(Baby) bird-watching

Posted June 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm


While squeezing in a lawn-mowing session between rainstorms Sunday, I encountered a pair of baby sparrows – alive – that had fallen out of a nest.

This nest gets constructed every year in a sheltered, shielded spot near our house. Birds have used it or rebuilt it successfully for years.

The fallen birds were at a very young stage, with no feathers, and wings no more than an inch long. They were obviously hungry. When I squatted down for a closer look, they stuck their heads up and opened their mouths as wide as they could, thinking they were about to be fed.

While others might have simply walked away and let nature take its course, I just couldn’t.

So I did what many of us do in these situations – I went online. I learned some interesting things about my options.

The first one that had occurred to me – trying to care for the birds on my own – was not an option at all. You would have to feed them every 15 or 20 minutes, and whatever I could find to feed them might just as easily kill them. Most importantly, keeping any sort of animal or bird in captivity from the wild is illegal.

The second option – leaving them alone – wasn’t a terrible idea. I learned that the parent birds will continue to care for the babies even if they are on the ground. Of course, you then run the risk of some critter – or neighborhood cat – using them as a midnight snack.

A third option, returning the birds to the nest, was something I considered. Ever hear that old saying that if you handle a bird, its mother will no longer go near it? Turns out that’s a myth. The problem was, the nest was pretty high. In addition to being slightly dangerous, I was concerned that the mother might swoop by in attack mode.

Another option had more appeal. Apparently it’s possible to construct a substitute nest, using whatever plastic container you can find and filling it with shredded paper towels, and then attaching it to a tree, out of the reach of predators. I decided to try this.

By this time, my boys had taken an interest. The older one had given them names – George and Logan.

By the time darkness fell Sunday evening, I had picked up and carted George and Logan to their new home, a Cool Whip container screwed into the side of a tree.

It rained hard Sunday night. I hadn’t thought about rain - oops - and the possible drowning of the birds. I went out Monday morning and, thankfully, they were alive. The branches had kept too much water from collecting in the container, and the paper towels had taken care of the rest. To be on the safe side, since more rain was on the way, I poked a hole in the bottom to let water drain out.

Only one question remained – would it work?

On Monday morning I consulted an expert – Larry Gullett – to see if I had done the right thing. He responded that what I did doesn’t hurt, but that I might check to see if the mother is still caring for them.

I went home for lunch Monday, looked out a window and was happy to discover an adult sparrow perched on the edge of the container, leaning down to give the babies something to eat.

So far, so good. Hang in there, George and Logan.