Sunday, June 20, 2010
April 21, 2010: The phone rings. A man with a rough, gravelly voice tells me he's got a baby mourning dove that fell out of a nest in his yard. Right away he gets points for knowing what it is; 99% of the people who call me have a "baby bird" without a clue what it is. "I think it's a robin. Or a finch." One guy called me and said he had this weird bird that he thought was probably a pheasant. I walked him through a bunch of questions about size, color, and bill shape and deduced that he'd found a car-hit whip-poor-will. And whip-poor-will it was.
Anyway, we went through the drill of establishing whether we had a prayer of returning it to its nest. Modos build crappy little twig platforms that probably shouldn't be called nests. They're more like launching pads for premature babies. No, the nest was 16' up in a white pine at the end of a branch. And he had 7 barn cats hunting his yard. :-/ We talked about that. Getting a little lecture is part of the price of taking a baby bird off someone's hands. "Barn cat" is the catch-all phrase people use for free-roaming cats. It subtly sanctions the situation; it implies that the cats have a job, keeping a barn free of rodents. But they also breed like locusts, pass along disease, keep the surrounding area free of fledgling birds, and create many more problems than they address. If you could just train a cat to kill only house mice, instead of every native wildlife species it can grab...sigh. In researching rabies for the Zickbat posts, I learned that feral cats are a rapidly growing reservoir for this deadly virus, which casts those often government-subsidized feral cat colonies in an interesting light, doesn't it? Uh oh. Here I go on feral cats again. Must...move...away...from...green...kryptonite, unhhh.....
So I looked at my calendar and decided I had a month and a half to give to a baby dove and drove into town to pick it up. I took a syringe of parrot baby formula with me and fed it right there on Don's knee as he sat at his desk behind the cafeteria at our community college. The dove looked pleasantly surprised to have its empty crop suddenly filled with warm formula, and Don was enormously pleased to have this little bird finally full of food and in expert hands. I was happy to have met Don--he is well-versed in wild things, a farm boy like my dad was.
The dove, which looked to be about 13 days old and about a week from being able to leave the nest, looked little and lost in the covered tank that would be her interim home, so I made her (we couldn't tell its sex, so randomly assigned one) a nest of grasses and put a chipmunk in for warmth and snuggling.
Awww. Doves are very tactile creatures and appreciate being sat upon.
It wasn't long before Olivia (as Phoebe named her) was sitting upon the chipmunk, and crapping on him, too.
It also wasn't long before Liam and Phoebe fell in love with Libby Lou. (Olivia seemed a little formal for such a nuzzly little thing.)
By April 25, Libby was starting to show interest in small peckable things.
She picked up seeds, which we kept strewn everywhere she was, tested them with her bill, and then flung them. I didn't see her actually eat one until April 28, and captured the moment with my camera. Having syringe fed her every two hours, dawn to dusk, for a week, I was very happy to see something else go down that gullet. In this photo, she's about 20 days old. As soon as I saw her swallow a seed, I started drawing back on feedings, but she would be dependent on the syringe for quite awhile longer--until May 10, in fact, when she turned 32 days old.
There was the problem of what to do with her when we all took off for the New River Birding and Nature Festival the next day: April 29. That's the thing about raising birds. You can't exactly leave a note for the neighbor telling her how to syringe-feed your baby dove every two hours. You can't pay somebody enough to do that. So Libby Lou attended her first birding festival.
I never could have taken Libby on without my crack bird-raising assistant, Phoebe. She had been learning how to syringe-feed Libby and was getting really good at it; in fact she even got Libby to gape for her, which makes feeding much easier. So Phoebe took Libby along with her wherever she went while I was occupied all day leading field trips.
It was a little inconvenient, but Phoebe never complained. She loves Libby Lou. So did Little Orange Guy and Little Orange Librarian.
Meeting Sara and Kelly was the bomb. We got along like a fisherman's shanty afire. We got along like cod tongues and potatoes, like strong tea and Carnation evaporated milk.** Like partridgeberry squares and...oh well, you know what I mean. Just met 'em, already miss 'em.
Libby quickly transformed from a bit of an ugly doveling
to a four-ounce beauty. She still had a ways to go, but she was surely one lucky dove.
**obscure Newfoundland references for LOG and Kelly