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Bluebirds, Learning to Forage

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I've been caring for three orphaned female bluebirds since Sunday, July 7. They were taken in on Day 12 of their short lives by a kind couple, who dedicated a bathroom in their home to the babies' growth and development. I erected the soft nylon Bat Tent in our garage and installed them immediately, and they clearly appreciated the extra room for flight. I appreciated the fact that the tent has a seamless integral floor, which would keep these crafty babies where they belong. They came to me on Day 25, and I made this video on Day 31. From earlier experience with young bluebirds, I found them starting to pick up their own live food at Day 28. According to Mil and Fran, their first foster parents, one of the trio was picking up mealworms even before Day 25.

I'm delighted to be able to present a video, made on my iPhone, of these fledgling bluebirds figuring out how to feed themselves. Well, sort of. One has the idea, and the other two are riding on her coattails.

Day 28. They are wonderfully healthy, active, bright-eyed babies. Staple diet: Purina kitten chow, ground, watered down to a slurry and fed from an EZ Feeder syringe, supplemented with chopped fresh fruit and mealworms.

Note in the video how even the more experienced bird still displays the behavior of gaping at a desirable food item (a crawling mealworm), as if it might magically leap into her mouth. I can't suppress my amusement (well, I rarely suppress amusement, as I think about it) when one of the slow learners snatches the mealworm from her. I find it interesting how a mealworm crawling doesn't quite constitute food, but a mealworm held in tweezers or another bird's bill instantly releases the gotta-have-it grab.

They're getting there. I'm writing this on Day 32, and all three are now capable of picking up their own mealworms. They still want squirts of nestling food from their beloved syringe, but I was able to leave them for three hours on Day 31! Came home to an empty mealworm bowl and only moderately hungry birdlets. After feeding them every hour for a week, dawn to dusk, that was niiiiice. I can taste freedom! and I trust they'll be feeding themselves entirely by the weekend of July 19, when I'm teaching a writing/sketching/creativity workshop at the Highlands Sanctuary, part of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve in south-central Ohio. 

I always forget how much work it is to raise birds. But I never forget how lovely it is to see them grow and thrive.


Just a suggestion....

Ah ha ha! I can't turn my point and shoot sideways when making a video. You'd think I'd have figured this out...but I didn't. More vertical vids on the way. But then there will be horizontal ones. Thanks, JP!

That's so interesting to see, Julie. I guess it had never crossed my mind that the babies don't understand how to pick up food that's right in front of them. Thanks for sharing this great video with us!

Hysterical! The gaping. That middle one looks mad as hell that she has to suffer the indignities of not being fed on her own terms.

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They are so cute! I rarely get to see bluebirds so am loving this.

Oh my lord, the confused expressions on their faces. "I don't get it, there was a worm on the ground, and now it's in your mouth. Magic!?!" So funny.
We still have babies at the wildlife rescue center where I volunteer, but I don't think any of ours are as cute as these pert little bluebirds! Except maybe the crow...

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