Raising a nestling sparrow

I’ve written in the past weeks about the bald little baby sparrow that Rick and Seth found lying on the concrete floor of our barn the day before Mother’s Day. Knowing nothing about baby bird care – particularly bald little baby birds – we took it in, looked up on the Internet how to care for this tiny creature, and tried to do what we could to keep it alive. Now, nearly four weeks later, I am surprised to report that the little bird – originally named Herkie – is still alive and thriving. As the feathers came in, it become more and more obvious that this was a female sparrow, so her name slowly shifted to Margie.

I will admit that I had little hope in the beginning of keeping this little creature alive, but it has gone surprisingly well overall. As time passed, we figured things out as we went along. Once she began to look like an adult bird, I started a checklist of things Margie would need to know for eventual release. At first my list was pretty short; it included only learning to drink water and eat seeds on her own. In a relatively short time, though, she had begun to drink from the shallow pan of water I always included in her cage, and she began to eat first the seeds I offered, and then was soon picking them up out of a small dish for herself.

As each milestone was reached, others were added. She needed to learn that cats and dogs were scary and how to bathe herself. I hoped she would figure out temperature regulation, puffing up when it was cold and smoothing her feathers down when too warm. Margie had learned to fly in her little cage, but I needed confidence that she could soar from tree to tree to get away from predators. Every day that passed brought new milestones achieved and others to add to my growing list. My son asked me on the phone last week how long this was going to continue – was I going to be a “bird mama” forever? I really had no answer for him. I hadn’t rescued this bird only to see it perish as food for our cats. My ultimate goal was release, but I wasn’t sure we would ever achieve all that was needed.

Most of the lessons were relatively easy, but others were not. Margie learned the hard way that cats are not to be trusted one day last week when I placed her cage out in the yard for some fresh air. On that day, our barn cat Allegro must have figured out that this new lawn ornament housed a tasty meal. As I was working in the barn, I suddenly heard the cries of a panicked sparrow and came out running out to find Allegro climbing the side of the cage and Margie fluttering around within. Margie must have seen the cat and thought it was feeding time, coming close to the sides of the cage for her food. Although Allegro couldn’t get in or pull Margie out through the very small openings, he could easily grab Margie’s head – which he did. When I came to the rescue, my poor little bird had drops of blood on either side of her head where Allegro’s claws had gotten her. After that, I could check off the entry on my list that read, “Understand that cats and dogs are dangerous!”

By this morning, my entire release list had been checked off. After my morning chores, I loaded Margie up in her cage and took the entire assembly out to our Timber where we have a nice population of wild birds. I set the cage out in the grass and Margie seemed to know that this was it; she immediately started trying to escape through any unfamiliar opening that she could find. I was still worried that she wouldn’t make it on her own, but I said my good-byes, knowing that freedom comes with risks. It had been nearly four weeks since this little bird came into my life, and we had come a long way, always with a goal of eventual freedom. As a nice breeze rose from the northwest, I lifted the lid of the cage, and Margie took flight. Although I had set the cage under a grouping of mature trees, she headed to a group of trees some forty or so feet to the south, making her own choice for a landing spot. Although I went looking there to see whether I could find her, I found only a group of wild sparrows that took to the air as I ventured near. Was my Margie one of that group? I don’t know, but I like to think so. I saw no sign of her there when I reached the trees, so I have to think that she is now once again free and having fun with her newfound friends. And I am no longer tied to frequent bird feedings – I, too, am now free to return to my usual activities. Yet, I will likely always look at our sparrows a bit differently, wondering at each female whether this one might be the one we saved.


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  • Elaine Chicago says:

    What a good save! In a way I’m surprised she actually left you considering you were her mum but I guess the wildness in her took over.

    • Dee says:

      I think the fact that she dropped into our lives during our busiest time if year had much to do with that. I didn’t handle her much at all – just fed and cleaned first her nest, and then the cage. It became pretty obvious last week that she was not imprinted on me – and that played a major role in my confidence that she could return to freedom in the wild.

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