The myth surrounding baby songbirds

Here in Ontario songbird eggs will start to hatch soon. For us that means calls from people who have found a baby bird who has fallen from the nest.

Baby songbirds are very delicate and require the constant care of a parent. Most songbird parents lack the appropriate body parts to be able to pick up their fallen offspring and return them to the nest.

The big myth I want to debunk is that songbird parents will reject their young just because a human touched them and this is not true.

Meaning that it is perfectly okay for a person to pick up the fallen young and return it to the nest if it is within human reach.

I still recommend that you use gloves for your own safety and I would like to add to this that I do not advocate baby wildlife being handled willy-nilly, but when needed you can touch a baby bird without it being rejected by it’s parents.

If you can’t reach the nest or if the nest was destroyed for whatever reason. You can use something like a small margarine container (with holes in the bottom so it can’t fill up with water) lined with paper towel and hang it as near as you can get to the original nest site. Some metal wire can be helpful in securing it.

Now make sure that the area is as quiet as possible without human/pet presence to allow the parents to come back and adjust to the change.

At Hobbitstee when we get healthy songbird babies in who have been orphaned for some reason we often look for surrogate parents. Many, but not all species of songbird will readily care for a hatchling of the same species that is not their own.

We do this to allow the young to grow up like a normal songbird. No matter how hard we try as humans we make poor substitute wildlife parents.

When we get hatchlings in who are injured or we can’t foster with other birds we will raise them. This is a very delicate and time consuming undertaking. The feeding schedule for many baby birds is every half hour during daylight hours. There is also a huge variance in diets between species of songbirds and we work very hard to mimic their natural diets as much as we can so that they can grow up healthy.

One of the things that happens often later in the season is that people see fledglings and assume them to be orphaned. Fledglings are almost if not fully feathered and have left the nest to learn how to fly. The bird parents continue to care for the fledglings and if you watch (from an non-invasive distance) you can see the parents fly of and on with food.

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House Finch Hatchling
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Cedar Wax Wing Fledgling

It is therefor important to differentiate between baby birds who do and ones that don’t need your help. If the baby bird is almost fully feathered and is not injured it is likely a fledgling.

If you see a baby bird with little to no feathers out of the nest it does likely need help to either get returned to the nest if at all possible or to a rehab facility.

One of the common mistakes people make is to syringe water directly into the birds mouth. This can cause the bird to aspirate. Baby bird hatchlings actually don’t drink water. They get their fluids from the food they are fed.

Choosing the right diet for the right bird is important. Feeding a seed based diet to an insectivore as an example usually ends up killing the bird.

Determining what type of baby bird you are loking at can get really complicated when they don’t have feathers yet. Luckily at Hobbitstee we have some songbird identification experts on speed dial we call when we get stumped. It is important to get a correct identification so we know we are feeding an appropriate diet.

We also need to ensure that the hatchlings learn to be birds and learn appropriate bird and species-specific behavior. Imprinting on humans does not help the birds live a happy free bird life.

In Canada all the migratory birds are protected under Migratory Bird Conservation Act and in Ontario most non-migratory birds under the Fish and Wildlife Act meaning that without the appropriate permits it is a violation to be in possession of either.

Due to the time sensitive nature of baby birds it is appreciated that you get in touch with a wildlife rehabiliator as soon as you can and if at all possible help with transporting if need be.

The reasson why you should not feed injured/orphaned wildlife

Anyone who knows me has heard me say ‘Please don’t feed them’ over and over. This message can not be repeated often enough, but it was brought to my attention recently that I rarely take the time to explain why this is so important. My reason behind the lack of explanation is that it is a complex issue, but I have tried…(see below)

When you find what you perceive to be  wildlife in distress there is a process to follow to determine if the animal truly needs your help. I have discussed that process many times and we will move on to why you should not feed them.

Often the animals are cold meaning they lack the energy to maintain their own body temperature and they are in shock. Usually dehydration of varying degrees is also an issue.

To give food to any animal compromised in such a way is a death sentence. It takes energy to digest food, energy a lot of compromised wildlife already don’t have enough of. Every last bit of energy is being used to maintain critical bodily functions and simply put to force energy away from these critical functions for something as non-critical as digesting food will cause organ failure and death.

The process we go through here at Hobbitstee when we receive wildlife (who are always compromised) is a very delicate one. The process starts with warming them up.  Doing this takes away the energy requirement for the animal to maintain their own body temperature. We do this by using incubators, but also warmed IV fluids. This process takes a minimum of several hours and can take several days. We do not feed them until they are completely warm and re-hydrated. This is not something you can simulate at home. It requires knowledge, specialized equipment and products.

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This is a fawn someone tried to raise for two weeks. This fawn was fed way to little of an already not appropriate food source. This fawn was euthanized due to irreversible organ damage as a direct result of improper care. 

The question than becomes what do we feed them? We feed our mammal orphans specially formulated milk-replacers custom made for us and custom formulated to meet the nutritional requirements (to the best of our ability) of the mammal orphan in question.

I say to the best of our ability because not much research is being done into the nutritional requirement of many of the species of wildlife we care for. This means we are constantly tweaking the formulations to get the best possible results.

These milk-replacers are not commercially available, so it boils down to that puppy nor kitten milk-replacer is appropriate for wildlife mammals. Neither is cows milk, almond milk, human baby formula or anything else that you can purchase at the store.

When it comes to baby birds their nutritional requirements are even more complicated and it is very species specific. Some birds are insectivores and need a large variety of insects to thrive (meal worms nutritionally are no more than filler).  Some birds strictly eat seeds, so their offspring needs an appropriate variety of hand feeding formula every half hour. Some birds are fructivores, so berries and such are what they need…Never mind the strict pscivores who can only eat fish.

A common mistake made is using bread. Bread is not a good food source for any specie of wildlife plain and simple. Don’t use it.

You see that all this can become very confusing and the wrong food to the wrong animal at the wrong time can also cause serious gastric upset or death. If the wrong food is given at the wrong time diarrhea is a common result.  The animals in our care are already compromised in some way (that is why we have them in the first place) and their bodies can’t handle diarrhea on top of their other issues, so death is a common result of feeding the wrong food source at the wrong time.

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This is an Eastern Grey Squirrel Baby someone attempted to raise, it did not survive more than half hour after it came into my care. The cause of death dehydration/undernourishment as a result of diarrhea caused by the feeding of an  inappropriate food source.

Another question becomes; Do you know how much to feed them? We use complicated scientific calculations to calculate how much of what food source our wildlife need to eat to grow/develop normally or to recover from an injury.

Any website that gives you DIY information on injured/orphaned wildlife is by default wrong. It is illegal for people to have wildlife in their possession, so these websites are encouraging people to break the law. Aside from that there is no one-size-fits-all type of information I can give besides get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as you can.

That is how you help injured and orphaned wildlife best. Make the time and take the time to get the animal the appropriate care as soon as you can. We need to make sure the animal in question is truly in need of care. We establish that by asking you questions. Please have patience with us, answer our questions and please do as we ask even if you don’t like it. We always have the wildlife’s best interest in mind and sometimes that means we have to hurt people’s feelings.

Only Authorized Wildlife Custodians are allowed to care for sick/injured/orphaned wildlife. Don’t get angry if we ask you to drive to us. We get hundreds of calls a day and we all operate on a non-for profit basis without any type of government funding. We simply don’t have the time or funds to drive and pick up each and every animal.

Help us by driving the animal out asap and maybe leave us with a donation towards the animal(s) you are asking us to care for if you can…and PLEASE DON’T FEED THEM

 

 

 

 

Foxes come and go

Mid April I received a call from a concerned man who had a fox den underneath his deck. He was concerned because he had seen the vixen move 4 kits and he had not seen her since, but he could still hear kits underneath the deck.

I asked him to make sure not to be the disturbing factor that would scare of the vixen, but to very carefully keep an eye out for her. I also told him that as long as the kits stay in the den they are okay, but if they start coming out of the den as young as they where at that time there is a problem.

We kept in touch over the phone over the next two days until he called me and told me they where starting to come out of the den. I drove down immediately to go and have a look.

I am passionate about not making orphans where there aren’t any and sometimes mother animals are simply not seen when they go and spent time with their babies.

In this case the kits proved to be true orphans because they where weak, lethargic and dehydrated when I arrived. I retrieved 5 fox kits and brought them back home to Hobbitstee.

fox kits snuggled under a heat light
Fox Kit on weigh day

They where still pretty tiny and underweight. For the first while they received intensive care and stayed under neath their heat light. Handling with foxes is always at an absolute minimum because they are easily habituated to humans and that will get them killed as adults.

One did not recover from it’s dehydrated state and passed away, but the other 4 grew fast as they ate me out of house and home.

About a month after arriving we moved them to our outside enclosure. After this move the care was reduced to hands off only. That means that feeding was done while they slept (when possible) and all though I would catch the occasional glimpse of them playing and running around, they did not see much of me.

We needed to give them the opportunity to learn how to hunt their own meals and so we started introducing live mice into their enclosure. Mice are a staple in any wild fox diet.

Last Saturday it was finally time for these guys to return to an undisclosed location close to their point of origin.

The release went well and the location was perfect.

Amy releasing the first 2 kits
they took of like a bat out of hell to start their new life
Aaron releasing 2 more reluctant kits
They did not want to leave their crate
reluctantly the first one comes out
and decides to make a run for it
this one is not sure about all this
but stopped and posed for me
And walked past me to go and live it’s life as it should…in the wild
Showing of a little by jumping a puddle

Often people ask me why I do what I do…This is why. I love the moments where I can release these animals back into their habitat knowing they have all the skills they need to survive. To me it feels like a job well done. It balances out the often brutal nature of wildlife rehabilation and it softens the sadness, frustration and heart aches that come with the job.

We now set our sites on raising the money to expand the fox enclosure so that we can do an even better job next year. We welcome all donations…(see our website at: http://www.hobbitstee.com to contribute)

All of us at Hobbitstee wish our 4 fox kits a happy life!

As seen on TV or Google…

I am seeing a trend this year. A very scary trend. It has to do with wildlife being kept in captivity. Something that is a violation under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act in Ontario. According to our laws you have 24 hours to get a wild animal help, but somehow the # of calls I get in regards to wildlife in captivity is on the rise.

Often I get told ‘I have seen this on tv, so I know what I am doing’ or ‘I have googled it, so I can do this’. I hope you can see how this does not make any sense. Caring for injured/orphaned wildlife is a delicate job. Many animals require medical care. Often by the time I receive animals people have ‘tried’ to help and the animals are suffering as a direct result of these attempts and some even die.

Also the zoonotic disease factor is often forgotten. No matter how cute the animal, many can carry diseases that can seriously harm humans

A website giving you detailed ‘DIY wildlife rehab’ information is by definition wrong. There is no ‘one guide fits all’ solution for wildlife rehab. It requires skills and years of experience.

A lady called me yesterday asking me to help her splint a broken wing on a gosling so that she could rehabilitate it. I tried to explain that things don’t work that way. That I will gladly care for the gosling and will deal with it’s broken wing, but she can’t keep it. I explained about human imprinting that will prevent this gosling from having a normal goose life etc. She never brought me the gosling…

This is just one of many examples. This animal needs medical care that the veterinarians I work with and myself can provide, but now it will go without and if the poor thing survives it will have bonded with humans instead of it’s own kind and will have no change of ever having a normal life.

I have said it before and will say it again. Having good intentions does not serve as an excuse. Cruelty to animals is cruelty to animals. If your dog gets hit by a car you take it to the vet, but somehow people feel a need to try and ‘fix’ wildlife themselves.

Orphaned wildlife needs to be raised by people who know what they are doing. People who keep the wild nature of the animal in mind and will understand what it needs to survive in the wild. Wildlife belongs in the wild, needs to be left wild. No human/wildlife interaction ever benefits wildlife…it always benefits humans.

I write this because it breaks my heart to see the well intended cruel acts people perpetrate on wildlife claiming to do the right thing. I wish people would use their energy to truly do good for wildlife. Things like protecting habitat, helping turtles safely cross a road or planting native plants and trees that benefit wildlife etc.

When people see images, videos or real life incidents of human habituated wildlife they often smile and think it is cute…I want to cry because it is unnatural behavior for such animals and it hurts me to see it.

I recently had the opportunity to have a discussion with Dr. Don Hoglund (More on Dr. Hoglund), a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and animal trainer extraordinaire. We discussed the battle we both wage on anthropomorphism (giving human thoughts and feelings to animals).

The discussion was related to that we humans have no idea what animals think. We can not read their thoughts. We don’t know if they are happy or sad, all we have to go on is natural behavior. We can in someways measure their health through blood tests etc and as a wildlife rehabilitator and farmer I look for natural behavior to judge how the animal in question is doing and that is all we have to go on.

I can not tell you how many times I have been on the receiving end of an animal in shock or worse and had the person bringing it out tell me it is fine because it is calm and quiet…It appears calm, but that is due to shock, not due to the fact that it is comfortable being cradled by humans.

Wildlife is per definition wild and needs to stay that way. I have made it my mission as an Authorized Wildlife Custodian to speak for the animals who can not speak for themselves. Understand that in that process I might hurt your feelings, this is nothing personal. It is merely an effort on my part to get you (people in general) to see the other side of things.

I am appreciative of every call I get where people ask me advice before they act. I love it when people call and say I just found an injured …(whatever the animal), can you take it. My answer is always yes. It is what we do here at Hobbitstee. It’s what we are good at…We appreciate it when people bring the animals to us. Wildlife rehabilitators receive no funding. Much of the expenses are paid out of pocket by me, so not having to drive helps me financially and saves me time.

In the last couple of days: Thank you lady from Ingersoll who found the turtle and thank you lady who found the itty-bitty baby bat. You are both awesome! Thank you lady who called about the fox kits she was worried about. Thank you for calling before acting!!!!

A stranded Horned Grebe and Parrot food…

Today we received a Horned Grebe through one of the agencies we deal with regularly.

As many of you may know Grebes are unable to walk due to the placement of their feet. Those feet are ideal for diving, but on dry land Grebes are much like a fish out of water (unable to walk or to take flight). So, this time of year we regularly receive grebes who have mistakenly landed on dry land. This can be as result of them mistaking wet tarmac for water (it shimmers like water) or they simply get so tired looking for open water that they have to make an emergency landing.

Horned Grebes are listed as ‘Special Concern’ on the Species at Risk Ontario (SARO) list. Meaning that their numbers have dwindled low enough to receive extra protection by the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

What makes this Grebe so special (in a bad way) is that it was found by a concerned citizen who took it home and kept it for several days as she attempted to ‘help’ it. Not knowing much about this water bird she force fed it the same food she feeds her parrot…

She did finally turn it over to the agency who proceeded to transport it to me. However, instead of dealing with simply re-hydrating the bird and returning it to open water I am now dealing with a bird who has a severe gastro-intestenal upset with a bad case of diarrhea. Meaning that now the life of this SARO listed bird is on the line

Dealing with injured birds is not easy and you have to know what you are doing. To feed a dehydrated bird can have devastating results. Feeding a water bird who is a strict piscivore (fish eater) parrot food while dehydrated is even worse.

I know the lady who found it tried very hard to help this animal, but instead of helping she inadvertently made its condition worse.  I understand people try their best, but wild animals are not pets and should not be treated as such. It is imperative to the animal’s well being that it gets into the hands of a wildlife professional as soon as possible.

Not only is it in the wild animal’s best interest to get to a professional asap, it is also illegal to be in possession of wildlife without proper paperwork as per the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA). This Grebe as a migratory bird is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Act (MBCA) and because it is SARO listed it receives extra protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

At Hobbitstee we have a great working relationship with many agencies such as Animal Controls, Humane Societies, SPCA’s and many vet clinics. If you are unable to locate an Authorized Wildlife Custodian near you. Please don’t hesitate to contact your locale animal agency.

I know many of you reading this have heard me say this over and over, but I am going to keep repeating this message until I stop receiving wildlife who have been fed the wrong food at the wrong time.

‘Please do not feed any injured or orphaned wildlife unless directed to do so by a wildlife professional’

Every situation is different and all though the internet can be a great tool there is a lot of incorrect information on there i.r. to wildlife. There is no one size fits all solution. At Hobbitstee we do not adhere to regular business hours. We take calls around the clock, 7 days a week and on holidays to make sure we help as many wild animals as we can. We are a non for profit charitable organization and as such we do not charge for our services. We do however appreciate donations.

This is the sick Grebe. Look at the placement of it's feet. These feet are made for diving, not walking
This is the sick Grebe. Look at the placement of it’s feet. These feet are made for diving, not walking