Posted tagged ‘wildlife rehabilitation’

Reader’s Tales of Urban Wildlife, Part 2

December 21, 2012

The sky over Manhattan looked oddly bruised and swollen this morning, a fitting sky for the end of the world.


You do know that the end of the world is happening (again) today, according to the latest in an endless stream of crackpot theories. Today’s prediction is brought to you by the ancient Mayans. Their calendar ends today, and apparently the world can’t go on without its Mayan datebook. At least, this is a rather more democratically wholesale approach to the end of the world than the Christian apocalypse. There’s no Rapture to whisk away believers before the apocalypse, just death and destruction for all.

Oh, wait, will you look at that? Here comes the sun.


Maybe today is just one more of earth’s four and a half billion-and-still-counting first days of winter. Happy winter solstice!

And anyway, end of the world or not, the dog still needs to be walked, and people, animals and the planet itself still need real help.


So in celebration of the on-going work of living together in the world, here is a beautiful story told by a reader who entered our recent Urban Wildlife Contest. (To read other reader entries, visit Readers’ Tales of Urban Wildlife.) Linda Ekstrand of New York City describes seeing a tiny bird stranded on the sidewalk. Unlike many of us in a similar situation, Linda picked up the “beguiling” bird, and carefully carried it across town to the Wild Bird Fund for rehabilitation.

On election day I went to my old neighborhood just twelve blocks away from my present apartment. I stopped in a hardware store on 78th and York and while I searched for a light bulb, I overheard someone say ” there is a cute little bird here.”  I assumed it was a toy, but I heard activity at the door and realized there was a small commotion. Then at the bus stop right outside the store I saw a  tiny little bundle of feathers being photographed by a young girl and her brother using an iPhone. They helped me look for a nest, but obviously that would have been difficult to see if it existed at all. I scooped up the bird and decided to take it to the Wild Bird Fund. Since I was holding it, I did not want to risk getting on a bus and losing it or, worse, being crushed, so I walked through the park with it cupped in my hand.

Golden-crowned kinglet by Dick Daniels

Golden-crowned kinglet by Dick Daniels

It was a delightful walk, but slightly uncomfortable as I was  holding it so carefully. I realized this was an adult bird because it had a long beak. When we arrived at the Wild Bird, they took it in and determined that it was a Kinglet, a migratory bird slightly larger than a hummingbird. The bird was totally unafraid of humans and jumped on me and curtains and anything it could find while we waited for it to be admitted. I was totally charmed by the bird and, truthfully, I wished I could have kept it.

I haven’t heard from the Wild Bird Fund about its fate and while this was not the first bird I ever rescued, it was the most beguiling. Gold and green coloring with an alertness that was remarkable and hopping about with the most winsome expression, he was a real bundle of joy. I hope he had a happy ending, and is winging south as I write this.
Check back soon for the final installment of Readers’ Tales of Urban Wildlife.

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.

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