Baby birds are ridiculously vulnerable. They can’t see or feed themselves, for one thing, and their bodies don’t even regulate their own heat. When a chick falls from its nest, then, it’s usually not a pretty sight. Thankfully, after one such incident an expert wildlife conservationist knew exactly what to do.
The event came to people’s attention on February 26, 2014. This was when an Imgur user called DachsUndDachshund posted a beautiful story about a tiny baby bird that the poster’s brother had found while out jogging. So what was the first thing that DachsUndDachshund did when presented with the little fledgling? Go back to the spot where it had been found to see if they could return it to its nest.
“It was actually still attached to part of its shell and some dried membranes. Clearly freshly hatched, we were unable to locate the nest in the group of trees above us,” DachsUndDachshund wrote. So the OP decided to take the baby bird home. But DachsUndDachshund has an advantage over most people who might find themselves in such a situation. After all, the OP works in wildlife conservation and knows how to raise wild birds.
DachsUndDachshund and the poster’s brother assumed that the bird was a female, though they couldn’t tell one way or the other. Nevertheless, they named the bird Dumpling. Once back home, then, the OP immediately put Dumpling in an egg incubator to keep her warm. DachsUndDachshund also ordered an intensive feeding schedule: every half an hour, for 14 hours a day, they would give the little bird insects that they had caught or store-bought formula especially made for chicks.
“She would start squawking to be fed every 30-45 minutes,” the DachsUndDachshund wrote on Imgur. But what was really impressive at this stage in her development, DachsUndDachshund wrote, was that “even with the poor coordination and closed eyes, this chick knew enough to back up to the edge of the nest we made for her and poop over the side, so as to not dirty the nest.”
Later, at just five days old, little Dumpling began to show off some downy plumage. Indeed, the bird really seemed to grow fast. The baby cheeper was even starting to sit more like a bird instead of like a raw dumpling.
But chicks can’t keep themselves warm until they get a proper growth of feathers. So, at this stage baby birds have tube-like sheathes called “pin feathers” that protect the feathers as they grow. You can see them most distinctly here on Dumplings wings, for example. “Once the feather gets to its final size, this sheath disintegrates and the feather is allowed to spread open,” DachsUndDachshund explained.
Then DachsUndDachshund wrote, “Overnight, all of the feather sheaths fell away and – tada! – we have a bird!” The only issue was that the growing Dumpling had a bent toe, which probably came from falling out of the nest. But the OP said nothing could be done for a chick that young, and it wasn’t affecting her balance.
By day eight, Dumpling’s diet had shifted from chick formula and little insects to waxworms and large crickets. But even with her feathers starting to come in, Dumpling was still a mystery to her foster family in terms of her exact species.
Thankfully, though, their little bird had survived to the point that they could now take her out of the incubator. “Since her body was covered in feathers, she was able to regulate her body heat on her own. The tufts of chick fluff and the eternally grumpy expression that baby birds have was hilarious,” DachsUndDachshund wrote.
But don’t let her expression fool you. With a bird cage as her new home, this was probably a happy little Dumpling. And her foster family made sure that her new home had lots of little additions similar to what she’d find if she were still in the wild.
“She was a very sweet little bird, and enjoyed perching on our hands, early on,” DachsUndDachshund wrote. In fact, Dumpling made her first attempt at balancing on a perch at 11 days old. She sat there like a pro despite her bent toe, which didn’t seem to give her any gripping problems at all.
Indeed, it was her perching posture that helped identify Dumpling as a songbird. And now that their crooner was old enough, DachsUndDachshund and family didn’t have to feed her by hand as often and would often leave mealworms and sprouts in her cage to help her practice her scavenging skills. They also gave their songbird freshly cut branches from species of non-toxic trees.
Of course, their songbird needed some singing lessons too. So, DachsUndDachshund wrote that on day 22, “We started placing her cage out on the deck to get her exposed to the wind, the sun and other birds.” The poster added, “This is important for socialization and training. Other birds would come to the feeders and interact with her, and she could watch them and learn their songs.”
With their charge finally showing some adult plumage, Dumpling’s foster family could narrow down her species. Although they weren’t sure if she was a white crowned sparrow or a chipping sparrow, in either case they knew Dumpling would be making a winter migration. Incidentally, white crowned sparrows can stay awake for two weeks during migration, and biologists are looking into whether this natural ability in the birds can potentially help humans with alertness issues.
But before even thinking about taking on the role of mamma bird to a fallen hatchling, DachsUndDachshund stressed that it is truly a job for professionals. As they explained, “This is not meant as a guide, but more to show you the amazing development and growth of songbirds. Wildlife rehabilitation should only be carried out by those licensed to do so!”
Indeed, DachsUndDachshund and other experts stress that if you find a hatchling, the best thing that you can do is try to return it to its nest or take it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center. The idea that parent birds will reject a baby bird if it smells of human touch is a myth, however.
As for their little Dumpling, DachsUndDachshund proudly watched the bird became more and more independent. At nearly a month old, Dumpling was eating solely on her own, refusing any food delivered by hand, and concentrating on a diet of worms, seeds and a new favorite: fresh tree buds. “At this point, she was essentially releasable,” the OP wrote.
But to ensure her safety, Dumpling’s carers wanted to wait. “There were some expected storms rolling in over the next few days, so we decided to keep her for a few days longer to give her the best chance,” DachsUndDachshund wrote. Dumpling’s loving family eventually said goodbye to her on day 36, after the storms.
“We drove to a nearby nature preserve about a mile from where she was initially found and where we knew there to be others of her kind,” DachsUndDachshund said. Within seconds, Dumpling flitted out of her cage and vanished into the trees. She was lucky to have found two people who knew exactly how to raise a wild little bird.