Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thinking from
Way Down Inside the Box
Absolutely True Experiences of a Retired Teacher
Turned Wildlife Rehabilitator

Installment One from 2012

     Science teachers, may I have your attention please? 

     I am beginning my 15th year as a licenses wildlife rehabilitator.  I take in, raise, and release baby songbirds that have lost their parents, their nests, or both.  Sometimes Mother Nature is the culprit and at other times a person is the guilty party.  But what always makes my jaw slam to my chest is the whirlwind of convoluted ignorance that I encounter every year.

     Apparently, some people have no clue as to how the natural world around them works.  For those killjoys who take delight in prophesying that the electronic age will create a human race isolated into individual cocoons, I have a news flash.  A lot of people are already wrapped up.  They call me when they run head-long into another life form and get confused.  Baby birds specifically tend to agitate them.

     I thought it would be helpful to expose this problem—take the Dr. Phil approach, so to speak.  “If you don’t acknowledge it, you can’t fix it.”  I’ll do the acknowledging.  We’ll have to work together to do the fixing!   This is primo blogging material!

    My first babies of the season—5 Carolina wrens—arrived last Friday.  And now, only five days in, I have already had an encounter from the cocoon.  I’ll share the rest as they come in.   Remember, these could be YOUR students as adults.  Some of them probably ARE my former students.  AR–R-R-R-R-R-GH!!

Phone Call: 4/17/12  5:00 p.m. EST

Me:  Hello

Caller:  Hello.  Is this the bird and rabbit pickup?

Me:  No, I do wildlife rehab for songbirds, but I don’t come out and pick up.

Caller:  Well, animal control gave me your number.  I have birds on (Yes!  She said on.) the wall of my house and I don’t know what to do.  There’s a bunch of them.

Me:  Is there a nest attended by adults?

Caller:  I think they have babies up there.  I need to get them down.

Me:  If you will just wait a week or two, maybe even just a few days, they will fly off the nest. 

Caller:  They will?

Me:  Yes.  Baby birds don’t stay in the nest forever.  Just wait and they will leave.

Caller:  OK.  I just wanted to be sure.  Thanks.

Click. . .

Some “Fixing Ideas”
Tell your students:
    In the United States, it is against federal law to disturb an active bird nest.  That means you shouldn’t destroy it, move it, remove the eggs, the babies, or block a parent bird’s access to the nest.  This law applies to all native wild birds.

Ask you students these questions:
  1.  What is the difference between an active bird nest and an inactive nest?

  2.  What type of bird might choose the wall cavity of a house as a place to build a nest?  How might they get into this space?

  3.  What should you do if you discovered that a family of birds is nesting inside the wall of your home?
  4.  What can you do to prevent this from happening again?

  5.  In the world of baby birds, what is the difference between a nestling and a fledgling?


  1. Hi Margaret and I love the bird story. I am finding that birds are quite amazing little creatures to watch. I have bird feeders all over my front and backyard and participate in the backyard feeder count for Cornell Ornithology. We have baby chickadees, robins and Tufted Titmouse babies. I love it and my son is a photographer that sits out in the yard and takes these amazing photos of the birds taking baths in our water fall over our Koi pond. My favorite is one he took of a Cedar Waxwing and Cornell used it as one of their cover photos. I will have to find the link and send it to you soon. I am a new follower and also a TpT teacher and I am so glad to meet you as a fellow blogger.

    Deb at Fabulously First

    1. Hi Deb,
      The Cornell Ornithology feeder count is a wonderful program!! I would love a link to your son's photo. Please send it. I usually get a baby waxwing or two each year. They are unbelievably gorgeous babies, and they eat nothing but fruit. I spend a fortune on blueberries, grapes, strawberries, etc. before I send them to the huge rehab center at Lees Mcrae College (Banner Elk, NC) where they have non-releasable adult waxwings. These little guys have to be with adults to learn "waxwing etiquette" before they can be released. Crows are the only other bird that I know of in this category. Never thought bird babies could be so interesting until I got to know a few!

  2. A baby waxwing! How cute! Thanks for sharing your work--I'll talk with my students about "nestling" vs. "fledgling" tomorrow. :)

    1. Thanks, Emily! The birds of the world also thank you!

  3. What an amazing experience Margaret... and a great lesson for all us! What an amazing opportunity you have to make a difference in the lives of those birds... if they could thank you, I'm sure they would.

    I used to work at our local aquarium and was amazed at the calls we would get about baby seals. The worst case was when a family found a baby seal (they thought it was abandonded) and drove it from Vancouver to the Calgary Zoo (a 2-day drive!!!). They could've called us and we would have provided care... the aquarium rehads quite a few seal pups every year.


    1. Hi Addie,
      Baby seals go off the cuteness scale! I have a good friend who rehabs mamals. Little chipmunks are so toy-like, you just have to touch them, but they will repay you by biting into your finger and latching on. As me how I know! Abandonded! Gads! I get calls every year from people who claim that a mother bird has "abahdoned" her babies. I snap back right away that there is no abandondment in the wild. If the mother is alive, she comes back to her babies. People, on the other hand. . .

  4. Great post Margaret! Not disturbing active nests reminds me of my childhood. We had a walk in attic and birds would always nest in the attic vent. The best part was my sister and I could watch the nest through the mesh on the inside of the attic. All the while, not disturbing the nest or the exit/entrance to the nest that went to the outside! It was great...thanks for bringing back a great memory!

    One Teacher's Take