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Ovenbird in My House

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meet Piglet.

I got a phone call from my dear friend Leslie, who comments as NatureMama, and blogs here. We go way back--Leslie came here as a biology student at Marietta College on a field trip, and in a way she never left. I saw how she dug the place, and took her aside after the field trip and said, "Any time you just need some woods and fields and quiet, come out here. You don't have to call first, just come out." And she did. We discovered things. She found a brown thrasher nest in our forsythia bush, one I'd walked by for two weeks! Once a bobcat leapt in front of her car as she drove home after a late babysitting gig. In our driveway! Phoebe was a babe then, and Liam wasn't even started when we met, and after he arrived, Leslie used to come out once a week and give me a day of Self while she doted on the kids. It was needed. Moms need Self every now and then. Right, Les? She always says she feels like she's coming home when she walks in the door. It feels like that to me, too.

Anyway, Leslie had gotten a call, being a person who knows what to do, from her friend who runs We Love Pets in Marietta, a nice kind of pet store that sells sustainable pets, and doesn't have nasty puppy-mill puppy displays and stocks Royal Canin Mini Special 27, Chet's particular brand of fancy chowchow, which gives him such a radiant coat and bright eyes. An ovenbird had flown in the store and injured itself trying to get back out. This is a little weird, since We Love Pets is in the middle of a shopping center, but migration is weird for birds and they get turned around and cornfused sometimes. Leslie and the manager caught the ovenbird and Les was concerned because one of its wings was hanging very low. Although it could fly well, the bird couldn't seem to gain much altitude either. Double uh-oh. So she called the Science Chimp, and got in the car to bring the bird (and her three little ones, sleeping in the car) to Zick's Bird Hostel.

I set up a cage and put it on the stone fireplace in the living room, and surrounded it with potted plants so the bird would feel sheltered and protected. I put a dish of water in there, and another with 25 mealworms in it and they were all gone within two hours. I called the ovenbird Piglet, and the name stuck. The next day she ate 70 mealworms and some pillbugs and earthworms too. Yikes. Piglet indeed. My little mealworm farm sure comes in handy!

I knew Piglet had to be tired, because she'd been in the store for awhile panicking, and was probably nearing the end of her spring migration, having flown from Central America. So I figured that was most of her problem, and lots of food, quiet and a smallish cage could fix that. I also thought she might have hit a window or otherwise hurt herself, so I decided to keep an eye on that low-hanging wing. When it returned to a normal position, I'd release her. I'm not the most sophisticated of bird rehabilitators, but my hunches tend to be good.

Piglet was in constant motion whenever I was watching her, but she'd strike a pose to eyeball me, so all my unblurred photos of her look just the same.And then there's this pose:
Sorry about that, but I didn't want to use flash to freeze the motion of this shy forest creature--she was stressed enough. I was standing 15' away using a 300 mm. telephoto in my living room! Feed 'em and leave 'em alone, that's the credo.

By the end of three days, Piglet's low-hanging wing was in a normal position, and she was bright and eager and crazy, and I knew it was time to release her. The weather had warmed up at long last, nights were in the 50's instead of the 30's, and it was time. Even if she needed some additional time to heal, she could make a perfectly good living in our woods eating the things ovenbirds are supposed to eat, not a diet of straight mealworms! The kids said good-bye to her before they left for school, and I took her cage out on the back deck and opened the door.

She darted out, climbed 25 feet in the air at a 45 degree angle, zigged left, zagged right, and swooped down into the woods by the Spring Trail. There, she landed on a small log and walked its length, switching her tail and chipping. That swift climb into the blue sky, the swift zigs and zags, did my heart a world of good. Piglet was going to make it.

I hope she stays here with our ovenbirds (I can hear one singing as I write), but now she's free to fly wherever she wants, and she has the wings to go.


Piglet! Maybe she should be called Lucky since she had the pleasure of being cared for by you and Leslie.


Such a nice story. Good luck, Piglet!

Is there a such things as over-feeding a wild bird? Or should we let it eat as much as possible? Just in case I came across the same situation...

Aw, sweet Piglet! That bird is lucky to have been near you. I volunteer at a bird rescue & rehab, and we see so many sad cases. It's great that you knew just what to do to help the bird and send it on its way.

What a wonderful story! May Piglet live long and prosper!

My immediate reaction on seeing Piglet's portrait--what a cute little bird. Even made my husband turn around to look at it!

A sweet little jewel, brought temporarily to earth. It was an honor to have her clean out my mealworm bin.

PSYL, she slowed down after that initial ga-aaaw-lee! moment when she thought she could have as many worms as she wanted. Most wild birds won't overeat, but at some point you have to say, "You've had enough!" for many of them. Hence her name. I have to think staying in my LR was a pleasant contrast to flying from Central America in cold, rainy weather. A little ovenbird spa.

I tried to farm mealy worms last year but wasn't successful. I got to the first adults but then I couldn't figure out what was babies and what was trash. I wanted to entice bluebirds to hang out here (near Austin, Tx) and then breed but I ended up feeding my own piglet - an Eastern Phoebe who got quite indignant when they out. I think he as eating 2+ packs of worms a month.

Could you tell me how you raise your worms?



I love a happy ending. Thanks, Julie!

That's one perky-lookin' fisheye-givin' little bird.
(I have a special fondness for Ovenbirds and their chicken-y way of walking.)

Lucky Piglet -- it's a rare treat to get a spa stay Chez Zick!

What a lovely little thing. Why do ovenbirds have such big eyes, Julie? Dim light on the forest floor?

I've seen several dead warblers on the sidewalks at my local strip mall. Migrators + bright lights, on all night + big plate glass windows = Bad News. Glad Piglet escaped this fate!

Sounds like you might have thrown out the babies with the bathwater, Marilyn. It takes almost a year to get decent production. Large flattish open container like a plastic shoebox, old fashioned rolled oats as substrate (regularly added to); carrots for moisture (they don't get moldy), also regularly added; and don't clean it or throw away any of the fine dusty frass, because that's where the eggs are and eventually the microscopic tiny worms. Also, don't refrigerate as that sends them into dormancy.
To collect worms for feeding, put carrots on top of substrate and the worms cluster around them.

Wendi, they have big eyes, the better to charm us.

I always love a story with a happy ending! Best of luck to little Piglet!

I am SO happy to know Piglet did well and that she wasn't sent back out into the rush of small town life in Marietta to see if she made it past the cars and cats to where she needed to be. It will be so much better hanging at your place. And yes, I AM coming home when I escape to Indigo Hill. It was, after all, where I proverbially grew up. And what better place for an internship for LIFE! Your influence was widespread, from birding to cooking, wildlife rehab to parenting, art/writing to gardening, and living large to loving big. That's why you should feel like the proud parent. And that's why there is always that yearning for coming home.

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