Words On Birds 06-21-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Letting Nature Take Its Course
June 21, 2024
by Steve Grinley
     These days we are seeing fledgling birds everywhere as they leave their nests and learn the ways of the world with their parents nearby. At our home feeders, young cardinals are being fed by parents. The young lack the crest and most have pretty scruffy plumage.
     Chickadees secretly took over one of our bluebird boxes and we only discovered it from the begging noise made by the young in the box when a parent arrived with food. Soon they will be out of the nest and visiting our feeders with the parents.
     Young titmice are showing up with their crest feathers slowly coming in every which way. Young orioles in various plumages are joining their parents at our jelly feeders.
     The woodpecker babies are particularly comical as they flock to the suet and peanuts. The young males downy and hairy woodpeckers are sporting the red cap on their foreheads instead of the back of their head. We watched one young downy trying to grab onto a nearby shaggy-barked hickory tree without much success and finally opted for a smoother trunk elsewhere. The immature red-bellied woodpeckers look very strange with their bald heads, no red at all like their parents.
     This is peak nesting season for many species of birds in our area. One can hear the sounds of nestlings from their nests, as parents come to feed. The sounds of young fledglings can be heard everywhere – those birds who have recently left the nest, calling to the parent or the parent calling back.
     You may encounter fledglings on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with 1-inch tails and fluffy little titmice or chickadees, sitting on a branch fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may find. All of these birds likely have had their parents nearby and, though at first glance one may think they are on their own, the parent soon comes, once it is “safe,” to feed the young ones. Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly or fend for themselves. This is part of the “training” process for surviving on their own. The parent birds are almost always in the area, watching after and defending their young, as well as feeding the fledglings until they learn to feed themselves.
     But this is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find an “abandoned” bird, and the best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave these birds alone.
     First, all birds are protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal to possess or relocate birds, unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The only exceptions are non-native species: house sparrows, starlings and pigeons. That being said, it is human instinct to want to protect the bird. If the bird is a hatchling, that is – it does not have feathers or looks totally helpless, you can look for the nest from whence it came and return it to the nest. The next best thing is to secure a basket in a bush or tree and place the bird in the basket with the hope, albeit slim, that the parent will find it and care for it. 
     Most birds do not have a keen sense of smell, so handling a baby bird will in no way deter a parent from caring for it. Remember, even if you had 15 hours a day to feed and care for the bird, it still would not learn the skills it needs to survive in the wild if it were raised by humans.
     If you don’t know where the nest is, keep the bird warm and safe until you make arrangements with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for its continued care. Do not attempt to feed it or give it water unless instructed to do so by a rehabilitator. A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be obtained from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife website and searching Wildlife Rehabilitators.
     If the bird is a fledgling, that is, it has feathers and is just flightless, and it is not visibly injured, it is best to leave it alone. Parents are likely nearby and often are very sneaky about feeding the offspring when they won’t be detected. If there is imminent danger, such as a cat, try to remove the danger, not the bird. Put the cat inside where it belongs or if it belongs to a neighbor, ask the neighbor to remove the cat. Place the bird on a branch up out of the way if that will improve its chances. Again, an injured bird requires the skills of a licensed rehabilitator.
     The sad statistics are that less than 30 percent of all hatched birds survive their first year. Cats are certainly a major danger, but that is a subject for a whole other column. Grackles, jays and crows are notorious for raiding nests, and I have watched many a robin and catbird chase these birds from their nest areas. Natural predation is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. It isn’t pleasant to witness, but it is the way it is. 
     And for “abandoned” baby birds, it is usually best to let nature take it course.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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