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May 16, 2010

Every shift I do mostly the same thing, but there are little variations. As I mentioned in a previous blog, lately, I’ve been working with songbirds at the wildlife center, instead of the raptors. Oh what a nice change!

The songbirds are either brought in injured or orphaned. If they are babies they are cared for in one room before being moved into the second of the two songbird rooms we have in our main building. If they are injured but not babies, they also go into the second room, which is where I work.These birds are kept in cages inside until they are old enough or healthy enough to go to our outside flight cages, then later released.

The amount and kinds of birds I take care of varies – some are moved in and others are moved out. At the moment.. on one shelf, 3 cages. First one has 3 sparrows, second one has 4 house finches, and the one on the bottom contains 2 finches and what appears to be a sparrow. I could be wrong, it could be a finch, but it certainly looks and sounds like the other sparrow. Maybe someone was in a hurry and put the sparrow in with some finches by mistake. They are very close in size, though, so no worries.

The next shelf has one cage with 3 mockingbirds, another with 4 starlings, and one starling in a cage by itself. It acts kind of nuts. Runs around the cage making a ruckus, won’t take food, just very odd compared to the other starlings. I am guessing that is why it is in a cage alone.

On the floor are other little enclosures. Three are big plastic tubs that have towels lining the bottom and these contain ducklings. 2 of the tubs house multiple ducklings, mallards, as far as I can tell, and a third tub just has one duckling, but it is bigger. I don’t know what kind it is. This may sound surprising, but we are almost never taught anything about the birds except for how to care for them. If I don’t know what kind of bird I am caring for is, I have to ask, I don’t get told.

I asked a lady who has been working there for years about this larger duckling, and she could not tell either. By the way, it isn’t a goose, I’m pretty sure of that.

Ducklings are cute in general, and this one is even cuter than most. He (I am guessing at the gender) seemed so happy in the tub by himself. He walked around for a little while, checking out his surroundings, duck into his food and inspected his water bottle. We have water bottles that are upturned and leak out into a shallow bowl – this is only for ducks because of how their bills are shaped. This duckling just made happy little noises to itself, seeming so content.

We are not supposed to pet the wild animals in our care, but I couldn’t resist, just pet it for a few seconds though.

Besides the duckling tubs, on the floor there is also a large playpen where we  have 5 juvenile scrub jays (we call them blue jays out here, but they are really called scrub jays) and a magpie. Jays and magpies are both corvids, so can be put together and get along. I don’t know if all corvids can be  housed together, though. In the outdoor corvid cages, I’ve seen magpies and crows together, but I don’t remember seeing jays in there with them. Jays are quite a bit smaller than crows. And ravens.. well, we almost never get ravens brought in, but they are housed with crows, but I’m not sure with magpies. It’s about size. Kind of like how certain hawks or owls are too big or small to be housed with other hawks or owls.

I fed the birds thick liquids through syringes today – right into their mouths. We have been using what looks like dog kibble for the birds, but it’s harder to feed them the kibble – which we hold with a tweezers, and which falls apart – the birds have trouble eating it sometimes, and don’t take to it much, so today it was mostly just Exact – a nutrition formula, or pureed kibble.

Ducks get different kinds of food then songbirds of course – they get a special food in a large plate, together with some bits of lettuce and other greens.

The corvids get kibble, Exact, and today I fed them sweet-potato baby food (that’s what it smelled like, anyway) and chopped up mouse parts. It is NO fun cutting up a dead mouse into little tiny pieces – very gross and smelly.

One of our fridges in our kitchen at the center is full of veggies, but the other is full of dead mice and ducklings. The ducklings are not wild, but domestic ducks – the kind raised for meat on duck farms. They are killed in a rather inhumane way by the duck farmer before they are brought to us. It is surreal and sad to be working hard taking care of ducklings in one room, and a few feet away in another room there are all these dead ducklings in a fridge.

The ducklings are fed mostly to raccoons and probably coyotes and foxes as well. The mice are also killed before being brought to the center, I am told they come from a college somewhere, but are not experimented on in a chemical manner that would harm our birds. Dead mice are fed to the raptors, and some of the corvids. I tend to give our resident non-releasable, tame crow a mouse, and our non-releasable raven 2 mice. He scares me a little though. He’s never attacked me, and has even let me pet him a few times, but he’s pretty big, and ravens are going for people’s eyes. I’ve only heard of him attacking people once or twice though, a long time ago, and last week he let me pet him.. but still. I’m careful when I pet him, because he bites. Doesn’t hurt too much, but a nip from a raven ain’t fun either. I had lots to do today so didn’t socialize with the raven much, just gave him his mice. I then went back in to do another feeding of the little birds.

These birds are very loud and demanding, but a joy too. I like when I reach my hand in a cage to feed them, and one will perch on my hand or arm for a few seconds – pretty cool. In order to feed the corvids in the playpen, I have to remove the mesh cover somewhat so I can reach down in there. One intrepid jay climbed/flew out, but was rather surprised at being out, and on the mesh on top of the cage. He paused for a few seconds, and I was able to grab him.

I hadn’t handled songbirds much at all, and so was worried about holding them in such a way that they would not escape my grasp, or be hurt by me. It’s been mostly easy lately. I’ve had to hold several, and haven’t hurt any or let any go. We have a net, though, just in case. Birds do get loose in these rooms and we have to capture them then grab them out of the net. Also, in the doorway of the room I’m in there is a transparent mesh that covers all of the doorway, so the birds don’t fly into the rest of the building. Sure is better to have a loose blue jay in the room then being in a small room with a loose hawk!

Yeah, these little birds are really fun!

One other cool thing, something I had not seen before. Although I have worked with many owls, hawks, and other creatures at the center, some of these kinds of animals I’ve only seen rarely in the wild, and some I’ve never seen, just heard from other people about them. Tonight, I heard a barn owl.  This at first did not seem that remarkable, considering we have two non-releasable barn owls in residence, and a wild barn owl awaiting release. I thought I was hearing one of them, but eventually noticed the sound was coming from a different direction.

Barn owls make truly scary sounds! They do not hoot, they screaaaam!! Like a banshee out of Irish legend – probably even worse! A terrifying noise.

It was dusk, and I finally located the direction where I heard the sound. In back of our center is an orchard, and the orchard is on a ridge 20 or 30 feet up from the level where the center is located. The ridge is steep, but possible to walk up if one is careful, I suppose. We don’t own the land, and there is a fence in between the back grounds of the center and the ridge and orchard.

It was along this ridge where the noise was coming from. I finally got to see a wild barn owl hunting! I only saw it for a few seconds, but it was beautiful. There’s something about animals that is bigger than us. Some kind of glory. The domestic animals don’t have this quality, because they’ve been domesticated. It’s hard to feel awe seeing a chicken or pig or cow, but to see any wild animal or even one that is tame that is usually wild, it’s amazing in a way I can’t describe.

Before leaving for work at the center today, I was at a fast food drive-thru, and there were two hummingbirds frequenting the flowers among the landscaping. I told my mom, who was driving, that for me this was a religious experience. I hate the word “religion” but you know what I mean by the phrase, “religious experience.” – Something special and profound and sublime and words don’t express it all.

That’s how it was seeing the hummingbirds, and the hunting barn owl. And last week, I saw an owl flying over a field – not sure what kind –  seemed to be bigger than a barn owl, but didn’t seem to be a Great Horned Owl, so I don’t know. Beautiful though.

Even those little birds I see in parking lots – usually sparrows, and the great many wild birds that live in the trees near the center that come down to eat at the bird feeders and the food we put on the ground – the sparrows, humingbirds, finches, doves, and even a Western Tanninger, which I’d never seen before. All these birds are beautiful.

Yes, it was a lovely evening with the birdies.

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