Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Birds and the Bees

Well. For Father's Day this year I had to have that all important talk about the birds and the bees with my kiddos.

Of course, in our house, nothing is normal - so we have been talking about birds and bees quite literally in the past few days.

Our latest bee hive checkup showed that our beloved Queen Beatrice had abdicated the throne. The Boyo now suits up with me to check on the Girls on the Hill, and as we looked through our hive, we noticed plenty of capped brood, but no babies in larval stage. Which means the Queen isn't laying eggs, which means she's either dead or out of the hive.

We did see some bees emerging from their comb, which was really cool to see for the first time ever in real life!

But no Queen and no babies. I went ahead and scraped off the burr comb - that is, comb that the bees have made off of the frames that are there for them to build on. As I scraped off one particularly thick patch that was connecting the upper brood box to the lower brood box, I scraped straight through a bunch of capped larvae, and noticed a thick, Elmer's glue looking goo. In reflecting on that later, I came to the realization that I had scraped right through the next queen. The glue goo was royal jelly surrounding her, and she was probably less than a week from emerging.We thought for sure that this spelled the end of beekeeping this year, as a queen-less hive is pretty much dead.

Fortunately, one of our local beekeeper contacts had a spare "nuc", which is basically a mini-colony that includes a laying queen, and bees from eggs to adults. We added this on Friday and I am already anxious for next weeks hive check to see how things are going! Fingers and toes are crossed.

Now, for the birds...

On Thursday we were picking up paint to paint one of our rooms. Little Sweet Pea is growing fast and we are moving her into the larger "office" room, and converting her smaller bedroom into our family command center.

I went for a quick walk through the garden to check the plants and make sure all was well. (It was) The Boyo was following me when he suddenly stopped and pointed at the ground. "Toad! I mean.. Chick! Chick!"
I turned around, a bit confused, and saw what he was pointing at. It was a baby bird. It looked as if it had been out of the shell for maybe a day. Two at the most. It had split skin on it's head and was looking quite dead.
"Yeah, buddy. I think that is dead." I told him.

Of course the bird chose that moment to weakly lift it's head and flop back into the dirt.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Now, I've rescued a LOT of birds in my years. I know for a fact that birds this young will die pretty quick without their families. So I suggested we just return it to the nest it came from. We do have several birdhouses in the yard after all, and it was likely that it was from one of those.

So I checked the locals. One was empty. One had eggs. The last one had babies decidedly older than this little fleshy thing. I looked around for wild bird nests. I looked for circling predators wondering if it had been carried here by a crow or a jay or something. I found no certain signs for a place to return it to.

I took it into the shop and sat with it for a bit.

It was so small. So new. I know from experience that it is a long shot that it will survive even if we take it in. The wound on it's head is threatening it's left eye, and if that doesn't heal, the bird would not be releasable into the wild anyway. I considered quickly snapping it's neck to spare it from suffering.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Oh crap. The guilt I would have... The guilt I would be subjected to from my children if I didn't try...

"OK little bird." I told it. "I'll give it a shot. But you'd better do your thing one way or another pretty fast. If you are going to die, do it tonight. Otherwise you better fight to live."

So I built a makeshift incubator to keep it warm and decided that if it survived the night, we'd look into feeding it.

The children were at once fascinated, and appalled by the featherless, bulging mass of skin and limbs. They both wanted to sleep in the room with it, but we convinced them that it needed quiet and rest. I explained to them flat out that the chances of this bird surviving the night were slim to none, and that they should be ready for it to be dead when we awoke. They tearily said they understood and headed to bed.  After they went to sleep, I pulled out all my old wildlife rehab books and read up on rearing hatchlings. I got a quick picture of it, said a prayer, and went to bed.

To my happy surprise, the little thing was still breathing when I checked on it early Friday morning. It was hungry, so the kids and I headed out to collect feeding supplies. We got some mealworms from a pet shop, and started soaking some dog food.

Now, my kids are about as big on bugs as I am (really - only like dragonflies, don't wanna touch any others) but they pitched right in chopping up mealworms to feed their new ward.

After trying a syringe to feed it, we settled on tweezers. It is too small for a little syringe, as the food would have to be very liquid to fit through the hole in it.  Tweezers allowed us to feed it the moistened dog food, which was all the fluid it needs, and lots of good proteins and nutrients as well.

After spending Friday feeding every 20 minutes until sundown, we once again said a little prayer that it would survive the night, and went to bed.

Saturday morning came early, and once again the little bird had survived the night.
Another day of feeding every 20-30 minutes commenced. I was able to teach both of the kiddos proper feeding techniques for newly hatched birds. The Boyo can do it on his own now, and my little Sweet Pea is rapidly improving! We got into a good routine where the Boyo would chop mealworms, I would feed it the worm bits and mushy dog food, and the Sweet Pea changed the Kleenex in the "nest" to keep things tidy.

During the day, I changed my prognosis of the bird from poor to guarded. I could see how much the kids had already fallen in love with the little thing, and I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. The Wife and the kiddos decided a name would probably be in order, and after tossing around many, many ideas, we finally decided to call it Flap.

We went to bed exhausted again from the care of little Flap, and I said another prayer that it would live.

This morning, Flap was still going strong. It has developed quite a bit in the past few days. Itty bitty feathers are starting to erupt from it's wings, and a little bump on it's butt is starting to develop into a tail, complete with little pin feathers of it's own.

I was initially thinking that we would have to take it up to the Wildlife Rehab center, as it is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to have wild birds. But I'm pretty sure this is a baby House Sparrow, which - although extremely common - is actually a non-native bird in our country, and like the Starling, is not protected under that law. If I had had no training in wildlife rehab, I would have already delivered it.  But since I was trained, and I know what I'm doing, I think we are going to try and raise little Flap. If it's eye doesn't heal, it may not be releasable. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, we'll keep feeding it every 20 minutes or so, and see how things progress in the next few days and weeks.

Ah, the birds and the bees...Shaffer style.


AKH said...

So i know you posted this a long time ago, but i just happened to stumble upon it. SO here's my questions: Did the baby bird survive?

A few years ago when i was a young child a similar scenario happened to me at my grandparents house. However, this time there were three baby birds and sadly, they didn't make it through the first night.

A couple years later, my sister and I found an injured crow on the side of the street. This bid however was either an adult or a juvenile. Our step-dad and us took it in, putting it in a tote box for safety. We feed it on a daily basis worms and chunks of meat. After closer inspection we decided one of its legs and one of its wings were injured. Time went on and the crow healed and we let him go.

Your story intrigued me because it seemed as if the small bird did show some promise by surviving those three nights. Now i am just curious how this story ended.

John said...

AKH - Yep! Flap did survive. He grew his big boy feathers in the fall, and is now quite happy in the large habitat we built for him. Flap is pretty wild, doesn't want to be held or anything like that, but he chirps happily all the time, and seems to be enjoying the warm indoors this winter. His eye and wing are damaged beyond repair, so he is not releasable. But he can do some sustained flying, as he demonstrates once and awhile when he goes exploring around the house when we clean his enclosure. We're going to have a birthday party for him on June 18th! Thanks for asking.