Posted tagged ‘fledglings’

Eating and Keeping Cool in NYC Heat Wave, Fledgling Style

July 19, 2013

Baby birds hatch and fledge throughout the summer.  Yesterday morning, an adult European starling (on the right) and its two fledglings fed from an unidentifiable pile of garbage.

IMG_2838

“How do you do this feeding thing?”

Both youngsters seemed quite capable of feeding themselves, and did so, helping themselves to scraps from the ground. But just as some kids are more independent than others, one of the young birds seemed to prefer being fed by its parent. (Male and female starlings look the same. In the photo below, you can make out a couple of spots of iridescent feathers developing on the drab, easily-camouflaged baby.)

IMG_2839

Mom, I’m hungry.

It stayed close to the parent, and begged for food, cheeping loudly and insistently.

IMG_2836

Did you hear me? I’m hungry!

The parent fed it, then returned to feeding itself. When it flew up to the ledge of the retaining wall behind it, the baby immediately followed.

IMG_2840

HUNGRY.

Again, the parent fed it, then flew off, leaving the youngster momentarily alone.

IMG_2841

Hey…

The parent had flown half a block south to cool off in a clogged water fountain at the Tot Lot playground. Moments later the babies followed to see what was going on.

IMG_2845

Soon the parent was routed by another adult, who refused to share bathing rights, and battled another adult that attempted to step into the fountain. The victor took a long and lively bath, watched for a while by the vanquished and then by a youngster.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When he flew off, the vanquished took a quick, restrained dip.

IMG_2849

And then it was kiddy time at the pool.

One.

IMG_2851

Two (with an observer).

IMG_2852

And three.

IMG_2855

Eventually the young starlings flew away, and a little sparrow moved in for a drink.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fledgling Red-tailed Hawks in NYC (video)

June 19, 2013
IMG_2316

Fox and dog: the iron animal gate at St John the Divine

Oh my readers, I have so much to tell you, so much to show you. All through the spring, Esau the dog and I have been walking, looking and listening. I’ll try to catch you up on some of the curious, intriguing, and amusing things we’ve seen. But where to begin? Let’s start with the hawks that nest on the back of the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Here is a fledgling hawk on the move this morning.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

A fledgling hawk on the move in NYC.

But let’s back the story up a little. In April, three eyasses (baby hawks) hatched.

About two weeks ago, one youngster could be seen practicing its flapping skills on the fingers of good Saint Andrew.

Almost fledged.

Almost fledged.

A second fledgling had left the nest too soon, landing on a ledge far below the nest. There it stayed for a few days, not ready to fly, calling to its parents.

Calling for food and attention.

Calling for food and attention.

 It called and called in its high voice, but appeared active and healthy. It’s not unusual for baby birds to fall out of a nest before they can fly.  Most of the time, the parents will continue to feed and care for their young, as they did with this fellow. (Morningside Hawks has documented visits by the parents, including the delivery of a dead pigeon to the hungry baby.)  On the day of these photos, the hawk stayed for a while in one spot, on the ledge.

IMG_2190

Nice pantaloons.

Then it started to move around. It studied the stained glass window.

Studying the art work

Fascinating.

It climbed the walls.

IMG_2204

It worked its way along the narrow window ledge to a difficult spot.

IMG_2205There it seemed to lose its footing, which led to some serious flapping.

IMG_2206

And then, after returning to a better perch, more yelling.

IMG_2174And yet more yelling.

IMG_2197

Here is a short video of the young hawk, listening to a siren from St Luke’s Hospital, looking around, preening, and calling.

More on the young hawks soon.

Baby Birds and Animals: To Help or Not to Help

September 15, 2011

Last Saturday night, a reader left a comment on my blog, wondering what to do with the fledgling bird that he had found on a busy midtown Manhattan sidewalk.  He left a message with the Wild Bird Fund, but had not yet heard from them and was looking for someplace to take the bird.  Wild Bird left him a message, suggesting that he drop off the bird but, as my reader later reported, the little bird did not survive long enough to get help.

Making the decision to remove a bird that can’t yet fly or feed itself from a midtown Manhattan street seems like a pretty good call.  But it’s not always so easy to know whether to intervene.  Our hearts go out to a fellow creature in distress or a baby animal that we fear has been abandoned.  But rehabilitators and others who work with wildlife stress that the impulse to help is often misguided.  I know from my own experience that compassion needs to be guided by an understanding of wildlife biology and behavior.

When I found a seal pup alone on a Long Island beach last spring, I was quite sure it was too small to be on its own.  After watching it for a while, I feared that it was in distress, either ill or injured.  Seeing no sign of another seal, I wondered if it had been abandoned by its mother.  Concerned, I alerted the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Mammals.  They had already received several calls about the pup but, swamped with calls about stranded seals, they weren’t able to come to evaluate it.  Luckily, it was a cold day, and there were no people or romping dogs nearby.  I waited and watched for a couple of hours, then left the little seal on its own on the empty beach.

When I returned to the city, I called and spoke at some length to a biologist at the Riverhead Foundation who assured me that the seal sounded like a healthy, normal Gray seal pup and was probably just resting.  Gray seals are weaned by the time they are two or three weeks old, she said, and the pup I saw was probably at least two months, and completely independent.  Doing nothing – and keeping my distance while I did it – was the right thing to do.

Of course, doing nothing isn’t always the right thing to do.  Late last spring, I spotted a sweet fledgling on my street.

It was in a large planter right outside the doorway of a neighboring building.

Across the sidewalk in a nearby street tree I saw adult birds watching – probably parents, I thought.  The baby bird was not in a particularly safe spot – it was a couple of good hops away from the street, but for the moment, it was off the street, near vegetation for hiding, and out of the way of dogs and pedestrians.  I left it where it was.  Early the next morning, I was shocked to find its little body lying in the center of the sidewalk, neatly decapitated.

Note:  I’m trying hard not to get sidetracked with the intriguing question of what animal killed the bird and made off with its head.  It’s not relevant to the question we’re considering here of when to intervene to help a wild animal.  But I can’t help myself.  It’s just too bizarre.  There are not that many predatory species on our street to put into the murder line-up.  Known neighborhood predators include raptors (kestrels and red-tails), raccoons (but I’ve not seen one outside the park in over two years),  stray or feral cats (but I’ve never spotted one on my street), dogs (many, but usually attached to a human and not known for such tidy bites), humans and, my personal choice, rats, the kings of the night.  Who do you think killed the bird?  Please leave a comment.

So should I have “rescued” the bird, and taken it to a rehabilitator?  Maybe.  I asked Wild Bird Fund that question on their Facebook page, and they answered: “Since the fledgling was not injured and it was in a decently safe place, you did the right thing leaving it there. So many fledglings are kidnapped from their parents by “rescuers.””

The truth is, outcomes for fledglings are often bad, whether you intervene, as my reader did, or do nothing, as I did.  Even under completely natural circumstances, millions of baby birds do not make it to adulthood.  Had I known about the Wild Bird Foundation at the time, I might have decided to take the bird in.  But would that have been the right decision?

Wild bird experts, including the NYC Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology agree with the Wild Bird Fund that, when possible, fledglings should be left alone unless they are in obvious danger or clearly orphaned.  Many bird species leave the nest days before they can fly, or fly well.  During this risky period of development, the parents continue to watch over and feed the young birds who are easy prey for natural predators as well as those most efficient, human-introduced, non-native killing machines known as cats.

So how do you know what to do the next time you find a baby bird?  Here is a terrific flowchart on how to make a decision.  Scroll down for instructions on how to safely transport the bird, if it is in need of help.

View this document on Scribd

Good luck to the late-summer fledglings, and to all the migrating birds already making their way south.

Urban Fledglings

June 7, 2011

In the middle of April, I saw my first fledglings of the year: Columba livia, also known as rock doves, and best known simply as … pigeons.

Young pigeons have dark eyes; their parents have red eyes.

Three brave young birds landed awkwardly on the window ledge and air conditioner of my sixth floor NYC apartment, having made their first flight from the nest hidden some yards away on a ledge between two buildings.

Young pigeon on the nearby building ledge that leads to its hidden nest.

Apparently many New Yorkers insist they’ve never seen a baby pigeon, and believe a mystery, possibly including a conspiracy of some sort, surrounds that strange factoid.  “Where are all the baby pigeons?” they ask in a tone implying that no one is pulling the wool over their eyes.  The answer is simple: they’re all around you.

Pigeon babies spend their first weeks on simple nests, sometimes no more than an unstructured collection of random twigs) that are usually hidden from sight high up on building ledges.  It’s not until they start flying and feeding independently that they’re spotted by human New Yorkers. By that time, they sport adult feathers and have reached their adult size. In fact, they may be fatter than many adults, since they have little muscle tone, having spent their first weeks sitting on the nest, being crammed with food by doting parents.  So baby pigeons are all around us, though difficult for a casual observer to distinguish from an adult. Look for dark eyes, a curious disposition, and stray bits of down that yield a slightly scruffy appearance to the youngsters.

As for the clumsy, curious and skittish young pigeons outside my window, well, I felt a degree of attachment to the naive and ungainly trio.  After all, I had watched the parents mate – repeatedly, I might add – on the air conditioner outside my bedroom.

I had seen the male carry twigs and unidentified objects to the secret nest.

I had heard the low coos of parental pillow talk and the wild peeps of infant hunger.  Now the big babes stood outside my window, craning their necks around to look down at the street, up at the sky, and inside the apartment at me.

Truly, they seemed, at first, stunned by their new perspective on the great world. Several times over the next few days, one of the babies would huddle for hours beneath the air conditioning unit (the top of which had been the scene of many a parental coupling). It would peer out, crying for mom and dad with high-pitched peeps that belied its size.

It's scary out here.

Sometimes a parent flew down and fed the babies.  At other times, Mom and Dad perched on the railing of a nearby balcony, where they could keep an eye on the youngsters.

Who's watching the kids?

The pigeons spent the better part of a week practicing their flying, indulging their curiosity and learning about the world.  They craned their necks to track adult birds flying overhead

"Mom? Dad? Is that you up there?"

When they noticed me, they became curious

"Oh. Hello."

 The birds sometimes made awkward landings or, like adolescents everywhere, exhibited poor judgment compounded by inexperience.  When the cat made a sudden appearance,

Inter-species fascination

one bird flew straight up and straight into the window screen.  Seems counter-intuitive, I know, but that’s what happened. It then clung by its claws to the screen for several seconds, its wings madly flapping, completely freaking out the poor old cat.  I was afraid it was stuck, but it freed itself and flapped clumsily off.

Over the course of the next week, the birds stopped peeping for their parents, and became assured fliers. They even gained some tolerance for cats on the other side of the glass.

Inter-species obliviousness.

 The pigeon siblings are off to join the legions of rock doves that swirl through the New York skies.

Maybe they’ll try to infiltrate Victor Casiano’s rooftop flock, just a block away.

Members of Victor's flock

Or join the flock that feeds every day in Morningside Park.

Pigeons like snowflakes

Wherever they go, I wish them luck.

For more about the love life of pigeons, read Sex and the City Bird, NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window and Sex and the Pigeon.  For more about Victor Casiano, the last rooftop pigeon fancier in Morningside Heights, read Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons and Up on Victor’s Roof.

%d bloggers like this: