Springtime is when wildlife rehabilitators across the country are inundated with wild babies of all kinds. Many of these turn out to be unnecessary rescues by well-intentioned, kind-hearted people. A lot of seemingly abandoned young are actually being cared for by their parents.
Fledglings (feathered baby birds very close to flying), for example, may be on the ground but mom and dad are still feeding it. It’s best to leave them alone. A nestling (a barely feathered bird) that has fallen can be placed back in its nest or, if the nest is too high or destroyed, make a substitute nest out of a small container with soft fillings and attach to the tree. The parents will find it. Only after all efforts to reunite nestling and parents have been exhausted, or if the animal is injured, should the orphan be removed from the wild and brought to a licensed rehabilitator.
Happily, this month’s column is about a successful family reunion.
Early in April, a man was walking outside his apartment when he spotted a teensy baby Lesser Goldfinch hopping and fluttering on the walkway, right next to the parking lot and a busy road—not at all a safe place for the fledgling bird. Despite searching intently around the immediate area, he was unable to find a nest or parents. Since it was too late to bring the bird to the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center (WERC) in Morgan Hill, the baby was kept safe and warm overnight, and brought to WERC in the morning.
That afternoon, after once again carefully searching the area, this time in daylight, a neighbor noticed several adult goldfinches busily flying back and forth to a bushy tree. Looking closely, she sighted a nest 10 feet up and promptly called WERC.
Time was of essence. A young animal’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural parents. Though the thumb-sized baby had readily gaped for food, it was fortunate that it only needed to be hand-fed temporarily until its mom and dad could take over the chore again. After the call, staff brought the baby plus a ladder back to the apartment and a volunteer cheerfully climbed up to the nest. Delicately pulling the branch aside to check it, we were surprised by three American goldfinches flying out. So instead, the baby was placed in a basket in front of the tree.
Choruses of chirping ensued between the baby and other goldfinches in the trees. Before long, its parents flew down and baby hopped out and ran into the bushes. We watched for a short while to ensure the fledgling was safe and being cared for by its parents.
The next day, the neighbor (a knowledgeable birder and WERC volunteer) saw this baby in a nearby pine tree. The fledgeling was begging and making short flights among the branches, with mom waiting nearby to feed him. Soon, the whole family will be enjoying meals together at backyard birdfeeders and thistles in nearby fields. If this was an email, I’d insert a happy face here.
I think this verse from “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley is a fitting way to end the story.
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Singing’ “Don’t worry ’bout a thing”
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.
Contact Colleen Grzan at [email protected].