Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When you find a bird on the ground--

Fledging season arrived with shrieks last Saturday morning. After feeding the dogs and letting them out, I was fumbling through the coffee making ritual when I heard a cacophony of shrieks and screams. Thinking the dogs had caught a chicken, I ran outside barefoot and in PJ’s (aqua, with snowflake pattern) to wrestle them away from something on the ground by the fence.  Miro is now so strong that he can pull out of my grasp. He towers over Alanis and has the pulling power of a mine pony.

When I moved our dancing circus a few feet away from the prized object, I saw a Steller's Jay chick on its side, eye fixed and open, foot curled. My son crawled out from his basement hole to haul Miro inside while I dragged Alanis, who refuses to go indoors through the downstairs door, back up the gravel path and ouch-- I realized I had run down that path barefoot and had to walk back up on winter-tender feet.

This time I put on sandals before hurrying back outside. I picked up the “dead” chick to discover it was alive, in shock, and injured. The parent birds were still screaming overhead. If you click on the link above, you can hear some normal Steller sounds but not the ear-pounding, heart-thudding alarm calls which sound similar to a human mother screeching, "Get out of the road!" to her four-year-old child.

The jays were screeching at their rivals and enemies, the crows. The day before I had seen this pair mobbing a crow away to the opposite yard and now I knew why. Crows will eat other young birds and a fledgling in the nest or on the ground is crow food.

A fluttering drew my attention to the adjacent side of the fence and there was another jay chick flapping up and falling back down, unable to gain enough height to get on the 6-ft fence top. What to do first? Maybe if I could get the uninjured one up to a branch, he could figure out the rest while the parents yelled encouragement. I gently replaced the injured chick and stalked the other, catching him as he dove past me. Just as I was cupping my hands over him, he jumped away and into the bushes.

When a bird knocks into a window and is stunned, it will often recover and fly away if left alone. I suspected the chick on the ground had a leg or wing injury but I left it there, sneaking outside to check on it every few minutes. It sat up and moved a few inches farther into the shelter of the trees but showed no signs of hopping or fluttering like the other.  I didn't try for more than one photo in case the flash scared the bird even more than he was already. You can see that he's holding his wing at an angle and that all the flight feathers are in, though not fully grown.

The uninjured one got about five feet off the ground and hid in the butterfly bush. He would be able to fend for himself, if he lived long enough.Wild birds learn to fly from the ground, like the old-fashioned way of teaching a human child to swim by throwing him off the dock. The chick may spend up to a week on the ground while the parents feed it, watch over it, and shout encouragement. You can see why so few survive to adulthood.

I gathered his injured nestmate into a shoe box and drove him (or her) to PAWS wildlife center where I handed over the bird and a donation.
Over the next few days I heard outbreaks of the same shrieks coming from Guinevere the Great Dane’s yard. It has been quiet today and I am watching a blue shape flutter from branch to branch in an evergreen across the way, too far to tell if it’s a full grown bird or the youngster practicing his skills.  If something got it, the parents would have mobbed and dive-bombed the predator and uttered heartrending screams until the internal chemistry attaching them to the chick faded. Mourning would end and they would go on to the next task. I wish it were that simple for us.

Stellers Jays and crows are the dominant birds around here; they are not good news for songbirds. They eat songbird chicks and eggs and chase them from food sources. They are intelligent and tough survivors. The parent birds will undoubtedly raise a second clutch before the season is over. So why did I spend a morning and drive 30 miles to rescue a jay?
Because it was there.

Home is somewhere in those trees.


  1. You're such a good doo-bee Sherry! We hope to someday get to meet you & Alanis and Miro. We're in N.Idaho again, so we'll dream of making a trip to the coast to visit our hooman sissy.
    BabyRD & Hootie

    I always think of birds as such fragile creatures and when one is wounded I freak out from my feeling of helplessness.Good work taking it to a refuge!Didn't it make you feel good?!

  2. You are definitely Mother Nature's friend. Nice little story for my morning coffee- thanks and have a good day!

  3. Mom has never seen a baby blue jay before. What a cutie! He deserves to live too! Bless you, Miss Sherry!

    Love ya lots
    Maggie and Mitch