Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It's Fluffy Chick Time!

As we head into the hot days of summer, the telephone continues to ring at the Northwood Center, but the inquiries switch topic. Questions such as "Are the Red Knots here yet?" or "When will the warblers arrive?" are replaced by "I found an abandoned baby bird....".

June is perhaps the busiest month for rehabilitators receiving calls about lost or abandoned baby birds, so here's a few quick pointers for you should you be about to pick up the phone and call on this topic. Firstly, folks who can deal with lost or abandoned baby birds are few and far between; there is a rigorous licensing system in place, designed to ensure that any injured animal that is taken in, is taken in by someone who knows what they are doing, and who has the facilities to take care of the creature until it can be (hopefully) released back into the wild. Secondly, we at Cape May Bird Observatory are not licensed, nor do we have the facilities to care for injured wildlife. So what is best? Well, if you do call us, we can certainly give you the number of your nearest rehabilitator, who should be contacted directly for advice.

But, back to those lost or abandoned baby birds - it is fair to say that the vast majority of lost or abandoned baby birds are not lost or abandoned and, in most cases, the best thing to do is to leave them alone - mum or dad will be nearby somewhere and will return to feed them once the coast clear - and that means once we humans are out of the way! If you are hovering near a baby bird, the parents are going to keep their distance until you withdraw. If you find a young bird in an open place that you feel might make it vulnerable - outdoor and feral cats take a massive toll of birds at this time of year - you can perhaps move the bird to a place with more cover, and preferably on a branch where it will be off the ground - but don't move it too far.

Perhaps the trickiest baby birds for most people to come to terms with are young owls. In many species of owl, the youngsters leave the nest before they can fly and clamber around in the trees. At this stage they are often known as 'branchers'. Occasionally, such birds fall to the ground, but they are lightweight and covered in fluffy down so usually survive the indignity. Many people finding such birds think they are abandoned - even watch them for long periods and see no adults visiting with food. But, of course, owls are nightbirds and the parents won't be back to tend to the youngster until it gets dark. Again, if you find a young owl sitting on your lawn, the safest bet is to lift it up on a branch, somewhere with a little cover where it will be safe from ground predators. Don't forget though that owls have pretty sharp claws, so wear proper protective gloves or similar, or call your local rehabilitator or animal control officer who will lift the bird out of the way for you.

Just remember, above all, most baby birds are not lost or abandoned - misguided maybe, but not lost!!

It's been a surprise for many of us to see Wild Turkeys hanging out around Cape May Point this year and Karl Lukens was amazed to see his bird return with eight bundles of fluff on Monday morning - watch out for them if you are driving on Seagrove Avenue [photo by Karl Lukens]