger bird and try to place it back into the nest. Do NOT worry about a bird “smelling human scent” on their young ones and rejecting it. It’s an old wive’s tale. Birds cannot smell and will usually always look after their young.
  4. If the entire nest has been knocked down or taken down, such as in our case, attempt to place the nesting in a makeshift nest as close as possible to the original spot. Look up, way up and try to figure out if it came from a tree, then nail a plastic margarine container with the original nesting materials back up as high as you can off the ground.
  5. Keep some dog or cat kibble around if you are amongst birds often. It comes in handy as I can attest to. Canned cat or puppy food as well as hard boiled egg, grated made into a peanut butter like consistency works well as “emergency food” but, there’s one caveat here. Do NOT ever try to give a baby bird water from a dropper. Hatchlings/fledgelings don’t drink and could drown if it goes down the wrong way.
  6. Applesauce is another handy thing to keep on hand as are watermelons. They contain water and can hydrate a tiny bird. They can be mixed in with the cat and dog food.
  7. Keep the bird warm if you cannot place it back into the nest. Birds will stop feeding overnight as they sleep during that time. Put a hot water bottle UNDER half of the box or container you have the bird in. If there’s more than one bird, they will help keep each other warm but, still require a source of heat. You can also make a makeshift sock of rice (dry of course) and put it UNDER layers of tissues. Never put the bird(s) directly onto a heat source though a warm water bottle or sock of rice will need reheating every hour or less. Remember: Even if it’s summer, birds with no feathers need heat to keep warm but, NEVER “hot”! You’re not baking a chicken or roast of beef. They are alive and you want to keep them that way.
  8. NEVER keep a nest in direct sunlight. That will dehydrate them and overheat them. Common sense will tell you that as they have only skin which burns as well.
  9. Small birds (hatchlings/nestlings…the ones with the yellow beaks, no feathers and eyes shut or just opened) eat every 30 minutes or so. Mother birds will often feed them every 15 to 20 minutes but, with the formula above, you might not need that often. Don’t worry, a baby bird will stop eating when it is full or when it’s after dusk.
  10. If the bird(s) you have don’t open their beaks and are hatchlings/nestlings, tap gently on the bird’s beak(s) with your finger or the tip of a pair of tweezers.
  11. A makeshift nest is best kept in a quiet, dark place, free from other pets. Try a bathroom, closet, spare room and keep the door shut, lights off. It keeps the stress levels down in baby birds to have them this way for a temporary time.
Example of a makeshift nest

These are only the tip of the iceberg and ONLY meant to be emergency measures. A wild life rehab centre is always what you should be aiming for. These people are knowledgeable, know how to deal with any crisis that they can and will help put you straight if you’re as delusional as we were. Call them if it’s within open hours. At the least, try to get help for the poor little creature.

RESEARCH!!!! I can’t say that strongly enough. Look things up if you can’t get answers right away from a wild life centre personnel and DONATE because they are usually not funded except by donation. Even $10 helps them. It costs them big time to rehab these mammal babies and their aviary friends. We cannot save every creature on this earth but, whenever we can, try. It may even require effort, time, energy and finances on your part but, try. Never take a life for granted.

More key here, is the fact that you should NEVER become emotionally involved if you can help it. There will come a day when you’ll have to wave buh-bye to that little one. Do not make the mistake that I did. Thankfully, in less than 2 days, it’s hardly likely that this little bird has “imprinted” with me (fancy name for bonding) and you don’t want that to happen. It’s not desirable for any person/human to bond with any animal born in the wild. That doesn’t mean don’t help them though. It only means that you need to keep an emotional distance from wanting to keep wild life as a pet or thinking that you can do it all by yourself. You may be able to do it but, the likelihood of that bird surviving without proper knowledge, food, feeding techniques, equipment, devotion and surroundings makes it less likely that you’re going to be successful no matter what YouTube tells or shows you.

Your best bet is to call a private company if you can afford it or, better yet, a wild life rehab centre. You’re going to need their help, information and knowledge. Do not believe everything that you were once taught or think. Look it up and talk to those who do know. Your efforts are only usually temporary. Be wise. Don’t be a doorknob like me though I must admit that I learned a lot more than I ever intended on learning. I love birds but, I think I took a crash course where the more I learned the more I realized that I didn’t know about birds. Talk about being “bird brained”!

Now you can laugh.

Have a GREAT day or evening!

Love and Light.

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