Friday, April 17, 2009

Bird Rescue

It began as I was cutting down this spruce tree, which had gotten way too big. I was cutting off the branches, a preliminary to cutting the trunk. As I cut a branch above my head, and the branch began to sag, I heard a fluttering sound, then saw a small bird flutter to the ground and then noticed a nest dangling from the branch, barely attached.

Each branch is a horizontal fan of dense needles, which makes a nice shelf for a nest, but I was unable to see the nest from below. In the photo, you can see the partially cut branch dangling. I climbed down my ladder, and there was a fledgling bird huddled motionlessly on the ground, well camoflaged amidst the debris that typically collects under an evergreen tree. Somehow, my first guess was that it was a mourning dove, which was confirmed later.

When I invited my wife Donna out to see the young bird, she noticed another one nearby. I was relieved that I hadn't stepped on it, and carefully verified that there wasn't a third one. I left a message with a local bird rehabilitator in case professional help was needed, then proceded according to professional advice that I remembered reading.

Both fledglings were remaining motionless, and there was no immediate danger, such as cats, so I fetched a small, shallow, wire basket and two pieces of soft wire, and climbed up the ladder again. I fastened the basket on a nearby limb, and put the nest in the basket. I also cleared out a few twigs above it so that they wouldn't scratch the young birds when I returned them to the nest.

I had to chase each bird a little, because they could flutter and run on the ground a little. But I formed a cage around it with my hands, then gently closed in, folding the wings gently back to the normal resting position, at which point the bird would calm down, Knowing the nest would be on my left, and I would need one hand on the tree for my own safety, I held the bird in my left hand from above before climbing the ladder.

Then I removed all my equipment, knowing that my project would be on hold until these fledglings learned to fly and no longer needed the nest. I had a pile a spruce branches about 60 feer away, where I could keep an eye on the nest while cutting the branches small enough to fill leaf bags. There were some small leafless trees that gave me some cover, but also partly blocked my view of the nest site. Nevertheless, I soon heard the sound that mourning doves make when they fly upward.

Later, I sat waiting at a distance from a different angle where I could see better. From there, I saw two adult mourning doves come to the nest, and one flew away. Now I knew that the parents had found them. The next day, sometimes I would see an adult on the nest when I checked, and sometimes not. Here's a few photos of the nest, taken with a zoom lens. In the last photo, there may be two adult heads. (The fledglings keep their heads tucked in, with no neck showing.)

Once, when the adults were away, I got out the step-ladder again to get a close-up photo of the fledglings, and to verify that both were in the nest. It didn't show the nest contents as clearly as I hoped (next photo).

The step-ladder was standing on its own near the tree, so next I folded it and leaned it against the tree for a closer look. But as I held the camera for this close-up, one fledgling jumped out of the nest and fluttered to the ground, achieving a little more horizontal component of his flight this time. Also, he was a little harder to chase down, so he was noticeably stronger and more ready for real flight.

Just after I caught him, my daughter Susan arrived home, so I asked her to take a photo of the young bird before I returned him to the nest. Note the tucked-in head position and the flight feathers.

Just after I got him back into the nest, I spotted three hawks soaring together overhead. I got him out of sight just in time, I thought. Later, it occurred to me that hawks don't normally hunt in groups. A young hawk or two must have been out on a training exercise.