A personal account...
It was close to 9 o'clock last night, when we received an emergency page about a thumb-sized, naked baby bird. Nearly all rescues begin with an initial phone conversation where Call Takers turn into big-time detectives, but first, we must focus on the animal's immediate needs.
Through a barrage of questions, the finder described how he'd found the hatchling, hours earlier, outside his home in Los Angeles, on a cement slab.
Hours earlier was not good news. Where has the bird been housed these few hours?
The man had placed the baby inside a box in the garage, thinking he was doing all he could.
As a rule, newborn animals cannot thermoregulate. They chill quickly in the absence of a parent or siblings. If they get too cold, they will die. The baby required supplemental heat, and fast.
I quickly walked this kind, gentleman with a baritone voice through a labyrinth of emergency baby-bird-care instructions. I directed him on the correct temperature. The ambient temperature around the baby has got to be between 85-90 degrees for most hatchlings. Then i guided him on making a temporary cup nest. All the while, i imagined big male hands fumbling with paper towels and tissue,... and i imagined the heart behind it. The kind of goodness in a human that gives me a glimmer of hope for the future of this planet and its inhabitants. I couldn't help but smile while listening to him follow my instructions.
Take a paper towel and twist it into a cord, then tie a knot, then weave the ends. Place a tissue over the bowl shape and depress the center. Set this 'nest' inside something shallow, but sturdy, like a custard dish. Place the little baby bird in the new little cup nest, with the bulkiest part of its body in the center, okay? Good.
I was really impressed with the man-on-the-other-end-of-the-line. He did a great job with the nest, and even though he couldn't find an electric heating pad, he ingeniously figured out another solution for heat - a clamp-on work light (of course). He kept it just far enough away to provide warmth, but not so close that it could burn the baby. Good job!
Now, as the baby bird was warming, we could focus on where it might have come from.
Nestling altricial birds are heavy-bodied and and not very mobile, so, unless it rolled, or was displaced by a cat or nest-robbing corvid, the nest would be nearby, usually above.
With this in mind, the fellow described a small hole where electrical conduit entered the home - he noted what appeared to be nesting material sticking out on either side of the pipe.
This made me think the baby was a non-native English sparrow or starling, if i had to guess. They are cavity nesters, common in urban areas.
Once the baby was warm enough, we could try feeding it.
Generally, this is not something we ask finders to do - only in emergency situations where the life of the animal is in jeopardy.
Diurnal birds do not feed their babies at night, but it had been hours since the baby was fed. Two small feedings should do.
I walked him through the process, step by step. How much can this guy take?
You can soak a few kibbles of dry dog food until they are moist and spongey, but make sure that when you deliver a bit of kibble, that it is not soaking wet, where it will produce a big droplet of liquid, as the baby might aspirate - take fluid into its windpipe located at the very back of its tongue. Using a dull but pointy object (yeah, right), try to get the small blob of food as far back in the throat as possible - the baby will help by pushing upward. Don't freak out... just do it.
The next morning:
Rocky, as the family had named the orphan, made it through the night! Now we needed to work on either returning him to his nest, or finding a licensed rehabilitator willing to take a non-native bird. I sent word through an online List.
As we waited for a reply, Rocky was cared for throughout the day - fed regularly and the tissue of his paper-towel-nest changed often to keep him clean. His carers also kept an eye out for parents.
There was no activity at the hole by the electrical panel, but there was activity at a nest some 15' away under the eaves. They described a 'burrito-shaped' nest with an entrance on one side.
At some point during the day, the family connected with one of the rehabilitators. Taking their advice, they placed Rocky on the ground near the active nest with the understanding that the parents may have had multiple nests and were relocating their babies when Rocky was lost.
Okay, hold on a minute. I am sure there was some miscommunication along the way.
To be clear, birds don't do that. They are incapable of moving their babies in that way. The only birds that move their babies are the precocial species, like ducks and geese and the like.
Here's what ended up transpiring:
Lots of activity at visible nest, but mama wouldn't pick up Rocky, so after about an hour or so, my father in law carefully placed the bird into the nest by finding the opening, and feeling for an area of warmth. Then, the mama went in and stayed there for a while, then began leaving and emerging - normal behavior. Later we looked around the nest to see if 'Rocky' had been ejected, but no sign. We can only assume he is in the nest, and hopefully alive and well.
As of yesterday, all seems well:
As far as we know Rocky is in there, this morning we watched as mama would fly out and get food and come and feed the kids every 5 minutes or so. Papa sits on a telephone wire nearby and keeps lookout. The kids chirp like mad when she goes in to feed them... it's great to watch...
GREAT JOB!!! WELL DONE!