West Seattle rescue: Baby bird saved; what to do if you see one

From wildlife writer/photographer Trileigh Tucker, the tale of a baby bird’s rescue – and what to do if you see one in trouble:

A West Seattle neighbor was a real wildlife hero this afternoon.

From my house, I heard an unusually loud Steller’s Jay cacophony in the park, but figured it might just be a bunch of nestlings calling to Mom and Dad for dinner. Shortly after that I heard a bunch of crows shrieking up a storm, and finally realized I should probably go check it out. I should have done this right away.

Several people were standing around a baby Steller’s Jay that had been harassed out of its nest by crows, who were apparently harassing and poking at it on the ground until Guardian Angel #1 stepped in to disperse them. Guardian Angels #2 and #3 were staying with the little bird – at first they thought it was dead, but then saw it was breathing. I picked it up and it held on tightly to my finger, so I knew it might be OK. We looked up in the nearby trees for the nest, hoping to put it back, but couldn’t find it. The parent jays were nearby but didn’t seem to be at their nest.

We put him in a box, then called PAWS in Lynnwood, who said to bring it up there for rehabilitation. So Guardian Angel #2, whose name is Marjorie Severson [photo above right], a generous and kind West Seattleite who volunteered to drive the little baby jay all the way up to Lynnwood for PAWS to help him out! I’m attaching her photo with the baby bird. She truly is an angel helping out the forest creatures.

This is fledging season, when a lot of baby birds risk injury or shock. If people find a baby bird on the ground but alive, the thing to do is to put it in a dark quiet box (with gaps so it can breathe), then call PAWS: 425-412-4040. This is their wildlife number, open 8-8 seven days a week, and they’ll tell you what to do. Everyone, put this number in your cellphones!

17 Replies to "West Seattle rescue: Baby bird saved; what to do if you see one"

  • Greg May 13, 2013 (2:52 am)

    Here’s a link from Eastside Audubon of various bird clinics and vets in Western Washington that will accept injured birds: http://eastsideaudubon.org/birding/bird-emergencies/wildlife-rehabilitation-centers
    Might be good to print out and keep it handy. I’m putting mine next to the list of the bee swarm catchers.

  • AE May 13, 2013 (7:46 am)

    MOST OF THE TIME, all you need to do it get the bird off the ground and hide it from cats and other predators!! There is usually no need to try to “save” it unless you are sure it is injured. Look up – if you see the nest, put the bird in it. If you don’t, just put it in a tree off the ground. The parents will find and feed it! It is a myth that they won’t take it back after someone’s touched it.

    Thanks for caring about birds!

  • k May 13, 2013 (7:47 am)

    We had a wonderful bushtit nest on our front tree. Watched it be built. Looked like a furry sock. Unfortunately, one of the neighbors cats pulled it down and grabbed all the eggs. That cat has been such a nuisance. It was heartbreaking.

  • AE May 13, 2013 (7:49 am)

    From Seattle Audubon, verbatim (since you have no reason to believe me :) ):

    Sooner or later, no matter where you live, you’ll come across a baby bird on the ground. You’ll have to decide whether you should rescue it or leave it to fend for itself. In most cases, it is best not to interfere. The natural parents do a much better job at raising their young than we could ever do. A baby bird that is featherless must be fed every 15 to 20 minutes from about sunrise to 10 p.m.! This obviously requires a large time commitment on the part of the foster parent.

    Finding fully feathered birds: If the bird is fully or partially feathered, chances are it doesn’t need your help. As young birds develop they soon outgrow the limited space of a nest. The young birds, referred to as “fledglings” or “branchers” at this stage, typically leave the nest and move about on the ground and on low branches for a few days before they can fly (Fig. 7). Their parents are nearby and continue to care for the birds, answering their demanding calls with regular deliveries of food. The scolding calls coming from the nearby tree are likely the adult birds, voicing their disapproval while they wait for you to leave.

    Unless injured, the fledgling bird should be left where it is. Efforts should be made to keep cats, dogs, and curious children away from the bird so the mother can continue to feed it.

    Unfortunately, this is when people often interfere and take a healthy bird out of the wild. Not only is this illegal (except in the case of starlings, house sparrows, and domestic pigeons), but it also deprives the growing bird of essential care it needs from its parents.

    Finding naked birds or birds with beginning feathers: If you find an uninjured nestling that has fallen or been pushed out of its nest, replace it in the nest (Fig. 8). (Note that this behavior is actually adaptive for some species. This way, only the strongest of the brood survive and go on to raise young themselves.) If the nest has fallen down (common after windstorms), replace the nest in a tree with the baby bird(s) in it. (It is not true that birds abandon their chicks if a person touches them. Birds have a poor sense of smell.)

    Figure 8. If you find an uninjured nestling that has fallen or been pushed out of its nest, replace it in the nest. It is not true that birds abandon their chicks if a person touches them. Birds have a poor sense of smell.
    (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.)

    If you can’t find the nest or accessing it is too dangerous, put the baby bird where its parents can find it but where it will be safe from cats. Use a small plastic berry basket, margarine tub, or similar container lined with shredded paper towels (no cotton products, which tend to tangle up in birds’ feet). With a nail or wire, fasten the makeshift nest to a shady spot in a tree or tall shrub near where the bird was found. Next, place the nestling inside, tucking the feet underneath the body.

    The parents will usually come back in a short time and will feed the babies in the container just as if it were the original nest. (Often, you will see the mother going back and forth between each “nest,” feeding both sets of babies.)

  • happy May 13, 2013 (7:53 am)

    Thanks, Greg!

    Editors: any chance you can do links like the list of veterinarians?

  • Trileigh May 13, 2013 (8:44 am)

    AE, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. The reason we didn’t just put the baby bird back into the tree, which we considered, was that we figured since the crows had harassed it out of the nest in the first place and were still hanging around very interested in what we were doing, they’d just go after it again if we put it on a branch we could get to. And although we couldn’t see a visible injury, one of the “guardian angels” thought one of its wings seemed painful.
    Was that the wrong decision in this case, do you think? PAWS seemed pretty clear that we should take it up there.
    I’d really welcome your advice, and again, thanks for your helpful comment above.

  • scout15 May 13, 2013 (9:19 am)

    AE, Great comments! Your comments are pretty much in line with the way I was taught in the midwest.

  • AE May 13, 2013 (9:24 am)

    Hi Trileigh-

    I meant to add that I wasn’t referring to the jay situation at all – I think the crows would have killed it had you left it there. It would have been dreadful to witness. I would have done the same thing you did. Sorry I didn’t point that out!
    I just wanted to take the opportunity to let people know that there’s usually no need to “rescue” a feathered baby that is not injured.

  • LR May 13, 2013 (10:46 am)

    This information is very helpful; thank you! I’ll keep PAWS’ number with the Seal Sitters number in my wallet.

  • anti-obstruction May 13, 2013 (12:45 pm)

    Crows–the avian equivalent of Darth Vader.

  • Sonoma May 13, 2013 (1:12 pm)

    Trileigh, you know a lot more about wild birds than I do, but I have a feeling that, under the circumstances, you did exactly the right thing. We know that crows are smart AND relentless.

  • liz m. May 13, 2013 (4:44 pm)

    I just want to second or third AE’s comments. Most of the time (though not this time) baby birds do not need to be rescued.

    This a flowchart from the National Wildlife Rehabilitor’s Association website may help you decide when to intervene: http://www.nwrawildlife.org/sites/default/files/FoundBird.pdf

  • DelridgeResident May 13, 2013 (8:15 pm)

    AE and Liz M. thank you so much for sharing these guidelines! I used to work at a humane society in Colorado that had a wild animal rehabilitation “wing” and 90% of the time the fledgings did not need or benefit from humane intervention.

    Trileigh and Marjorie thank you so much for intervening and saving this fledging!!

  • Rene May 13, 2013 (9:52 pm)

    I had the EXACT same situation happen on Saturday! I was working in my garden in Gatewood and heard a flock of crows fighting over something above me. They dropped something that landed in my Leyland Cypress hedge. Upon further inspection it turned out to be three baby birds. Two died but one survived. I quickly drove it to Five Corners Animal Hospital in Burien.
    The above photo resembles the bird I saved. I buried its siblings together in a far corner of my backyard. Poor little guys :-(

  • Guardian Angel #1 May 14, 2013 (8:37 am)

    When I rounded the corner on my walk, I saw (and heard) a large flock of crows, one of which was carrying around the baby steller’s jay, and all were fighting over it while a parent was unsuccessfully trying to fight them off. I walked into the midst of things as I couldn’t bear watching the crows tear the little bird apart. After they dropped it, I did stand over it for awhile guarding it but not touching it and wondering what the best thing to do was before helpers arrived to discuss. Thanks Trileigh and Marjorie for coming to the rescue! We looked for the nest but couldn’t find it. I agree with AE that if we had returned it to a branch the crows would have just torn into it again. After I walked into their midst and the crows scattered, they made such a loud ruckus for awhile that everyone in the vicinity gathered round to see what the noise was all about. AE and all, thanks for the guidelines. It’s good to know for the future that if you touch them you can still return them to the nest. That is one of the things I was unsure about before and was pondering when help arrived.

  • Mike May 14, 2013 (9:46 am)

    The Animal Kingdom and nature work just fine without Human involvement. It is natural for animals to eat each other. A generalist forager, Steller’s Jays eat insects, seeds, berries, nuts, small animals, eggs, and nestlings. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Stellers_Jay/lifehistory
    Jay’s need no more protection from Crows than Salmon need protection from Orca’s.


  • RCS May 14, 2013 (1:11 pm)

    What if a bird

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