Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Patient Profile: Eastern Phoebe

by Becca Novello
Intern, Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

Species: Eastern Phoebe

Age: Fledglings

Cause for Admission: Abduction - Healthy birds removed from nest and parents


These three Phoebes came to us on June 17th as fledglings, but their road to rehab actually began ten days before that. After finding their nest at a construction site, some members of the public took the nestlings into their own care. Though the intentions were good, the Phoebes became seriously malnourished over the course of those ten days – baby birds require a very specific diet and can’t develop properly without it.*

By the time they arrived in our care, the Phoebes were in bad condition. Their feathers were tattered and broken, so the birds were unable to maintain their waterproofing or regulate their core temperature. They would have had no way to protect themselves from the weather in the wild, and they would have been forced to spend precious energy producing heat that they couldn’t even hold onto. Beyond that, some of the birds hadn’t grown any tail feathers at all, though they were old enough that those feathers should have been well developed. 

Proper tail feather development is important to all birds, but Phoebes in particular rely on their tails to facilitate some pretty impressive maneuvering. They primarily eat flying insects, so they have to be able to catch their prey right out of the air. They watch closely for insects from low perches; when they see a potential meal passing by, they flit off the perch, snag it in their beak, and swing right back to home base. They sometimes even hover in midair to glean insects off of foliage! Their quick changes of direction require incredible control of movement, and Phoebes use their long, thin tail like a rudder, constantly making tiny adjustments. Without the proper feather condition and fully-grown tails, these Phoebes wouldn’t stand a chance on their own. And besides, what would a Phoebe be without its characteristic tail twitch? 

Status: Ongoing assessment with an expected release
Though the consequences of the Phoebes’ malnutrition will take time to overcome, their overall condition has improved greatly since their arrival. We’ve had them on a proper diet that’s rich in protein, and their tails are growing in beautifully! They’re in an outdoor enclosure now, developing skills that will be necessary to them as adults in the wild. They make longer and more controlled flights each day, and they recently figured out how to smack their prey against their perches to kill it – including their cooked egg and soaked kitten food. Over the coming days and weeks, we will be evaluating their flight and watching for their tails to fill out. We’re hoping that a release is in the cards for these guys – we’ll think of them whenever we hear a raspy “PHOE-be!” through our windows.

*Please remember: Besides the fact that wild birds require incredibly specific and intensive care, keeping them without a license is illegal.  If you see a bird that you believe to be injured, ill, or orphaned, call the VINS hotline immediately! We can advise you on how to best deal with the situation and what to do if interference is necessary. If we aren’t there to answer the phone, be sure to leave us a message with your name, number, and situation, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.