Thursday, May 30, 2013

Can You Handle the Cuteness?

Baby bird season is in full swing here at VINS, and we are busy, busy! Though taking care of the little ones is a lot of work, it is definitely the most rewarding season for us. I wanted to share some of the adorable babies we have the privilege of working with every day - cause it would be a shame to keep it all to ourselves! Visit our website and check out our webcam to see some of the special babes in our incubator.

This nest of six Black-capped Chickadees came to us after their mother had been killed by a cat. Left on their own, these little guys wouldn't have made it, but a compassionate woman rescued them and immediately got them to VINS. They're a raucous bunch!

This tiny tot is a much younger Black-capped Chickadee. He was found on the ground with no nest in sight. He was cold and hungry and needed someone to help him grow big and strong, and the nice folks who notice him helped him find his way to VINS - and a toasty warm incubator. When he first arrived, he was practically naked - nothing but a bit of fuzz to keep him warm. Now he's growing in some baby feathers, and you can start to see his Chickadee markings. He even makes little Chickadee sounds!

This little American Robin has only been with us a short time. He (or she) was found on the ground, apparently having fallen out of his nest. He has no injuries, and is actually a healthy fledgling bird. Fledgling birds can seem very helpless and alone when they first leave the nest, but they are typically being cared for by parents who aren't far away. If you see a fully-feathered "baby" bird on the ground, leave it where it is (assuming it's a safe spot) and keep an eye out for the parents. You should see them come to the baby at regular intervals - they may even fuss at you if you get too close to their little one. If you don't see parents, the baby seems to be injured, or it's in an unsafe location with cars, cats or dogs, get in touch with an avian rehabber. 

These European Starlings were nesting in the wall of a house! The homeowner found the nest and removed it, along with these five babies. They arrived very cold and lethargic, but once we got them warmed up and a fed, they really came alive. They're feisty and active and are just on the cusp of fledging. What a crew!

These babies are a stark contrast to the previous Robin and Starlings. They are about the same age (about 10 days old), but look much younger. The difference is nutrition. The first, healthy Robin was cared for by it's parents until its "abduction," and the Starlings came to VINS as nestlings and received our specialized nestling formula. 

The American Robin (above) and European Starling (left) pictured here were cared for during the first week of their lives by members of the public. These folks had the best of intentions and rescued the babies after they had fallen from their nests. But they were ill-equipped to provide for the special needs of these tykes. Of course, a baby bird's parents are always the best at caring for them, but when that isn't an option, an experience, licensed avian rehabilitator is the next best bet. Now that these babies are receiving the proper nutrition, we're hopeful that they'll begin to thrive and develop properly - but only time will tell. We certainly appreciate the compassion of those who found and initially cared for the Robin and Starling, and it's been a great chance for us to teach others about the best way to grow healthy, strong songbirds! 

We have two unique baby birds in our care, as well - a House Finch (who is just a blur in this photo, he moves so quickly!) and a White-breasted Nuthatch. These aren't rare birds in our area, we just don't see them as patients here at VINS very often. They are a cute pair, snuggling together and chirping at one another (we've likened the nasal ballads of the Nuthatch to those of Aaron Neville). The Nuthatch is a fledgling who was attacked by a cat. He has a broken halux (his rear digit or "thumb") which we have splinted. The House Finch's parents built the sweetest little nest inside a clothespin bag hanging from a clothesline. We suspect something happened to this little one's parents, as they hadn't returned to the nest in some time. And the kind woman who was keeping an eye on the nest brought him in to us - clothespin bag and all! Both birds are thriving and are starting to stretch their wings and practice flying. What a pair!

And last but not least, the American Crow. He was found on the ground, having fallen or been blown out of his nest. He had very few feathers, and he was very cold and lethargic. The cold can be fatal for nestling birds of any species, and we were fearful that this Crow had gotten too cold and may not be able to recover. We got him warmed up and treated him for internal trauma, and slowly but surely he perked up. Now he's a "big kid" and has lots of feathers. He preens and takes care of his new feathers, and he likes to practice flapping his wings. Though his health is good, that was only one challenge that we've faced with this youngster. Crows are incredibly susceptible to imprinting - becoming irreversibly socially-bonded to humans rather than those of their own species. Because of this, we have to take special steps to prevent his imprinting on VINS staff members. He has a mirror so he's always looking at another crow, we wear a special mask any time we interact with him, we never talk around him, and we play him a special mix of nature sounds which includes the sounds of crows. With any luck, he'll grow up wild and join a murder of crow companions!

Phew! There are a lot of mouths to feed at VINS right now - about 30 babies total. But we always have room for more. If you find a baby bird, give us a call and we'll make sure the little one receives the best care humans have to offer. Call our Wildlife Services Department with any bird-related questions or emergencies at 802-359-5001 ext. 212.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hard Knocks and Happy Endings....A Woodpecker Makes His Way Home

Woodpeckers seem to have a knack for getting themselves into trouble, especially those who live in close proximity to homes and businesses. Many woodpeckers make themselves right at home in our backyards, placing them perilously close to one of the biggest threats to birds - windows.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds are injured or lose their lives by flying into plate glass windows. Birds do not see the glass, but rather they see a reflection of the landscape - typically the sky or trees. The bird thinks it is flying skyward or into the forest, but instead it hits glass. 

One recent woodpecker patient here at VINS had a very unlucky encounter with a window. This patient, a Hairy Woodpecker, arrived in extremely rough shape. He had severe head trauma and was unable to hold his head upright. His feathers were puffed up and he had his head tucked under his wing - both signs that he wasn't feeling well. 

This guy was truly down-and-out, and we weren't sure he would be able to make a full recovery. We treated him with homeopathic medications for head trauma as well as an anti-inflammatory to help with any swelling and pain. He was very wobbly for a long time - his head bobbed from side to side, and he was generally unsteady. 

He slowly improved and we decided to give him a chance to spread his wings in our songbird aviary. It took several days for his equilibrium to return, but he eventually gained the ability to make short flights across the aviary. And a few days after that, he was zooming around the enclosure making the classic Hairy Woodpecker call. What a joy to see this guy flying and calling with no hint of a head bob or unsteadiness! Watch this video of the healed and healthy Hairy Woodpecker in VINS' songbird aviary. 

So we sent him on his way! He returned to his original home, where, we understand, his mate had been waiting for him the whole time.

To learn more about how you can safeguard your windows or how to help a bird that has hit a window, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's webpage dedicated to keeping birds safe around windows or call VINS' Wildlife Services Department at 802-359-5001 ext. 212.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Oh, Baby! VINS' First Baby Bird of the Season.

Spring has arrived in New England, and for VINS this means the arrival of "baby bird season." Right now, birds are busy finding mates, establishing territories, building nests, and, for the lady-birds, laying eggs. While many birds successfully raise their young to adulthood, there are some whose babies find themselves in need of a helping human hand. 

Each spring, we wonder when the first baby bird will arrive in our Wildlife Services Department and what species it will be. This was a particularly long winter, so we expected that the babies would show up a bit later than in past years.  

(Watch a video of our first baby of the year.)

Well, we got our answer nearly two weeks ago. Our first baby, a tiny mourning dove, arrived on April 25. This little one was found on a sidewalk - likely the result of an overactive tyke who wandered a bit too far over the edge of his nest. Other than a bit of bruising on his abdomen and a small amount of blood on his wing, both injuries likely sustained during his tumble out of the nest onto concrete, this little dove was in good condition. 

Our main priorities with any nestling baby bird are to 1) make sure the bird is warm, and 2) get some food in the baby's belly. This baby was nice and warm when he arrived (not too hot and not too cold, but just right), so we got him settled in an incubator to maintain his temperature and served him his first meal. He's been eating and growing ever since! 

Baby birds grow very quickly, so he went from the helpless baby you see in the photo above to the awkward yet active youngster featured in this video to the fully-feathered teenager in the photo to the left in less than two week's time. In the video, the baby is making his first attempt at eating solid food and drinking water on his own. We have a bottle rigged with a soft opening that mimics his mother's mouth. He sticks his head in the bottle, opens his mouth and takes in the mix of seed and starter. It's takes time for him to learn that he must actively eat and drink rather than just opening his mouth and waiting for the food to fall in! You can see when he's offered water that he opens his mouth, expecting the water to jump in! Nearly a week has gone by since the video was taken, and he is a master-drinker now - though he's still working on eating solid food without the bottle. Oh, baby!