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Young wild animals, particularly birds, are often discovered alone and apparently deserted. And wild animals of all ages are found injured; accidents on highways, encounters with family pets, collisions with picture windows, etc., have now become a part of the balance of nature. Perhaps because people believe that of all animals, birds and mammals have sensitivities closest to those of humans, these creatures are the subject of most concerned calls to wildlife agencies.
Year of experience with wildlife rehabilitation allows some general comments to be made in answer to questions asked about care of orphaned and injured animals.
1. Most of the young birds discovered out of the nest are not orphans. Songbird fledglings leave the nest before they are capable of extended flight and may be flightless for ten days or more. During this time food is gathered by their parents, who spend much of their time away from the young. The young of precocial birds (shorebirds, ducks, pheasants and grouse) are out of the nest right after hatching and go through a longer process of learning to forage for themselves before they can fly.
2. Young birds deserted by their parents are most probably sick or abnormal. In fact, the weakest of a brood may be pushed from the nest by the parents or siblings. Autopsies of baby birds that are deserted and die show malfunctions of the digestive tract and internal and external parasites to be among the causes of mortality.
3. Nestlings require feeding every 15 to 30 minutes. Few people have a schedule that allows that kind of commitment for ten to fourteen 12-hour days.
4. The normal methods of rearing of young birds cannot be duplicated by man. The learning patterns of birds are much more rigidly controlled than that of humans; the exact timing necessary for young birds to learn what to eat and how to get it is unknown. Therefore, birds held captive through the normal learning period are mentally crippled for life. A bird "successfully" reared to the point of release has little chance of surviving in the wild.
5. Both federal and state permits are legally required for those who handle wildlife. All birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state law. Holding wild birds requires both a federal Special Purpose Permit and the New Jersey Humanitarian Permit.
6. Natural balance in bird populations includes the death each year of many young birds. There is much in the world of nature that seems sad or even cruel to the human mind. But our knowledge of the ways of nature is insufficient for us to successfully interfere with natural processes of life and death in wild populations.
7. The best thing to do with baby birds is to leave them where they are found. It is not true that the scent of human handling will prevent a parent from returning to the baby bird. If a nest has blown from a tree, return it as near as possible to the original location. A nestling can be reintroduced to the nest from which it came, but there's a risk of dislodging others and the possibility that the parents had purposely rejected the nestling. Fledglings (those with feathers) can be placed on a branch out of the way of predators.
INJURED AND DISEASED BIRDS
1. Broken bones usually mean death for birds in the wild. It is normally impossible for even skilled professionals to assure proper mending of broken limbs. A commitment to repair the damage is a commitment to care for the bird during its lifetime (as much as 8 to 10 years for songbirds in captivity).
2. Bird injuries require immediate attention. Birds found with injuries may have been without food and water for some time. Warmth and proper food must be made available to the bird at once. Cooked egg yolks are acceptable in an emergency (mashed, rolled in small balls and put in the mouth of small birds). Water should be made available, but not force-fed. Since injured birds are very vulnerable to shock, gentle handling and a quiet shelter are required. If injuries are not severe, such nourishment and undisturbed rest may be all that the animal requires. Severe injuries, broken bones particularly, necessitate the attention of qualified personnel. The relatively high metabolic rate of birds initiates rapid healing processes. If injuries are not treated soon, improper healing may occur.
3. Few wildlife rehabilitation centers exist in the state. The New Jersey Audubon Society will direct callers to such centers. Because all funding for these centers must come from concerned individuals, those who call about injured birds should be ready to transport the bird to the center and contribute something for its care.
4. Concussions can be treated by individuals at home. If a bird has flown into a window and is unconscious, it is treated with quiet rest in a dark place. If it recovers, it will not fly in the dark, and it can be released outside. If it is unable to fly after twenty-four hours, it probably has severe brain injuries and its suffering should be ended.
5. Cases of disease and poisoning are difficult to diagnose. An adult bird may be found in a strange posture, trembling or even violently convulsing. While such behavior is symptomatic of poisoning, these actions vary as to species and type of poisoning. Treatment of these birds is usually unsuccessful. Provision of warmth and quiet may be all that can be done. If convulsions are violent, the most humane act may be to end the bird's suffering. If several birds are found exhibiting these symptoms, report the discovery immediately to the New Jersey Audubon Society.
Diseased birds also have little chance of survival. Food and water can be provided as for birds with broken bones. If death is imminent, there is some indication that a darkened area makes the event less stressful for the bird.
1. Baby mammals are even more vulnerable than birds to human intervention. Perhaps because wild mammals are furry, warm and cuddly, it is often assumed that they will respond to care in the same way as humans. The care of wild animals, however, is fraught with the same problems as is the care of birds
2. Adult mammals may leave their young for relatively long periods of time. This habit leads many people to believe the young are abandoned when actually they are not. It is best to leave the young where they are as the parents may be merely waiting for the human intruder to vacate the area. This is especially true of young deer or rabbits.
3. The survival chances of captive mammals are greatly diminished upon their release. Deprived of parental guidance and thus lacking the foraging or hunting skills necessary to survive, the released mammal may starve or become a panhandling pest. Since they lose part of their innate wariness also, there is great probability of such animals falling prey to people, cats, dogs or even natural predators that they fail to recognize as enemies. Occasionally, with less fear of humans but with their other defensive reactions (biting or clawing) normal, released mammals become a threat to children who may attempt to pet them. In such cases the animal may have to be killed.
4. The behavior of many mammals becomes increasingly unpredictable as the animals grow older. This is particularly true as sexual maturity approaches. It is then that the previously docile animal may inflict rough injuries on its human caretakers.
5. The best thing for baby mammals, as for baby birds, is to leave them where they are found. Occasionally, wildlife rehabilitation centers with appropriate legal permits will accept young wild mammals. But the space and time resources needed for care usually prevent this.
INJURED AND DISEASED MAMMALS
1. Injured or diseased mammals require precautions to avoid human injury or disease. Stress generally makes them more defensive. In addition some mammals carry rabies. It is of the utmost importance that diseased mammals not be allowed to bite or scratch anyone.
2. Only in the case of certain injuries is there any justification for attempting to care for wild mammals. A wound that can be treated easily with immediate release after treatment is such an injury, such as a clean break in a leg bone. An animal with this type of injury that is being held for care should be kept warm and in a darkened area. As with birds, a call to the New Jersey Audubon Society will produce the locations of the few wildlife rehabilitation centers with appropriate legal permits. If space is available, the animal can be taken to a center for treatment and release.
For more information, see our Suburban Survival Guide article on baby birds.
YES! The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a federal law that prohibits all collection and possession of migratory birds, as well as their parts and products (feathers, eggs, nests). The best thing to do if you come across empty nests, or feathers and eggs on the ground, is to leave them where they are. When you think about the history of plume-hunting, hawk-shooting and other abuses which led to this law, you can see why there can be no exceptions to it. More information can be found here: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Squirrels can jump up to 5 feet vertically, and up to 10 feet horizontally! They have been known to outwit the most squirrel-proof of feeders. Some people have tried live-trapping squirrels and moving them to distant locations. We have found that the remaining squirrel population just moves in to fill the void. To deter squirrels, place feeders at least 8 feet away from the nearest access (bushes, tree limbs, tree trunks, eaves, railings), and 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Use baffles to block access to hanging or pole-mounted feeders. On pole-mounted feeders place baffles at least 4 feet from the ground. If you can't keep your feeders away from the squirrels, consider setting up a squirrel feeding station in a distant corner of your yard. Hopefully they will cheerfully eat the offered squirrel food, and leave the birds alone. If you can't locate your feeders in a spot with no access, there are feeders that close when the weight of a squirrel (or large birds) is applied to the perching area. The squirrels can still get onto the feeders, they just can't get at the food. Some birdseed mixes contain a pepper-like substance that is supposed to be distasteful to squirrels. Users of these mixes report that the squirrels quickly become used to the additive. For advice about your specific needs, stop in or call a nature center near you. And remember, if you can't beat 'em, try to enjoy 'em!
For more information, see our Suburban Survival Guide article on squirrels at feeders.
The most important step to take to discourage rodents is to keep birdseed off the ground. Use seed trays under your feeders to catch seed that the birds cast out. If you use a large seed tray, some of the ground feeders (like sparrows, doves, and juncos) will feed from the tray instead of the ground. Clean up seed and debris from under your feeders frequently. Also, make sure you store your birdseed in rodent-proof containers. If there is no food, they will not come. We also recommend discontinuing bird feeding during the summer months when there is abundant natural food. We stop feeding in mid-May, and begin again in October.
Even NASA had trouble with this one when Northern Flickers descended upon the Shuttle and began drilling holes in the covering of the fuel tanks! Perhaps they've come up with a space-age solution, but in the meantime...
We've heard of people putting owl decoys near where woodpeckers are drilling, but the birds catch onto that ploy quickly. Some people have tried spraying noxious substances on their siding, but in our experience, most substances are more obnoxious to the homeowner than to the birds, and they must be reapplied frequently.
So--what should you do? First, make sure that the birds aren't harvesting insects or insect larvae from your wood siding. If there is an insect problem you will need to get an exterminator to treat the area. If there are no insects we recommend hanging something that will move in the wind in the general area where the birds are drilling. Good choices are strings of beads, Christmas garland, or windsocks. If you can stand the visual intrusion, you might consider hanging netting from the eaves so that it falls several inches from the facade.
Although this will not stop woodpeckers from using your house, remember that woodpeckers, and many other birds and wildlife, need dead trees for homes and food. If you have a dead tree on your property, unless it's a safety hazard, consider leaving it alone instead of removing it. You may have the pleasure of watching the next generation of wildlife begin life right in your yard! And the woodpeckers may choose the dead tree instead of your house.
The bird is not attempting a break and entry into your house. The bird is defending its territory from the other bird. What other bird? The one reflected in the glass of your window. For a full explanation of this behavior, and suggestions for steps you can take to stop it, see our Suburban Survival Guide article titled "Kamikaze Cardinal."