Mar 18, 2016

The renesting of two hummingbird chicks

By Deanna Barth

I live in Hollister, California - a relatively small town. Over the years I've networked with animal-related groups and local agencies, like our shelter, offering my knowledge and skills with dogs and cats, and my expertise in wildlife capture. More recently, I joined our community's Facebook page. 

With the rise and success of social media, it seems sometimes faster and easier for a “finder” to reach out for help through these sites. Case in point:

This morning, while I was at work, someone posted a photo on our local Facebook page of two nestling hummingbirds. Within minutes, several people responded by tagging me.

I sent a message to Desiree, thanked her for reaching out for help, and asked for more details.  

Apparently, a hummingbird had built its nest on a string of Christmas lights under the eave of their home. This morning, when the family was taking down the lights, they noticed two little hummingbirds dangling, clinging to the remnants of their nest. 

The family carefully and gently worked to untangle the baby birds, unhooking their tiny feet from the wire and nest material. The chicks were placed in a box to keep them safe while Desiree searched for help. Not knowing who to call, she posted on Facebook. 

It took me about an hour to get home to Hollister and to Desiree's house to evaluate the situation. 

I was worried the babies might be injured after such an ordeal, but they looked great. Both were bright and alert, actively gaping for food and vocalizing. Their wings and legs and feet appeared normal and uninjured.

I knew the best chance for survival for these two nestlings was to place them back in the nest and let “mom” continue to care for them. 

I needed to find a way to put the nest back where it had been.  

The nest was not in good shape. It was badly torn.

With many birds, an appropriately-sized bucket or basket can be used to make a new nest, but hummingbird nests are so small!

I'd already been in touch with our organization's founder, Rebecca Dmytryk. She's had a tremendous amount of experience in re-nesting wild birds and I wanted to get her take on the situation. 

The size and shape of a cup nest is important in helping distribute weight off the chicks' legs as they develop. Depending on the species, the depth is critical too. Too high a rim and the nest will be dirtied with droppings.

Rebecca texted back an idea - to use fiberglass window screen material, shape it into a cone to hold the remnants of the original nest, and fasten it to something for support. The screen material would allow for adequate ventilation and drainage, and the mesh openings would be so small, the bird’s tiny feet would not get caught.  

I placed the chicks in small cup and kept them on a heating pad while I went to work making a new nest. 

This is where my husband, Chris, is always ready and willing to help out. 

Things went according to plan. We created a cone large enough to hold the original nest and added a stick so we could attach it to the eve of the home. As Chris secured the nest in place, I let the gathering of neighbors and children have a quick up-close look at the babies before placing them in their new home.

It was time. While standing on a ladder, I carefully plucked each grape-sized baby from the box and placed them in the nest, and, as I was doing so, the mother-bird buzzed my head! 

We folded up the ladder and backed away. Within minutes, the mom was on the nest.


The mother hummingbird flying over the roof  near the nest.

Just a reminder, wild birds are federally protected. It's a violation to harass, chase, capture, handle, confine, possess, or in any way injure a protected bird, nest or egg. WES responders are permitted through the US Fish and Wildlife Service which authorizes rescue and temporary care of wild birds species.

Mar 12, 2016

Speaking of cats and wildlife

This week, WES' founder and director, Rebecca Dmytryk, participated in a Community Cats panel at the Animal Care Conference 2016, held in Long Beach, CA. 

Rebecca shared her experiences and views on the impacts that free-roaming cats have on native wildlife and ecosystems. She compared cats to other domestic animals, like dogs, pigs, goats, that can eek out an existence in most environments. But, the damage they can cause to ecosystems and the risk they pose to public health and safety is why domestic animals are not allowed to run free, unmanaged. She questioned why cats were treated differently.

She also explained why cats do not belong in the wild, because wild species of birds and small mammals adapted survival mechanisms based on certain predators in a region. But, the domestic cat - a pint-sized-panther - is a skilled predator that hunts both night and day and in large numbers - in some cases, hundreds per square mile, that no wild species has had time to adapt to.

Rebecca went on to share an excerpt from a 2013 paper published by researchers with the Smithsonian Biological Conservation Institute:
We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals. Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact.

Using the American robin as an example, she pointed out how birds can be impacted. Robins can produce 1 - 3  clutches of up to 5 young per year. Each, a heavy investment. From staking of territory, courtship, nest building, careful incubation of the eggs, then, the tedious work of feeding their helpless hatchlings, requiring more and more, trip after trip after trip, both parents working tirelessly to feed their young. When the young are almost old enough to fly, they fledge. They flutter to the ground where they spend about a week learning to fly. Most bird species go through this stage, and, where there are cats outdoor, fledglings stand no chance, whatsoever - the parents lose their entire investment.

A few lucky ones might be rescued from a cat’s mouth and admitted to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, and some may survive, but, these patients - often requiring daily antibiotics place an extraordinary burden on wildlife hospitals, costing $50.00 to $200.00 per patient, not including staff-hours.

Rebecca pointed out that there are laws prohibiting the release of non-native invasive predators and questioned why cats are allowed to roam free without consequence.

Free-roaming cats also impact the environment through their waste. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection with a protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which relies on felids - cats -  to complete its life cycle. Infected cats shed hundreds of millions of oocysts, or eggs, into the environment. These eggs remain infectious to all warm-blooded species for up to 18 months.
In coastal California, many sea otters have died due to toxoplasmosis, and scientists suggest the parasite is transported in freshwater runoff to aquatic environments, where both animals and humans can become exposed. This research also contends the domestic cats in this region may play an important role in the marine infection.

Panelist, Gary Tiscornia, Executive Director for the SPCA for Monterey County, gave an excellent presentation on his organization's approach to the feral cat issue, also pointing out how feral cats impact wildlife and the environment and acknowledged what difficult lives feral cats have, being exposed to the elements, disease, and predators.

Next, WES' director traveled to Newport Beach to participate in the Vertebrate Pest Conference, where she spoke on non-lethal methods of dealing with wildlife pests, in a presentation entitled Making a Killing Without Killing.

Close to 90 people attended her talk.

Mar 9, 2016

Renesting a fallen dove

By Deanna Barth

This morning as I was headed to my job in Carmel, I received a message from a friend who shares my love for animals. Her sister is a teacher at an elementary school in Hollister, near where I live, and one of her students had brought her a baby bird that was found on top of a lunch table.  

I had her sister text me a photo which confirmed it was a nestling dove. 

I asked a few basic questions (Was it injured? Did it look puffed-up and cold?), and, from her answers, I felt pretty confident that the bird was in good health, it just needed to be placed back in its nest.  

This lead to several more questions (Where was the nest? Could she reach it? Were the parent birds in the vicinity?), which, she did not have the answers to.  

I realized re-nesting this young bird wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, with all of the teachers in classrooms and my ability to respond would be later in the day, after work. I had to make a quick decision – do I let her keep the bird in her classroom for several hours, where it would be warm and quiet, but without food, or do I advise her to put it back outside, as close to the where she found it as possible, vulnerable to the elements and possible predators (and children)? I chose the latter.  

It was a clear, sunny day and I had a gut feeling that the parent birds were there, and the baby needed to be fed.  

If humans hadn’t intervened in the first place, it would still be sitting on the lunch table where the parents had last seen it.  

The teacher vowed to put the baby back. 

I worried about the bird all day.  

It was late afternoon when I finally made it to the school. Mrs. Sanchez had been kind enough to stay late to open the gate for me. 

I took one step towards the area and stopped. There was an adult Eurasian Collared dove sitting on the roof of a shed. A few feet below was the nestling lying on the picnic table.  Yes! The parents had been caring for it just as I had hoped. 

I surveyed the area further. I was so impressed with the choices this teacher had made.  She knew she couldn’t place the bird back onto the lunch table because the students would be using the area throughout the day, but, next to the lunch area is a small garden, completely enclosed by a chain link fence. She had placed the bird in this area, knowing if the parent birds were in the vicinity they would see the nestling. Perfect!

I assessed the baby bird and found it to be in a great shape – no obvious wounds or signs of trauma and it was warm to the touch. It was vocalizing, too, and the parents were responding.   

I placed the baby bird back on the table so the parents could continue feeding it, then asked Mrs. Sanchez to show me where it had been found earlier that morning.  

Directly above that lunch table, tucked into the corner of the roof's metal framing, was the nest, about 14 feet from the ground.

I knew my husband would have just the right ladder for the job. About an hour later, he arrived with a ladder tall enough to reach. 

The sun had just set. While Chris was setting up the ladder, I tucked the nestling into my shirt for warmth. One of the parents flushed as soon as the ladder was set in place. Knowing there should have been 2 nestlings, I feared the other missing or dead.

Chris climbed the ladder to have a look. There, he found a haphazard “nest” made up of a few long twigs side-by-side on a ledge no wider than a dove - maybe 3 inches. He also found a sibling!

So, it was obvious what happened. There was just no room for two birds on the ledge and nothing to prevent the babies from tumbling to the ground. 

I knew if I simply placed the baby back on this narrow ledge, chances are it would fall again and risk injury.  

Even though the collared dove is a non-native species, we were going to treat this family as we would any other. 

I drove home - just a few minutes away, and grabbed some supplies and a small, plastic basket that we could use as a replacement nest. 

First, I removed the sibling. Then, Chris secured the basket to the ledge with fasteners and cable ties. Then we placed the original nesting material in the basket and, finally, set both nestlings inside.

We picked up all of our equipment and walked back to our vehicles and about 15 minutes later I watched as one of the parents flew to the new nest. Success!!!

We left having instructed the teacher to speak with the principal and the custodian and make an announcement tomorrow about the birds and to remind students it’s important to be kind to all animals. 

Baby season is fast approaching. If you'd like to be part of our Reuniting and Wild-Fostering Team 2016, please sign up to volunteer HERE and we'll get you trained.

We need teams in the East Bay, San Jose area, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.
Must be 18 years old or a parent-child team. 

If you'd like to support our rescue and reuniting programs, donate now!

A little goes a long way!

Check the box that says Make This Recurring. 

Mar 1, 2016

The heart of Rescue

By Rebecca Dmytryk

Photo by Kev Chapman

It was just before noon when a call came in about two birds tangled together by some sort of string, dangling from the eaves of a three-story apartment complex in San Jose. 

Larissa, the reporting party, first noticed the birds about an hour earlier and she'd been trying to find help ever since. She called the local animal services but they did not have a ladder tall enough to reach the birds.

Over the phone, I asked Larissa some questions to help me understand the circumstances - how high, how far from an open window, how long have they been struggling, what species, if she knew? All these things help a rescuer build an appropriate plan of action. Today, with the help of modern technology, rescuers can view the scene remotely through text and email - tremendously helpful. I had her text me a few.

Larissa's pictures and video were great. From the images, I knew our ladders wouldn't be tall enough. 

I thought to call on the local fire department, but would they be available, and would they make the effort for a pair of starlings?

European starlings were introduced in the U.S. in the 1890's when Eugene Schieffelin released 100 of them in New York's Central Park. Today their population is estimated to be about 200 million. 

Photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot
The starling is a stout bird, about the size of a blackbird. In spring, starlings sport beautiful black feathers that shimmer green and purple iridescence, but interestingly, towards the end of summer starlings become spotted. The white and brown spots are the tips of new feathers. As the feathers wear away, the dark color becomes dominant again. 
Some things about starlings aren't so pretty, though. In the U.S. they are considered an invasive pest species because of the damage they cause to agriculture; a large murmuration can bring down a plane, and they are known to compete with some native species for nest sites. It's a good thing starlings stick close to human development and avoid wild habitats, for the most part. 
To quote from a piece by Sue Pike, "they are good-looking, lively and intelligent, with big personalities. They can fly really fast (up to 48 mph). They are terrific vocal mimics. They are communicative and gregarious; often foraging with grackles, cowbirds, sparrows, robins and crows. They didn’t ask to come here, it isn’t their fault they are so successful."

So, I wasn't sure if I could get someone to help the poor birds, but, starling or not, I had to try. 

I placed a call to San Jose Fire Dispatch and was put on hold a few times as my request was considered... at least it wasn't a decisive No, right?

Just minutes later I was told Engine 10 was en route to check out the situation. 


I called Larissa back and told her the good news and for her to supply them with a pillowcase.

It wasn't long before I received a call from the Captain. I offered some instruction in case they were able to reach the birds... I suggested they lift a pillowcase up and around the birds so when the line is cut they'll fall into the sack. Once safely contained we can work out what to do next.

The crew first tried their tallest ladder but it couldn't get them as close as a ladder truck...

Yep, they called on Truck 14 to the rescue...

Once in position, Fireman Sam from Engine 10 climbed up to the frightened birds. He did exactly as we advised - he scooped the birds into the pillowcase and cut the twine. 

Back on the ground, the crew worked to untangle the birds' legs from what they described as some sort of thick twine, like threads of dental floss - maybe bailing twine... 

A huge THANK YOU! to Larissa for not letting these birds suffer and for placing that initial call for help, and an extra, extra huge THANK YOU!!!! to the San Jose Fire Department and the firefighters from Station 10 and 14 for their public service and their compassion and the heart that is such a part of being a rescuer. Thank you!!!!!

Check out the rescue captured on video:

Want to know more about starlings? Check this out: