Birds In The Limelight

The Gardening 101 post that was scheduled to publish yesterday needs more work. Instead, I’ll tell you about the little family of birds living on our front porch.

We have a momma bird and her two hatchlings living in a nest that momma, very skillfully, constructed right on top of our motion detection light.

About two or three weeks ago, John climbed up a ladder, with a mirror in hand, and managed to take a peek inside the nest. That’s when he saw the eggs.

Shortly thereafter, he checked on the eggs, and saw new hatchlings sleeping where the eggs had been just a few days earlier. I took a peek too. They were bald and reddish in color, just peacefully sleeping in the nursery momma had carefully built, with them in mind. Sounds like a very nurturing atmosphere: serene… and safe. NOPE!! (Don’t worry though. It does have, so far, a happy ending.)

After the hatchlings were about five days old, a sad turn of events occurred. I was standing on the front porch, in a daze, just staring down at a group of plants, when I noticed a tiny little bird squirming on its back, near a plant. It was still mostly bald and, like an infant, had virtually no motor skills, other than squirming. John grabbed a clean sandwich bag and the kitchen ladder, carefully picked up the hatchling, and placed it in the nest. We went into the house, crisis handled. Whew!

I told John we’d need to keep an eye out for the little guy, because it’s possible the momma pushed it out of the nest. Sometimes, in the wild, animals will do that if the momma thinks she has more babies than she can keep alive.

John then decided to get the mirror and check on everyone in the nest. He sadly reported that the hatchling he placed in the nest was the only one in there. He looked on the ground, but did not find the sibling. So I started looking, and… I found it! It didn’t look as lively or strong, but it was alive, so John placed it in the nest with the other one.

We were both concerned as to whether or not the momma would be back. Was she the reason they were on the ground? I was EXTREMELY concerned for these little guys. I went inside and took a moment to pray for their well-being and that momma would come back and take care of them. (I can’t stand to think of animals suffering.) Within 5 minutes John saw the momma back in the nest. What a relief! But we kept an eye on the situation.

You’d think the drama would be over at this point, but no, the plot thickens. The very next evening, John noticed another hatchling on the ground. It was about 15 feet from our front porch. We determined it couldn’t be from the same nest. It was simply too far away, and there was no way it would have survived 24 hours on the ground – overnight, and being so small, featherless, and immobile. The bird probably fell from a nest in the tree directly above it. That meant the nest was at least 25-30 feet up in the tree – a tree with no low limbs for climbing, and a tree that sits on the edge of our yard, before the ground plummets into a ravine.

So… what do you do in a situation like that? We decided there were only two options.

  1. Place the new hatchling into the front porch nest, and see if the momma would adopt it. However, this could potentially be the demise of all three hatchlings. (The momma might consider the entire nursery of hatchlings contaminated.)
  2. Mercy-kill the fragile, young life that had just begun.

I HATED having to make a decision like that.

After a moment of thought, I figured more hatchlings would live if we left the two siblings alone, and quickly ended the life of this third hatchling. Before I could answer, and ask John to do the unthinkable (since I have recently had to do this horrible and gut-wrenching act to two different injured animals on the road – a young raccoon and an opossum), John said he was going to put it in the nest with the other two. He made the difficult decision. And, so-far-so-good. As of tonight, all three hatchlings appear to be alive, and the momma continues to go back to the nest. She’s either a very compassionate and nurturing bird, or one that simply doesn’t know how to count.

As soon as I can safely manage to get some photos of the baby birds reaching their little heads up to beckon their momma for food, I’ll try to get some photos.

I’ve since learned a lot about how I can help keep a hatchling alive overnight until a wild bird rescue person can take over. There are some critical things to do and NEVER do. But, this is not a how-to post, just a story.

Have you encountered something similar to this?

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4 comments to Birds In The Limelight

  • How exciting and worrisome at the same time! I feel the same way when I see a bird’s nest on our property. Once, we had house finches make a nest in a hanging fern on our front porch, and after the eggs were laid, I caught a raven raiding the nest. I ran out of there screaming and shaking my fist at it — if anyone who saw me would have thought I was crazy! Anyway, I am so glad that you’ve been able to save all of the babies that you’ve found so far!

    • Holly

      How horrible – a raven raiding the nest of house finch eggs. I hope there were survivors. :( (And I imagine you probably did look crazy. lol… But good for you!)

  • In February, I noticed a pair of hummingbirds making a tiny nest on a fir branch about 8′ off the ground. Later in the month we had several inches of snow. (We get snow near Portland OR 1-2 times a year) I was afraid the eggs would freeze ’cause I didn’t see the birds on it, or that the nest would be deserted. But a few days after the snow melted, they were back. Never heard or saw the babies tho. I loved watching that little drama.

    • Holly

      I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a hummingbird nest. Full-grown hummingbirds are pretty small, so I imagine the babies are exceptionally tiny.

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