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BIRDS, Those Backyard Jewels!

~Contributed by Beverly Guthrie

We all love those beautiful, interesting jewels that adorn our gardens called BIRDS!  Here are some tips to help you understand them better and assist you in differentiating between a behavior that is normal and one that is not.

Birds attacking windowsMost of us have seen a bird repeatedly hitting a window, especially in the spring.  In all probability, this bird is seeing his own reflection in the window and trying to defend his territory from an intruder. 

Do whatever you can to break up the reflection on the OUTSIDE of the window—put hawk or owl decals on the windows, hang strings of twisted foil strips in front of the windows, stick Post-it notes on the outside of the window; even let your windows remain a little dirty.  Visit your local bird store to obtain decals and find other ideas.

  Note: Hawk or owl decals work well.

Birds accidentally flying into windowsOccasionally, a bird will fail to recognize that there is a sheet of glass preventing it from landing on your houseplant, or flying straight through the house to the other side.  Injury from a collision with a window can range from a few “woozy” moments to serious injury and possibly death.  Using scare decals, etc. can help as a preventative measure, but here is what you can do to help the bird if he is lying on the ground unable to fly after a collision:

  • If it is safe from predators, place an inverted laundry basket over the bird and watch from afar.  In most cases, the bird will recover quickly and be able to fly away a wiser bird when it “comes to” and the basket is removed

  • If it does not recover quickly or if there are cats or other predators nearby, prepare a box with soft paper towels or T-shirt material on the bottom and holes punched in the top to let in air.  Gently place the bird in the box and place it in a very quiet, dark, warm place to see if the bird is able to recover on its own.    Always use caution and wear gloves when handling any kind of wildlife.

  • If  you notice an obvious injury at any time—blood or a broken wing, etc, or if the bird in the box does not recover sufficiently (after a period no longer than 4 hours) to fly away when the box top is slowly removed, it is time to find a permitted wildlife rehabilitator and transport the bird.  See Transport Instructions below. Do not feed or give water to an injured bird. 

  • Note: Be careful to peek at the bird before completely removing the lid. You do not want to release an injured bird that might have recovered enough to fly out of the box, but would still need to be recaptured and taken to a rehabilitator.

Birds acting drunkBerries of all kinds can ferment from the repeated process of freezing and then thawing during warm periods. 

Birds that eat those berries, notably Cedar Waxwings, can eat so many berries that they become drunk and stagger around on the ground.  Injury can occur from the bird being in this state. 

  • If the birds are in a relatively safe place, leave them alone to recover. 

  • If they are in danger from cars or predators, do what you can to move them to a safer place to recover.  Placing an inverted laundry basket over the birds until they recover can be helpful as well.

  • If the bird is injured due to a car collision, cat attack, etc., the bird needs help. Transport as soon as possible to a properly permitted rehabilitator.

Please note: Birds that have ingested Amdro ant bait or other granular pesticides can appear “drunk” as well.  If you or your neighbors have been using these products and you see an impaired bird, you'll need to transport the affected bird immediately to a properly permitted rehabilitator for treatment.

Ducks “courting” in swimming poolsLike we humans do, ducks seek a safe private place to court, mate and nest.  If you are being visited by a pair of ducks in the spring, you should be flattered.  It means that you have created a lovely, peaceful urban habitat free of predators!  If, however, you would prefer not to have wild companions in your pool, you can try some of the following suggestions:

Try placing weighted Mylar balloons dancing just above the water in your pool.  Scare Eye balloons can be ordered online or at your local wild bird store, or you can try floating lots of beach balls in the pool.

It is OK to try anything that is humane to discourage the ducks, but caution, state and federal laws govern treatment and possession of wild birds, their nests or eggs. It is against the law to harm wild birds, or tamper with or destroy the nests or eggs.  This law applies to all species of native birds.  Click here to find out where to purchase scare eye balloons.


Baby ducklings unable to get out of the poolIf  baby ducks (or other animals) are stuck in your pool, unable to jump out, you can do the following:
  •  First, provide the babies a way to escape from the pool.  Build brick stairs on the steps of your pool; build a ramp from a board covered with a towel or other fabric that will give traction—make sure the ramp is not too steep- less than a 45 degree angle.  It is important to give the baby ducks a way to get out of the pool before they become water-logged and chilled.  Baby ducks DO NOT have enough oil on their “down” to make them waterproof.  They will surely die if they cannot leave the water and nestle under mother’s wings for protection from the cold and to benefit from sharing her oils.  Be sure to check for and gently remove babies trapped in the skimmers.  Once you have installed the steps or ramp, be sure you go in the house or watch from a distance to allow the babies a safe escape.  To the mother duck, you are a predator and as long as you are visible, she thinks the babies are safest in the water.

  • After the babies have left the pool, be sure to lower the water level to just above the skimmer opening so that the ducklings can always hop over the float if they enter the skimmer on future visits to the pool, but water can still circulate through the skimmer.  Be sure to leave the steps or ramp in place as long as the ducklings are in your yard.

So what do I do if I find a nest or the duck family settles in to stay?

Find the answer to this question and more information by following our DUCK link.

Nestling vs. Fledgling

Baby Birds on the GroundMore than half of the Hotline callers are contacting us about birds.  The majority of those calls revolve around baby birds being found on the ground during nesting and fledging seasons.  Here is what you need to know about baby birds:

NestlingsMost songbirds are born almost naked and blind—totally dependent upon mom and in some cases, dad, for warmth, food and care. Birds this young are best left for mom to care for if possible.  Follow the instructions given for re-nesting, or locate a permitted rehabilitator if re-nesting  is not successful.

Although the babies pictured below are beginning to get their pin feathers and they have their eyes open, they still belong in the nest and should be renested if possible. Mom will not reject the babies because a human has handled them.

FledglingsThe fledgling stage of a bird’s life is very much like the teenage years for human beings.  It is a perfectly normal part of growing up, but there are many dangers encountered during this period.  In the case of birds, they are too old to be confined to the nest, but in many cases, they are not able to fly and feed themselves yet.  Mom and dad feed and care for fledglings while they are on the ground until they are able to fly.  This learning process can take up to 2 weeks.  During this time, fledglings are vulnerable to predators such as dogs and cats, foxes, bobcats and coyotes.  Because they are so cute and seemingly in peril, fledglings are often kidnapped by well-meaning citizens.

The baby mockingbird, above right, is recognizable as a fledgling because it has wing feathers and a very short tail, but it doesn’t look quite grown up yet.  This bird cannot fly or care for itself fully.  It still has a yellow mouth and is using it as a target where mom and dad can deposit food. 


If you see a baby like this one, watch from a distance or from the house to make sure the baby is being fed and cared for.  If it is in immediate danger from predators or if it is injured, it is time to call the Hotline.  Otherwise, if the parents are caring for the baby, let them do their job.  This is a normal and necessary learning period for a young bird.


Some Special BabiesSome rehabilitators care for only hawks and owls - birds of prey.  If a baby bird of prey needs to go to a rehabber, it is important that the caller be able to identify the birds.

Even at this young age, the hooked beak is a dead giveaway that the nestlings at right are owls (barn owls).  Hawks and owls have hooked beaks for tearing prey into bites small enough to eat.


Although these young great horned owls, left, are a little more recognizable as owls, one could still determine that they are owls by looking at the sharp, curved beak.

Below, you can clearly see the sharp beak of the baby hawk. Raptors have sharp talons and a sharp, hooked beak.

Ground Nesting Birds Most birds that nest on the ground have babies born ready to run and at least partially feed themselves.  This creates a situation where well meaning citizens think the babies are too young to be running around on the ground and there must be something wrong.  This is a perfectly normal behavior for a ground nesting bird such as a killdeer (below). When these eggs hatch, the baby birds will look and act like a miniature adult.  It is normal for them to be on the ground.  Do not attempt to “rescue” young killdeer unless they are injured.
Wading Birds Most wading birds like this fledgling cattle egret have long legs and a long sharp beak.  Take extra care when rescuing these birds.  Wear gloves and especially eye protection.  Herons and egrets spear fish with their beaks and will not hesitate to use defensive measures on a rescuer when necessary.

Transport InstructionsIf you and a permitted rehabber have determined that a bird needs to be transported, please follow the directions below in order to transport the bird safely.  Remember, state and federal laws govern human contact with wild birds, including possession of such birds. All such laws should be followed; only properly permitted persons may receive and retain wild birds.

1) PROTECT YOURSELF appropriately with heavy gloves, long sleeved shirt, heavy long pants, and eye protection such as shop glasses.  For small birds, gloves should be sufficient protection.

2) Prepare a box or crate appropriately sized for the bird to be transported.  Line the bottom of the container with soft T-shirt material.  Please do not use terrycloth material because the loops can injure the bird’s feet.  If you are using a box, punch holes from the INSIDE toward the outside of the lid to allow for air to reach the bird.  That way, rough edges will be on the outside of the box.

3)  If you are transporting a baby bird, be sure to keep it warm by including a source of warmth such as a plastic bottle or tightly tied rubber glove filled with warm water and covered with cloth.  Place the bottle near the baby or underneath the baby.  Be sure the water is not too hot and that there is fabric or material between the baby and the heat source.  Also make sure the water in the container is not able to leak causing the bird to become wet and chilled.  You can also use a sock filled with uncooked white rice.   Place the filled sock in a microwave for a minute or longer, until the sock is moist-warm to the touch (but not hot); place under or near the baby.   Be sure there is material between the baby and the sock, and check to make sure the sock is not too hot.  Adult birds normally do not need a heat source for transfer unless the bird seems chilled.

4)  To capture an injured water bird, try throwing a light blanket over the bird and grabbing from behind, holding the wings close to the body.  Use one hand and arm to support the bird and hold the wings close to the bird’s body and use the other hand to hold the beak.

5)  Gently place the bird in the container and secure the lid tightly.  You can imagine the surprise it would be to be driving down the road with a bird loose in your car.  Birds can recover quickly and escape from a container that is not securely fastened.

6)  Transport as quickly as possible to a properly permitted rehabilitator.  Always reduce stress for the bird by keeping the container in a dark, quiet area whenever possible.  Please refrain from using the radio during transport or allowing children or adults to handle the bird unnecessarily.

7)  Wash and disinfect your hands and any transport materials thoroughly when the transport is complete.


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