Thursday, June 10, 2010
Monday, May 31, 2010
The answer is nearly always: leave it alone.
The vast majority of these birds are not orphans. Invariably, the ones that are "rescued" by well-meaning people end up dying because the folks that bring them home are like the proverbial dog that caught the bumper. Once they catch it, they have no idea what to do with it.
It is perfectly normal for a baby bird to leave the nest before it can fly. Baby birds grow rapidly, with many species leaving their crowded nests inside of two weeks. They are awkward, not fully feathered, and cannot fly.
American Robins, for example, can't fly when they leave the nest and are often found bumbling around, apparently alone and helpless. However, even if they are on the ground, their parents are most likely tending to them. The parents may be off finding food, or just in hiding because they are more wary of you than the young ones are.
If the baby is in immediate danger of being stepped on, run over, etc., you can move it a short distance. It isn't true that the parents will abandon it if it has been touched by a human. Do not chase the baby bird all around trying to catch it. The stress can kill it. If it can evade you, it can likely evade a predator.
Sometimes a nest gets blown down in a storm. You can reconstruct a nest in a container with drainage (like a berry basket) and securely fasten it near the original site. Do not try to raise the young yourself, it is not only difficult, in the U.S., it is illegal to possess a native bird.
If the bird you find is truly abandoned, it may be that by the time you find it, it is already too late, especially if it is a very young, naked baby bird. If you must take in a baby bird --
- Make sure it is a native species (see below). Many rehabbers will not take non-native species, and the release of non-native species is prohibited in some areas.
- Put the bird in a covered, ventilated box lined with a folded towel. Put it in a quiet, warm place, away from pets and children. In case you were wondering, yes, there are diseases you or your pets can contract from wild birds.
- Do NOT try to feed the bird or give it water. You can easily kill it.
- Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately (Google "wildlife rehabilitators" and your locality). Raising healthy baby birds takes nearly 24-hour specialized care and knowledge of the nutritional needs of each species at different ages. Sick birds are even more complicated. Again, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to possess a native bird without special permits.
The species you are likely to encounter are common, prolific, adaptable, and will have more than one brood of youngsters a year. Loss of eggs, nestlings, or fledglings is normal for all bird species and built into "the system."
A huge percentage of the calls I receive are for House Sparrows, European Starlings, or Rock Pigeons -- none of these are native to North America. It does not make ecological sense to spend time and resources "saving" these species, which are already overabundant. They are not protected under law by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it may be/become illegal for these species to be rehabilitated and released into the wild.
It is not easy for many people to "let nature take its course," but it is nearly always the right thing to do.
Download RRBO's brochure on what to do if you find a baby bird (PDF).
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Interestingly, we recaptured this bird on 11 October 2008, when we determined it was a female. The bird was molting wing feathers when it was recaptured, which birds typically do on the breeding grounds rather than during migration. Recaptures of passage migrants are quite rare, as well, so this was likely a bird that nested somewhere on campus or nearby.
This is the 9th robin banded on campus recovered outside of Michigan. Most of them (6) were originally banded in fall (the others in spring and summer), and recovered en route to, on, or en route back from their wintering areas. This map shows all 9 areas where the robins were recovered. The Ohio bird was found just a month after it was banded in fall, so it was likely still southbound. You can click on the markers for details.
This is certainly demonstrating a pattern of Michigan robins -- breeding or migrant birds -- wintering in the southeastern U.S.
A similar map and chart of all of our out-of-state banding recoveries is on the RRBO web site.
Friday, March 5, 2010
While our itinerary took us to several locations, I'll focus here on a visit to the Las Joyas research station in the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve, where we, too briefly, learned about and lent a hand in one of the longest-running and most intensive bird banding projects in Mexico.
The Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve covers 1400 km² (roughly 350,000 acres). It was established in 1987, after being acquired by the government to preserve a large population of a rare species of wild maize, Zea diploperennis. The 345 km² of tropical dry forest in the reserve is the largest of its type protected in Mexico, and the 50 km² of cloud forest portion is the largest protected on Mexico's Pacific slope. Much of the land in Mexico is owned communally under the ejido system. Because there are so many landowners, biospheres in the country are structured so that there is a core area in which little or no human impact is allowed, and a buffer zone where managed activities such as sustainable agriculture can take place. A general map of the area is here.
The Las Joyas field station is operated by the University of Guadalajara in the core zone, and is not open to the public. If you put these coordinates <19.586010,-104.274028> into Google Maps or Earth and zoom in on the marker, you can see the buildings as well as the remoteness. The station is quite rustic, with solar power and outhouses with composting toilets. We slept in a dorm, 4 beds to a room, with thin walls that did not keep out the night-time chill at nearly 2000 meters! We were also warned to use a flashlight and beware of mountain lions and jaguars if we went to the outhouses at night. Four other wild cats are also common there: bobcats, ocelots, margays, and jaguarundis. Alas, we did not see any of them.
The area around the dorms was full of bird life. The most common species were many usually-hard-to-see Crested Guans (Penelope purpurascens), roosting in the trees and flying back and forth; multiple sallying Tufted Flycatchers (Mitrephanes phaeocercus); several male Brown-backed Solitaires (Myadestes occidentalis) in constant song; and a pair of uncharacteristicly cooperative Blue Mockingbirds (Melanotis caerulescens). Singing Quail (Dactylortyx thoracicus) and Long-tailed Wood-Partridge (Dendrortyx macroura, a Mexican endemic) also lent their voices to the morning chorus; we got great looks at the wood-partridges at the compost pile.
The banding "station" is a table set up along a trail. Ten nets are run two days a week all year long, manned by station regulars and students working on various projects. I was very impressed by the speed and skill of the student banders, as well as the many scientific publications which have resulted from work here.
We just didn't take enough pictures. The pace of bird captures was steady in the morning. The students or Darrin and I were nearly always off checking nets, extracting birds, and bringing them back to the banding table. We were happy to help out even as most of our group went off for a walk.
The most common North American migratory species were Wilson's Warbler and Nashville Warbler. Most of the birds were residents, though, and a lot of them were hummingbirds.
Here are a few of the highlights for me:
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers (Diglossa baritula) feed on nectar. The long hook at the tip of the bill is used to hold flowers firmly, while they stab the base of the flower corolla with their pointy lower bill and extract nectar by inserting their tongues through the slit. This is done incredibly fast! This is a small bird, perhaps the size of a Magnolia Warbler.
Golden-browed Warbler (Basileuterus belli).
Dwarf Vireo (Vireo nelsoni). I think this was the only bird we heard in the field but only saw in the hand. It is a very poorly known species endemic to Mexico. It's nearest relative is the endangered Texas-breeding Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapillus) -- one of which we also saw at a lower elevation! Black-caps have a very restricted wintering range in western Mexico, and the bird we saw was banded, most likely at the same wintering site by Sarahy two years before.
We had 8 species of vireo on the trip, including Golden Vireo (Vireo hypochryseus) and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo (Vireolanius melitophrys).
Of course, as in Nicaragua, I was happy to get an opportunity to handle a couple of south-of-the-border Catharus thrushes, related to the birds I study here at RRBO.
Here is an Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris). They are smaller than a Hermit Thrush, generally the smallest Catharus thrush we get here in Michigan.
And here I am with a Russet Nightingale-thrush (Catharus occidentalis).
On the trip, we saw many other spectacular species. Among my favorites were:
Citreoline Trogon (Trogon citreolus) -- endemic to Mexico.
Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis) -- a relative of the extinct Imperial and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.
San Blas Jay (Cyanocorax sanblasianus) -- endemic to Mexico.
Red-breasted Chat (Granatellus venustus) -- endemic to the Pacific slope of Mexico.
Red-headed Tanager (Piranga erythrocephala) -- endemic to Mexico.
Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finches (Atlapetes pileatus and Arremon virenticeps) -- both endemic to Mexico.
Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow (Melozone kieneri) -- endemic to west Mexico.
Orange-breasted Bunting (Passerina leclancherii) -- eye-popping Mexican endemic.
Our small group tallied around 250 species. Many thanks to Arvind Panjabi, Sarahy Contreras, Eduardo Santana, and Siux Diaz for hosting this great trip.