Monthly Archives: June 2013

Intake Bird #106

Joel called me some time after lunch to ask what he should do about a little robin that was hopping around a parking lot where he was working. I asked him why he was asking. He explained that he was in a large parking lot hosting an outdoor event and had been watching a little robin that had been running around the lot for some time.

“It has been aimlessly hopping against the brick building and against windows for a few hours, gaping at anything that comes near it.”
“Has any parent been trying to feed it?”
“You haven’t seen any bigger robin hovering around it?”
“Does it seem like he’s trying to feed himself?”
“Do you see a nest?”
“Can you place him in or by the nest?”

This is when I got a very detailed description of the setting, represented by the graphic below. The screen shot is the lot where Joel was working. The arrows represent everywhere the bird was hopping, including making his way towards a busy four lane road. The dashed yellow line represents 10 foot-tall fencing around spindly trees at least 30 feet high where Joel saw two nests. He said that placing the bird at the bottom of the trees would mean thrusting it through the fence and leaving it on trash-littered gravel.

where baby bird was found

I asked Joel to place him in a box by the trees (represented by the red box) where he could keep watch for the parents just in case they found all those scary big blue stick figures too intimidating. Another hour came and went with no parental care.

“Bring him home.”

Around 7:00 that evening, Joel walked quietly through the kitchen from the garage and gently handed over the box. I pulled back two of the four flaps and saw an older nestling/young fledgling-aged American robin on a branch snoozing away with his head tucked under his wing. I fixed up a nice little nest for our new house guest by lining a small plastic bowl with tissues and placing him in a towel-covered enclosure so that he could rest safely, comfortably, and quietly for the evening.

orphaned baby robin guest

Our little guest’s next trip was to the wildlife center. In three years, this was my first time bringing in a patient. He became bird intake #106. Not only did I get to care for him during my shift, it hadn’t been more than a few hours before he was joined by another orphaned robin that also needed a little extra time before braving the world on his own.

Over time, he was joined by several more robins and I got to continue caring for them all on my shifts. I was happy for him because it meant that he and the other birds were learning how to be robins.

I was able to be there and take photos on the day of release. “Our” robin was released with six others on a beautiful, sunny day to an area thick with trees and vegetation.

robin release peeking out

They were hesitant at first to make a move when the door was opened. Within about a minute, one robin jumped up and took flight while the others cautiously peered out. Slowly but surely, one by one, the others came out of the cage and took flight up and in to the nearby trees.

robin release peeking around a little further

The American robin is a common bird across the North American continent. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “…only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a lucky robin can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years.”

Were the car trips, daily feedings, and daily cage cleanings for this one little common bird that odds say won’t live that long even worth the effort?

Robins show us how to enjoy a bath like it is Christmas morning. They assure us that winter is  over and spring has once again arrived. They tell us that it’s time to wake up with their dawn song. Some of their hearty and spirited calls sound like laughter, as if they just heard a really good joke. They pump their tails in time to their chirping, and that’s just kind of cool.

Aside from my own selfish ideas about their value (read: entertainment), I can only assume that if the birds got a vote, they too would raise a wing to say, “Yes, it’s worth the effort.”

released robin in the tree


Free as a Bird

My article as published in “Snitch’s Scoops” distributed by the Fox Valley Wildlife Center.
feather 1 gray

Perhaps because it was the first bird to fascinate me as a child, I was instantly enchanted with a sparsely-feathered cardinal nestling that checked in to the center during my shift.

Male Cardinal Nestling Incubator

Baby bird in his incubator.

Not only was it late in the season to receive a baby bird, we could only wonder why the little fellow was found out of his nest and without his parent’s care.

I was honored to help the team provide for his needs and watch him grow over time in to a lively, healthy bird. As such, I got the privilege of assisting in the release of this cardinal to his “forever home” back out in nature.

Male Cardinal Soft Release

Cardinal in the soft release flight enclosure.

The day had come (late October 2012) for the cardinal to be released. Selfishly, it broke my heart to have to say goodbye but this is what we all worked so hard to do-give this little bird a second chance. The weather was mild and the wind had disappeared. It was a beautiful day for release. The container housing the bird was placed not far from sunflower seeds and a tray of water. Happy tears rained down as the lid was lifted. The cardinal quickly fluttered out of the box and on to the deck where he looked around a bit before taking off into an evergreen in our backyard. While we couldn’t see him, we heard the unmistakable cardinal call from that tree for a couple of hours. After that, he went silent. We were left to simply wonder if he was still there or if he had left.

Male Cardinal Release and Final Look Before Leaving

Exchanging goodbyes

Around noon the following day, I was ecstatic to spot him on the patio hopping around and pecking at seeds. Wow, was I ever treated to the most magnificent private cardinal show! I watched him chase after a leaf, shoo away a finch, and peck for seeds in the cracks of the walkway and in the mulch. He frequently zoomed around the yard and made little pit stops in the grass, but always came back to the seeds. The behavior seemed almost playful, and it went on for well over an hour. At one point, I noticed him fly towards the fence but stop just short of going past it. My impression was that perhaps he didn’t know he had his freedom to fly beyond the fence and as far as his wings could take him.

Male Cardinal Day After Release

About an hour later, I noticed him hopping around in the grass under the fence. I knew the time had arrived for him to continue to explore his new world. In a matter of seconds, he swooped through the fence, zipped across the neighbor’s yard, and flew around the corner until I couldn’t see him any longer.

Thanks to the center, this once helpless little bird would grow to discover that he could fly as far as his wings could take him.

Support Birds in the Mediterranean

I have been preparing to post a story about my recent visit to The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and put my personal spin on the ancient Egyptian artifact exhibit that showcased the omnipresence of birds in their culture. I wanted to share in picture and story what I found to be intriguing, fascinating, and beautiful.

Change of plans.

Yesterday morning, Birdchick Sharon Stiteler (who I think is simply the bee’s knees based upon her career and sense of humor) posted an article titled “Last Song for Migrating Birds” by Jonathan Franzen, that she warned would be hard to read.

I debated about whether or not to read the article because while I wanted to learn about the matter, I know myself well enough to know that I could be haunted by images or thoughts that I couldn’t shake. However, since not acknowledging a problem doesn’t make it go away, I clicked on the article.

Rather than make this a lighthearted post about sharing my own discovery of the prominence of birds in ancient Egyptian culture, I will instead use this space to focus on the awareness and importance of conservation for these birds right now.

Other than share the story as well, I’m currently at a loss for else to do. The article’s graphic content is disturbing: Last Song for Migrating Birds, Jonathan Franzen.

6/18/13 Update:
Thank you to Birdchick and Dave G. for their replies to a few things that the “average person” like me can do right now. 

Join BirdLife International. Get informed, spread the word, take action.

Support BirdLife Cyprus
“BirdLife Cyprus was formed in 2003 through the amalgamation of the two Cyprus Ornithological Societies. The main aims of BirdLife Cyprus are the protection and study of the birds of Cyprus and their habitats.”

Support BirdLife Malta
“BirdLife Malta strives to conserve wild birds and their habitats. The organisation monitors activity that threatens wild birds, such as illegal hunting and trapping and urban development in conservation areas on the Maltese islands.”

Bird Pops are the Tops!

Observing the sweetness of a papa house finch tenderly feeding his little princess got me thinking about bird dads. What a convenient time for a special Father’s Day post!

Even before their little ones hatch, bird dads are almost always on the job tending to mom and the nest. For altricial species, dad’s job can be incredibly demanding as a protector and provider. Some split the job with mom while others provide exclusively for the whole gang. Different species employ different methods of operating their nurseries and feeding their ever-hungry babies from dawn till dusk.

Notable Bird Dads:

CassowaryCassowary – Daddy cassowary gets a gold star for being a devoted single father since the female leaves him almost immediately after laying eggs.

This fierce family defender will incubate the eggs and care for the young after they hatch for about nine months.

Blue Crowned Laughing Thrush Blue Crowned Laughing Thrush – More of a family affair, these critically endangered birds share the care of the young with other families in the population. Adults will assist in the feeding of other young, even outside their own related family.

Compassionate is the father bird who answers the cries of another’s hungry baby.

Emperor PenguinEmperor Penguin – Papa penguin takes the incubation task right after the egg is laid. Mom leaves for up to two months to find food, leaving the father to brave the cold and care for the egg. ON HIS FEET. THE WHOLE TIME. AND NOT EATING. Mom then returns to feed the newly hatched chick at which time dad can finally leave for his food-finding expedition.

Great Horned OwlGreat Horned Owl – After helping his lady establish a proper nursery for the to-be owlettes, papa great horned owl will take the task of providing food for the both of them while she incubates the eggs. His work to find enough food is a greater challenge, considering she is about 25 percent bigger than he is (as is typical in birds of prey) and they’ll have very hungry fledglings that may continue to beg even after they’ve left the nest.

HornbillHornbills – Before laying eggs, the female hornbill seals herself off in a tree cavity, leaving a hornbill beak-sized opening that allows the male to pass food along to her and eventually the chicks.

When the chicks are ready to leave, he will help spring mom and their young from the cavity but will continue to provide for them until they are able to care for themselves.

JacanaJacana – Talk about daddy day care! The bigger and dominant females may take up to five mates in a breeding season and lay eggs in the various nests.

It’s the males’ job to incubate the eggs and protect the chicks from danger until they are ready to leave the nest.

MalleefowlMalleefowl – This male from the Land Down Under can spend up to a year building an impressively large mound as a nest. He works the land to create a mound for nesting and fills it with organic materials that will help maintain the nest’s heat as the materials decay.

He maintains the nest and watches the chicks until they leave.

Red PhalaropeRed Phalarope – This sea-side sire sticks around after the female lays her eggs to incubate them and care for the chicks.

They are precocial, which means that the chicks leave the nest able to feed themselves, but dad stays around to monitor their safety for the first couple of weeks.

Red Tailed Hawk Red-tailed hawk – This hawk fulfills his responsibilities as a father by both aiding in the incubation of the eggs and doing all the food shopping for mom and eventually their chicks. When he returns to the nest with their meals, mom helps prepare it in order to feed the little ones.

Bird Dads are Dino-mite!

Roughly 5 percent of male mammals rear their young as compared to about 90 percent of male bird species. Research suggests that this practice was established in the days of the dinosaur. Fossilized remains of nests indicate that there was a paternal care system in place, possibly even before they learned how to fly. This male-based care system may have been passed down over time to their ancestors – birds.

The Tweetest Bird Dad

For more detail and insightful reading on the above-listed bird dads’ merit, please visit:

It Takes All Kinds: Fatherhood is for the Birds posted by Megan Neal in Birds, Births and Arrivals – New Animals!

Bird Dads from WildCare Bay Area

Bird Dad Awards: The Innovative, the Endearing, and the Less-Than-Admirable by Michele Berger

Birds and Dinosaurs as Good Dads by Richard Conniff

Swallows on Parade

I had caught about a minute’s worth of little dark masses rapidly swarming about the sky in my peripheral before finally looking out the window to see what was going on. There was a substantial number of barn swallows on parade.

Hark! Dost this swarming of aerial emissaries warn us of a menace that lurks in our midst?

If so, then I had better run outside with my camera and find out what it is!

I slowly opened the door to the side of the yard expecting to see something like a cat or a fox. I didn’t see anything but the sky parade. I bravely made my way down the stairs to peek around the corner, preparing myself to be startled by something that probably shouldn’t be in our yard. Nothing.

I started snapping away at the impressive swarm of birds. Unfortunately, my photos turned out not to be so impressive; I wish I could have better captured the density in the activity.

swallow swarms 1

As I moved towards the center of the yard, members of the group cut through the air of my personal space. I will admit that maybe, just for a moment, I entertained the thought that it was all a ruse; a way to get me outside and finish me off because they really seem to dislike my being outside, even if I’m just sitting quietly nowhere near their nests.

I stopped snapping photos around the time the group dispersed and promptly started my Google searches on swarms of swallows to find out what may have caused it. I learned two things:

  1. There are indeed plenty of better pictures of bird swarms. Much better.*
  2. Swallows eat “on the wing” or while they are in flight.

swallow swarms 2

Ah ha! That had to be the reason why so many seemed to just congregate in a small air space with no noticeable threats. Perhaps word spread amongst the locals that the air was extra thick with nibbles. I think it’s the kind of thing that makes complete sense now that I know about it; it just hadn’t occurred to me before.

They often swoop incredibly close to me as I mow the lawn which originally scared me. I always assumed that they did not like my being in the vicinity of their nests and that it was a matter of time before I’d take a swallow claw to the eye. I realize now that it could very well have just been convenient for them to swing by for snacks as I stirred up the insects from the grass. Or both.

Joel and I often remark about how surprised we are by the very low to no bug activity around us when we sit on the deck. I didn’t realize that we likely have the area barn swallows to thank for that.

I love a parade!

*Put to shame, big time shame, by this this swarm of grackles and blackbirds caught on video: Megaflock by Steve Gifford