A surprise house guest

Rick and our helper Seth spent much of last Saturday cleaning out the Sheep Barn. While the lambs are still in the barn, we can’t really do a reasonable job of cleaning it out since the lambs have nowhere to go while the tractor shovels out the bedding. As a result, we usually don’t clean out the bedding until after the lambs have gone out onto pasture. Until then, we simply keep spreading clean bedding, slowly but surely building ourselves closer and closer to the roof trusses as bale after bale of straw is spread to keep things relatively clean.

This technique works pretty well since we keep the barn pretty open as soon as spring arrives. With a big garage door on both the north and south ends of the barn, we can open things up and provide for good ventilation while still protecting the youngest lambs from our nasty spring weather. This reduces the ammonia that can build up and make for poor air quality, plus it begins to harden off the lambs, introducing them to the cold nights that they will soon encounter when they are released into our pastures for the growing season.

The problem then is that once the lambs are out in our fields, we are left with a deep layer of soggy and decomposing bedding – this year, nearly eighteen inches deep! Thankfully, Rick can maneuver the tractor with its front end loader to push the bulk of the soiled straw out the big north door and into the manure pile behind. Eventually local farmers will arrive to use this pile to fertilize their fields – good for us, as we get rid of tons of manure, and good for the farmers, who get inexpensive weed-free fertilizer for their fields!

While Rick and Seth worked mid-day on Saturday, they suddenly heard something drop onto the concrete floor. It wasn’t a loud sound, but with only the two of them in the barn, it was a sound that they knew they didn’t make – so they went to investigate. There, at the south garage door of the barn, lay a small featherless bird, obviously having fallen out of its nest. Knowing that it had fallen at least twenty feet or so, they left it there, assuming that it was dead or dying.

By the time I came out an hour or so later, the tiny bird was still alive, and after looking for its nest for a bit, I realized that even if I found the correct nest – which would be a challenge since there are so many of them inside our barn – I had no idea how to get the bird back in! Most of the nests have openings only big enough that the parents can come to bring food for their newly hatched young. There was no way I would be able to get it back in – wherever it might belong!

Instead, I brought the bird into the house and set it up in a bowl lined with wool and paper towels (I eventually removed the wool, since it kept getting caught up in the fibers). It soon became obvious how this bird ended up outside of its nest, since it kept climbing up and falling out of the bowl in which it now lived. I would actually have to look over the majority of the kitchen counter to try to find where it had gone!

I mixed up some emergency bird food from a hard-boiled egg yolk, a bit of peanut butter, and some water, and offered the bird some of that, which it hungrily ate. As I looked over our tiny house guest, I didn’t see any serious injuries, so I set the bowl onto a heating pad to keep it warm and looked up more information on-line to keep our new guest comfortable.

From what I could determine, our friend is a sparrow chick, likely only about seven days old when we found it on Saturday. Since the chick was still alive on Sunday morning, I contacted some friends of ours with young sons to see whether they might be interested in “chick-sitting” for us while we took my mom out to brunch and a movie for Mother’s Day. We had made the plans with Mom weeks before, and I couldn’t figure out how to work a chick into the schedule for the day – particularly since it was eating every 45-90 minutes from dawn to dusk. They happily took on the baby chick and we went on with our plans.

Herkie in the bowl on Monday of this week at about nine days of age

On the way home from our day with my mom, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few jars of baby food, as suggested by an on-line article. The article mentioned using chicken baby food for protein and various fruits and vegetables for variety, so that’s what we got. The family watching the chick dropped him off once we returned home on Sunday afternoon – complete with a new name, “Herkie!”

Herkie has been happily gobbling down his chicken with applesauce and blueberries ever since. I had called a local wildlife rehabilitator in hopes that she would take him in, but she has not been returning my calls. I want a good, long life for him (or her), but honestly have enough on my plate that feeding a bird every hour or so doesn’t fit into my life very well. On the other hand, I don’t really have any other options right now, so Herkie is still here, calling to me for feeding every hour or so through the daylight hours. In spite of my insistence that this bird not stay, I am beginning to become attached, so who knows how this will turn out!

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  • Elaine Chicago says:

    Herkie will be riding around on your shoulder before you know it, then nestling under your hair. You now have a hand-tamed, hand-fed birdie!!

    • Dee says:

      Oh, definitely! Bit I’m still rather hoping that Herkie finds another home, since with three dogs insoors and five cats outdoors, I’m afraid Herkie’s long-term prospects look rather bleak. The problem, as always, is that the longer Herkie remains here, the less work for the next person, but also the more attached I get…

  • Elaine Chicago says:

    Perhaps someone with no pets would want to adopt Herkie!! But he will become so attached to you that giving him up is next to impossible.

    • Dee says:

      That is my hope, but I’m not having much luck finding such a person. I’m still looking, though! Would you like a pet bird?

      • Elaine Chicago says:

        I have an 8 year old Cockatiel. The last Cockatiel I had was 17 when he left us. Birdies just have a way to get into your heart. Maybe when he’s older if you take him into the next county he won’t try to find his way back and will live among his friends.

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