Nesting season for songbirds
One-week-old orphaned Bullock’s Oriole nestlings. Source: www.nativesongbirdcare.org.
By Sharon Ponsford and Veronica Bowers
Spring is upon us: songbirds are busy building nests and bringing the next generation into the world.
This month we have a special guest for this column, Veronica Bowers, Founder and Director of Native Songbird Care and Conservation in Sebastopol. At our house, which is surrounded by oaks, there is so much activity in the bird world at the moment. We watch as the birds build nests around us, and are already thrilled to be watching a pair of bluebirds tending their young in one of our bluebird houses. As I work with mammals, I’ve asked Veronica to give us some guidance when it comes to dealing with baby songbirds:
Spring and summer are when many people come into contact with baby wildlife and sometimes those babies may appear to need assistance. Our concern, together with some very common misconceptions, can sometimes lead us to cause more harm than good.
Were you taught that if you touched a baby bird, the mother would never take it back? Well, I have good news for you, this is not true! Songbirds have a poor sense of smell and can’t detect your human scent and even if they could, they would not abandon their young. Some basic guidelines can help you avoid disrupting the natural process of young songbirds.
If you find a baby bird in a nest, take a moment to marvel at the wonder and then quickly leave it undisturbed. If you find a baby bird on the ground and it’s warm and uninjured, look for its nest. If you can find the nest, put the baby back quickly. If you find a baby, but can’t find the nest (which is very likely since birds often hide them) you can make a substitute with an empty berry basket or small wicker basket. Line the substitute nest with dry grass or leaves, and secure it over your head in a tree close to where you think the nest might be. Make sure it is shaded. Keep an eye on the new nest from a distance (binoculars are best) and watch for the parents. In all likelihood an adult will appear on schedule to feed the hungry baby. Parents have been seen caring for a nest full of young as well as tending a rescued baby in a substitute nest.
Soon, we will begin to see young fledgling birds. These guys have feathers and can be found jumping, flapping, or simply resting on the ground. Many birds wind up on the ground in their first attempts at flight. If the fledgling is in an unsafe area such as a sidewalk, road or parking lot, carefully move it to a nearby bush or undergrowth. In a safe place such as a yard, park or beside a road, watch carefully before interfering with fledglings. Do not assume they are injured. This is a critical time for birds – they must face risks to develop their skills. Their parents are usually close by to feed them, warn them of danger, and demonstrate how to behave as they become independent. The most important thing you can do is keep pets and children away from the area for a few days.
Of course, it is possible that you will find an obviously injured bird, or a known orphan. In this case, place the baby in a secure container with a lid. Make sure the lid allows plenty of ventilation. Line the box with grass, tissue, and newspaper or a paper towel, and put it in a dark, warm and quiet place while you call for assistance. It is important that you not offer food or water! It is also important that you not try to keep this baby. For one thing, people are always surprised to learn that it is illegal to keep any wild bird in your home. More importantly, baby birds require intensive care to survive – they must be fed every 10 to 20 minutes from dawn to dark. Call us if you find a baby bird. We have the trained staff and volunteer team needed to take care of them.
Native Songbird Care & Conservation can be reached at 484 6502 or www.nativesongbirdcare.org.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.