Last Friday evening was a hot one. I had some things to put away in the barn before getting cleaned up and thinking about dinner.
When I slid open the big metal door, I heard a noise. It stopped and I did too. Then it started. Squeaking? I thought, oh no, not mice, please not mice. The sound was coming from the far horse stall, where I’ve got some old furniture that I want to refinish, someday.
At the entrance of the stall, I didn’t see anything moving. I stepped in, looking around the space, trying to locate the noise that stopped and started. I saw some feathers scattered lightly around one side of the stall, but that didn’t concern me as birds fly into the barn every once in awhile and I shoo them out again. We keep the barn door closed, mostly, to discourage birds and other critters.
Squeaking continues and I step further into the stall, cursing the lack of light from a burned out bulb. Having to wrestle with a big ladder to change the light-bulb in 100 degree heat did not appeal to me. Finally, I look up, way up and see a nest. Jeez, that can’t be a birds nest, can it? How on earth did a bird have time to build that thing?
Now I can hear scratching on the ground, which is dirt with wood shavings, covered with cardboard….scritch and squab and squeak. It’s a freaking bird, a tiny baby, eyes not open, pink flesh on all parts but wings and head. Then, another.
Inside my head is the word “fuck” is being flung out and elongated.
Ok, where is mom? I poke around some more and spot a feathered corpse. It’s up against some furniture and under some other stuff and not easy to see up close.
From two past encounters with baby birds, I know that the first thing to do is locate the nest and parents and put the baby back. But some of the nest is sitting on the top shelf of my house paint equipment and inventory, and some of it is still up on the barn rafter. And we have a dead bird.
Second option is to let nature take its course, which is another way of saying, let them die. Unfortunate accident, too bad, but nothing to be done about it. Walk out the door and forget what I saw.
Third option is to keep the babies warm and going until you can get them to people who know about wildlife rehabilitation. And yes, this is a first world problem. In many other countries, these babies would have been dinner.
I really wanted to go with option one. I considered option two. As I was considering option two, I was wondering how long these two had been on the floor. I let Buddy out of the barn around 6:30 that morning. He had taken a look toward that stall before coming out, but I didn’t hear anything that alerted me….I just picked up his dish, turned off the fan, and closed the door behind us.
What happened in that barn and when did it happen? I don’t know. One of life’s mysteries.
So as I was considering option two, I was also thinking about what I would need for option three. I was considering option two because I knew what a pain in the ass option three would be.
Baby birds need to be kept warm and dry. I’ve fed two wild birds before. One, a robin, was a fledgling. What I knew was that it was lawn care day, and the lawn care assholes do not care about wildlife. I was terrified that I would find that baby in chunks if I left him there. So I learned a little about birds from Chirp and then, the wild life rehab woman I took him to the next day. This had happened on a week day, and I was able to connect with the woman before I could take him in.
The next one was a nestling. Bubbles found it on one of our walks and I left it where it was, took Bubbles back home, then went back to search for the nest to put the baby back. I knew it was a mourning dove and I looked for any nest but couldn’t find one. So I learned a little more about baby birds on the Eigit. For reasons I can’t remember, I kept him awhile before taking him to the wildlife rehab place. That’s when I learned that they have to be kept clean or their feathers fall out.
Each time, the woman corrected me about something I had done or failed to do. But each time, she seemed impressed that I kept the birds going somehow.
I’ve kept little plastic tubs from margarine or shaved cheese…..because they come in handy for lots of things. Birds nests, for one. Lined with untreated plain tissues or paper towels because slippery floors aren’t good for bird feet and bird feet can get caught in washcloth fibers. This is the nest I used for Chirp and Eigit, so that is what I grabbed from the barn, along with the two babies. I was, of course, going with option three.
Then I had to get them situated on a hot pad, set low. I put their nest in a small animal crate, to protect it from the three animals living in our house.
I also returned to the barn, twice, to listen carefully for any other survivors. None but the two. I should have picked up the dead bird, but I didn’t.
I did look at the portion of the nest that was sitting on some paint cans. It seemed like a phoebes nest. Maybe a robin? I wasn’t positive on the bird variety and looking at the dead bird would have helped. I didn’t do it.
Then I went online for some help. I found a wild life rehab place near the St. Louis airport, which is over an hour away. And they aren’t open on a weekend. And it’s after 5 pm.
So, I started looking around in my animal drawer for syringes or eye droppers, pulled out the mortar and pestle, went looking through the pantry and settled on beef canned cat food, mixed with a little water, fed through a syringe. I’m not recommending this, but I was pretty sure these birds eat insects, which is protein, which is why I selected the beef canned cat food. I had looked online for help, and found some, but I don’t happen to have forceps or a scale, meal worms or grasshoppers in my pantry. Nearest store is 15 minutes away. I make do and try to listen.
Every 15 to 20 minutes, from sunup to sundown, I fed the babies. The bigger one I was calling Malcolm, and the little one was Phoebe. I made mistakes, probably handled them too much, trying to keep their nest clean. Many, many times over the course of the weekend, I was convinced one or both were going to die. But they were scrappy little guys. They survived, but I can’t say they thrived.
By Sunday night, I had learned that they are wrens and that the wild life rehab place is different from the wild bird rehab place. By Monday morning, I learned that the wild bird rehab place was open over the weekend, and I could have dropped them off on Saturday. I strongly suggested to the receptionist that they post that on their website.
The Chippet and Trotsky were scheduled for grooming on Monday morning, so I planned to make the trip with the birds after dropping those two off. To my surprise and relief, Mr. Nobody offered to do the driving. I had been worrying about how I was going to keep them fed while driving, not to mention my hatred of city driving. When I thanked him for his help and commented that many would consider me crazy for going to so much trouble for a couple of wrens, he said, “it’s not just about wrens. It’s about keeping your sanity in a crazy world.”
Which is why I married him over 25 years ago.
I liked this rehab place. I’m not so crazy about their written material. They gave me info so that I can check on my chicks in a couple of weeks, to find out how they fare. I already miss hearing their cheeping, but I am so relieved they are in capable hands. And so grateful that those capable hands exist.