A Little Birdie Told Me

When I got to work on Friday morning, a normally jovial co-worker was standing in the parking lot looking really glum. He’d found a baby bird laying on the hot pavement, unable to move. He figured it had fallen from it’s nest but wasn’t sure how to help it and he was feeling bummed at the thought that it would probably die.

I love all living creatures. That’s a fact. But there is one member of the wild kingdom that I fear above all others.


I know it’s a strange phobia. Birds are cute, they sing pretty songs, they fly. What’s to be afraid of? The theory in my family is that I developed a healthy respect for all things feathered as a toddler, when I used to run around our paddock with the ducks and geese we kept. Their love of shiny objects meant I had to be quick on my feet to dodge their incessant eye-pecking.

Still, our feathered friends deserve the same consideration as everybody else. I was going to do what I could to help. But I had no idea where to start.

Luckily, I had the contact information of local bird rescue guru, Jodi Swensen. I e-mailed her a photo of the baby bird and she quickly identified him as an English or House Sparrow. He didn’t quite have all his feathers and really wasn’t ready to leave the nest yet.

Jodi was unable to take him in because she needed to save what little space she had for species that weren’t doing as well as him. She said that he was just days away from fledging and that there were a couple of things that I could do to help him.

I was not aware of this until Jodi educated me, but it is illegal to intervene with certain species of protected birds. She assured me though, that sparrows are not on the protected list and that I could legally help him by closely following her instructions.

The first thing Jodi asked me to do was to try to return the baby bird to its nest. It is a myth that the parents will reject a baby that’s been touched by human hands. Unfortunately, the nest was in the gutter at the very top of our building and there was no way for me to reach it.

Jodi next asked me to decide whether I wanted to hand-raise the bird, feeding him every half hour from sun-up to sun-down, or to make a new nest for the bird and place it in a spot where the mother and father would be able to care for him.

I wanted to intervene as little as possible, so I thought it best to get the bird back to the wild as soon as I could.

While I worked on his outdoor accommodations, Jodi told me to keep the baby bird inside in a box lined with something soft. She said that even though outdoor temperatures were in the 90’s, he would probably still need a source of direct heat since he didn’t have all his feathers yet. She told me to fill a water bottle with hot water and wrap it in something soft.

I was skeptical, but she said the bird would move away from it if he became too hot. 
He cuddled right up to it!
Next, I had to get him fed and hydrated. Jodi suggested something called handfeeding formula from Petco, but I wasn’t able to leave the office to pick any up. I did happen to have fresh raspberries and green grapes with me for lunch. She said either one would be a great thing to feed him. Blueberries work too. The fruit has enough liquid to hydrate him. On the website Jodi recommended, starlingtalk.com, caution is given that you should NEVER place fluid directly in the mouth of a wild bird as this could cause them to aspirate, develop pneumonia, or drown.
I peeled the grapes and broke up the fruit into tiny pieces. Now it was time to get over my fear of beaks and feed the little guy.
It wasn’t so bad. Time to gather some materials for nest building. 
Jodi told me to make sure the nest had drainage holes so he wouldn’t drown if it rained. A blueberry crate I found in the recycle bin was perfect for that. Wood chips borrowed from the organ-building company next door would serve as insulation. Fluffy cotton taken from a feminine hygiene product would act as a soft cushion. And a little dry grass from the periphery of the parking lot would keep it all together.
Baby bird loved his new digs. After feeding him for most of the day, I was starting to get attached, but I knew it was best for the bird if I returned him to the care of his parents. So, with a heavy heart, I brought the nest across the street. I used the flexible branches of a tree to weave the nest securely under the cover of some leaves. I said goodbye and hoped mom and dad would take good care of this little guy over the weekend.
I took this photo on Monday morning. Mom must have thought I was a total nest-building amateur, because it’s evident that she swooped in and spruced things up as soon as I was out of the way. She took good care of her baby all weekend and I’m happy to report that he is alive and well! He has most of his feathers and is hopping around and perching! 

I can’t thank Jodi enough for her advice. This is actually the second time she’s successfully helped me with a wild bird dilemma. Please take a look at her website and consider donating something from the list of items she needs. She’s a great resource for Cape Ann residents who come across wild birds in need of help. If you aren’t local, please find a qualified wildlife rehabilitator in your area. It’s really important that you have the right information before trying to help any wild animal.

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