Friday, June 14, 2013

FREEGRACE FRIDAYS! Mad Myrtle and the Fledglings


There are babies popping up all over Freegrace.  We've got the ducklings in the brooding room.  We've got tadpoles by the thousand in the pond.  And we've got Mad Myrtle.

Mad Myrtle strikes a pose.


I met Mad Myrtle over a week ago while tending to the vegetable garden, pulling out weeds and lopping off stalks of tall grass.  Pleased with my tidy plot, I walked away to investigate the hops garden.

Myrtle, in repose.


Ray noticed Ruthie barking and growling at my garden "chair."  When he pulled her away, he discovered a nest full of fluffy, hungry chicks.  I hadn't realized that in cleaning up my vegetable garden, I managed to uncover a chickadee nest built into the wood stump I use as a stool.  Ma and Pa chickadee had used the tall grasses surrounding the stump as a protective shield from the outside world.


Hungry Myrtle.

We hid just out of nest range and kept watch to insure that Ma and Pa were still returning to care for their babies.  From what we observed, every few minutes someone came to check on the chicks.  Phew.  So I erected a little chicken wire fence around the stump and tucked a bit of foliage into the wire to provide some camouflage.  We kept watching and it appeared that all was well, if not a little remodeled, in chickadee world.

Supermodel Myrtle.


For the next few days, I kept up my chickadee vigil.  I noticed that the chicks were decreasing in number, little lifeless bodies tucked in among fewer and fewer living chicks.  The surviving chicks were lethargic and silent.  Not a good sign.  I noticed that there were no more visits.  I was worried that all could be lost.

Transporting the three remaining babies for some RandR.


I know a few things about wild birds:

(1)  Babies are always better off with their mamas.

Snooty Myrtle.

(2)  While it may appear that mama has abandoned her babies, that's usually not the case.

(3)  Touching a baby bird will not put a mother bird off of caring for her young.  We're not that stinky.  That Old Wive's Tale is a great disservice to both winged and biped kind.  If you see a baby on the ground and a nest up high, indicating that the little stinker took a fall, you can and should put the bird back into the nest.

Mad Myrtle.

(4)  When chicks fledge, i.e. first leave the nest, they hop around the ground like drunken sorority pledges.  It doesn't look good. They clearly can't fly.  Quite frankly, it's alarming.  But this is normal.  The parents are out there watching and taking care.  The fledgling will find a safe spot to rest and ma and pa will feed them and protect them until they can feed themselves.

(5)  If all bets are off and you're quite sure that the babies have been abandoned, call a wild bird rehab facility.  They exist in every state.  It's illegal in some states to take in wild birds

Grumpy Myrtle.

(6)  I'm a crazy bird lady.  I raised a nest of naked baby Starlings with my mother when I was 12.  They all survived into adulthood.  Present day, facing a nest that had seen 7 chickadees dwindle to three, I considered that it had become unseasonably cold and it was raining.  I knew that if I left the three in the tree stump nest, alone, that none would survive the night.

Fledglings #1 and #2, ready to take on the world.

I took the babies in and fed them (mashed up soft dog food, some organic apple baby food and a ground paste of nuts and seeds that I blitzed together with a bit of water).
Reflective Myrtle.

I kept them warm and after a day and 1/2, they were zippy and sprightly.  I took their little box outside, near the original nest.  Two of the chickadees began calling to their parents in earnest.  So I placed them in the nest enclosure and backed off.  Lo and behold, a chickadee swooped down into the area in response to the calls.  HURRAY!
From her perch, Myrtle checks out the ducklings.

The ducklings keep watch over Myrtle.

 I got a pair of binoculars and noticed that two of the babies had fluttered onto branches by the stump. Moments later, they bumbled across a small bit of field, into the safety of high brush.  They called from their new perches and they were answered by a parental visit.  When a nest is disturbed, chicks tend to fledge early.  Two of the chicks had feathered more fully than the third.  They were bigger and seemed more independent.  They were the ones now nestled in the brush.
#1, tucked away in the brush.

#2, enjoying a spot of dappled sunshine.

I didn't notice the third.  I returned to the nest area and didn't see anything.  I assumed that the third had found cover as well.  But as the sun set, I worried.  I checked again, gingerly lifting up leaves and foliage at the nest site.  And there she was.  The tiniest of the chicks, hiding in the grass under an enormous maple leaf.  Shivering and alone.

Her name is Myrtle.  Mad Myrtle. Once you see her, it's clear that she's made for the name.


 I feed her every 20-30 minutes during daylight hours.  She's now able to sit on a branch without falling over.  She practices her flight skills, skittering across the brooding room to find me for a soft landing.  She just started to clean her beak after feedings, something I've had to do up until yesterday.  We're still working on her learning to feed herself.  Until then, she's my charge.  Once she can nosh on her own, I'll give her a "soft release."  I'll put her cage outside and open it up.  I'll keep the cage outside, so she'll have ready access to food and shelter during her transition.  And hard as it will be, I have to stay away from her because she's likely imprinted on me and to survive, she needs to imprint on her fellow chickadees.  I can't say the same for me.  I'll be forever smitten with Mad Myrtle.