Backyard Wildlife Rescues

My love affair with wildlife is probably, to some degree, wrapped up in my DNA despite no evidence of such in my 23andme report. Born and raised in rural mountainous Pennsylvania and for as far back as I can recall, I spent a remarkable portion of my free time hanging outside with the critters. Being the daughter of a District Forester certainly helped open up my eyes to the incredible natural world at my fingertips. But what drew the need to rescue injured or abandoned animals? Maybe it has something to do with my easily tapping into the fragility of those who are vulnerable. Or maybe I’m just your classic codependent.

As a child, I’d find baby birds caught in precarious places or would stumble upon a litter of orphaned bunnies or someone would bring an abandoned fawn to our home. I found lost, abandoned, injured, or stranded turtles, tree frogs, snakes, a plethora of insects (not including the yellow jacket nest my sister and I accidentally jumped on while we were playing in the woods = pain), a bevy of birds, and countless 4-legged woodland creatures. Just like the folks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (think Dolphin Tale) who follow the motto “Rescue, Rehab, and Release” my goal was to help animals get back home to their natural habitat aka “families” even if I secretly wanted to keep most of them forever.

Not much has changed since those days outside of age, height, weight, geographical location, education, marital status, work life, and overall general habits. Only now many areas have wildlife rehab facilities, so the wildlife rescuer has a place to take the animal. Just do a quick Google for “wildlife rescue” + your geographical location and something is bound to surface.

And so begins the tale of rescuing two birds in my backyard in Southern Oregon.

Bird #1 Lil Junco

It was a brisk, sunny, winter day when I decided to take a breather from my work and go outside to check on the bird feeders. Talk about impeccable timing! It must have just happened, the attack. I walked down the deck steps and there on his back, legs up and quivering, was a little Junco. Quickly, I scooped him up and warmed him in my hands. Looking around, I didn’t know if this was a collision situation or what, and there was no way I was going to leave him out there. I found a box, slightly smaller than a shoebox and put a smooth cotton towel on the bottom with some torn up paper towels. Terry cloth is not good nesting material as a bird’s delicate feet will get tangled in it. I should have been wearing gloves. I wasn’t. Whatever. I also put some food in the box. I learned later it’s best not to give them food until they’ve been checked out by a professional. Hey, I’m Italian! Everyone’s gotta mangia!

I covered the box with another cloth to create a quiet, dark place for recuperation.  When I checked on him, he wanted out of the box but kept falling over on his side. Troubling.

Desperate, I jumped online to seek advice from my reliable bud, Google. That’s when I discovered Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in Grants Pass, Oregon.  I phoned and spoke with Jen O., animal care technician goddess extraordinaire. Jen was so accommodating she met me in a parking lot nearby so that I didn’t have to take the 45 min drive to the center. She surmised, by the missing tail feathers, Lil Junco had been attacked by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. A pair of them were hanging out at our property.

I had been watching those hawks in awe as they gracefully traverse the hundreds of trees on our property. Sharp-shinned Hawks eat small birds and attack by pouncing or grabbling prey with their toes (supposedly having some of the biggest feet in the business) and puncturing the victim’s vital organs. Jen suspects Lil Junco was grabbed but the attack was interrupted, probably by my walking outside. Fortunate synchronicity? Divine intervention? The hawk probably didn’t think so. I struggle, because I know those beautiful birds have to eat too. But my songbirds? Not on my watch.

Bird #2 Lil Finch

On a snowy February day only a week after lil Junco’s rescue, Stella and I were outside working the land when we came upon a finch standing on the arm of an outdoor chair.  She didn’t budge. Was she frozen?

I walked right up to her and bent over. My face only inches from hers. Upon closer inspection, I saw the problem, and it looked serious.

Her eyes were swollen and crusted shut. I had never seen anything like it. She was quietly and blindly standing there, probably unable to figure out what to do and likely paralyzed by fear.

I gently took her in my hands and brought her inside to warm her up. I pulled out the butterfly enclosure and placed her in there rigging up a little nest in a box with a perch. Quickly, I got online and after an extensive 5-minute research surmised she had a disease called Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis,  a fast-spreading disease among finches. Symptoms are similar to the familiar human-type conjunctivitis but it’s actually a respiratory illness and very serious to birds – not to humans. We cannot catch their conjunctivitis. A bird’s behavior with this illness is notably different. They may not move from a spot at the feeder, or they fly slowly or more erratically due to lack of sight, they may stay within a more confined space, and they wipe their heads on objects like feeder perches, branches, or your finger (the experts will tell you – don’t do what I did). This is because they’re trying to get the goop off their eyes so they can see.

Using Q-tips and warm water, I gently cleaned the crust from her swollen eyes. What’s most surprising is she let me do so without any struggle. She was able to open one eye and eventually, after some additional cleaning, the other but to a lesser degree. Perching on my finger, she looked around. Totally chill or maybe in shock. Another call to Wildlife Images and another bird handed off to their clinic.

Lil Lady Finch

In only a few weeks, Wildlife Images healed both birds. Lil Junco had some kind of inflammation that was throwing him off balance, and Lil Lady Finch received antibiotics. They both were back to normal. The coolest part? They let me bring the birds back home for release. Not the norm folks, but I practically work there now. 😊

Two Important Ways You Can Help Your Backyard Birds

1. Keep your feeders clean. 

If you see a bird that is acting strangely at your feeder, take it down. The feeder not the bird. Once a week, when the feeder is empty, I spray it with alcohol making sure all the perches and feeding holes have been disinfected. Every few weeks, it goes in the dishwasher. The only purpose our dishwasher serves is to wash things used by animals.

2. Prevent Window Collisions

I’ve buried too many birds in Oregon due to the toxic combination of a sunny day and a clean window. Dozens of decals later, we figured out where to place them to avoid fatalities.

Up to 1 billion birds die each year from window collisions. Go outside and look at your windows on a sunny day. Chances are, you’ll see tree reflections. It looks like an expansive and dreamy place to fly. Very dangerous if there is nothing on the window to deter your feathered friends. Here’s what you can do:

a) Be lazy and keep dirty windows or

b) Apply decals to the outside of windows. Decals must be placed 2-4 inches apart. Resources: ABC bird tapeetched glass decalsdecorative decalsadhesive dot patternsolyx window filmultraviolet decalsBird’s Eye View and CollidEscape.

Audubon society has some additional suggestions.

More info here on bird strikes and how to prevent them.

Are You Certain that Animal is in Need of A Rescue?

Check for signs of distress: trembling, blood, broken bones or wings, limps, hobbles, inability to fly, a dead parent nearby.  Folks at Wildlife Images told me they get a lot of baby birds in the spring, because folks see the little ones on their own, barely able to fly. Do not touch those babies until you know they are injured. Many baby birds are being closely watched by their parents as they figure out life. Just because you see a baby bopping around, doesn’t mean it’s been abandoned.

Read More Do More

We can all take action to protect our local nonhuman neighbors whose existence is growing increasingly dependent upon us as we continue to encroach on their habitats.

Just for fun! Some of the critters we see on our property.

And THIS – a near nightly event! Pump up the volume!

Full Disclosure: Shortly after starting this post over a year ago, the cycle of life stepped in and took priority over everything in my life. I now no longer live in Oregon. But I was driven to complete this post, because the message is still relevant.

On to the next adventure to be disclosed sooner than later! Ciao!

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