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Florence Nightingale, Meet Elmer Fudd: Still Helping Goldfinches

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Well, folks, I'm still at it, doctoring, feeding, and cleaning up after --would you believe it--a total of 17 American goldfinches, installed in five different cages around my house. Capacity is at an all-time high as of this writing on March 26, and I'm actually blogging about it now so I don't forget in the excitement of the coming week, when I get to release a bunch of them at long, long last! My "morning practice" of heading out to see the sun rise has, since February 20 when I caught my first sick goldfinch, been replaced by janitorial duties. That's OK. I just postpone the hike with Curtis until they've been fed, medicated and watered. 

Since I wrote "Caught in the Whirlpool," admissions have slowed but not entirely halted. In the last three days, I've caught two more, and I have my eye on a little female who can still see well enough to evade me.

The huge flock of goldfinches--60  or more--that deposited these waifs at my doorstep is long gone. The tube feeders that attracted them are, too, likely never to be used again. I really want out of this loop, but I'm much more sanguine about it now that I have some releases coming up and recruitment of patients has slowed to a trickle. This is a typical scenario for me in the past month or so...

I make a delicious lunch of cranberry pecan chicken salad over tower-grown lettuce and head down to the new patio with a happy sigh to consume it in the spring sunshine. Self-care, yep! I'm doing it today!

And while I am sitting there, before I even get to take the first bite, the unbelievable occurs again...
a blinded goldfinch flutters down to the patio. This is the second time this has happened. 
How is a bird rehabber to get anything to eat? 

I put my salad on the terrace wall and advance.

 Can I document the hand-capture of a wild American goldfinch two times in a row?  It really helps when they're finally and totally blind. But I have to say, I am mystified and enchanted by the fact that two blinded birds--both females-- have raised the white flag and come to me when I least expected it. 

I got the bulk of my patients by creeping up on the tube feeders and snatching them off their perches. It was pretty easy to block their dim view of me using the feeder posts. After I took the tube feeders down, having made the connection between the feeder ports and disease transmission,  I had to get craftier.

I took to using my koi net, which has a long, telescoping handle. This is a really groovy way to catch the birds, since you don't have to get right up on top of them to nab them. I owe this Elmer Fudd video tribute to Shila Wilson, who, unbeknownst to me, was standing in the studio and ready with her iPhone when I grabbed the opportunity to try to catch an extremely elusive bird. Shh. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. I'm hunting Gowdfinches!

Don't know about you, but I find this video unintentionawwy hiwawious. Something about the way there's nothing happening, and then this black net just cweeps in from stage left...and then you have me, so totawwy focused on the's just hiwawious. And perfect that I didn't catch the little blighter after all that trouble.

Another bird who gave me the swip again and again is this one. I kept cweeping up on him with my Fuddnet, and he kept swipping out from under it wike quicksiwver. When I finawwy got him I was ewated! 

I named this bird Mr. Netinyahoo, because he was so hard to catch.


I'm sure Mr. Netinyahoo is a career criminal. Just look at that shifty face. He's plotting even as I grip him in my Gentle Cobra grasp. I'd only had him for a day when I opened his Pet Taxi to re-up his food and water and he flipped right out the door. Straight up to the clerestory windows he went, well above the reach of hand or net. 

That meant only one thing. I would have to bring the dreaded 17' extension ladder into the living room. 

This ladder is very heavy and unwieldy, and getting it in the front door is an adventure in cussing and trying not to not break something (window; Hoosier cabinet, mirror, lamp...) Luckily, once a goldfinch picks a window to flutter against, they tend to stay there.  Unlike hummingbirds, which rapidly switch windows, making you set the ladder up several times before you finally are able to nab them. You can see the tiny dark blip of Mr. Netinyahoo's head in the middle clerestory. Obviously this isn't my first rodeo, catching birds in the clerestory windows. 

I tried a bunch of times to extend the ladder but it kept collapsing. No way was I going to extend that thing only to have it suddenly retract and send me to the floor. So I said a prayer that I'd be able to reach him with the ladder unextended, called Shila to tell her I was about to do something dumb, and climbed up. At least somebody a half hour away by car would know I'd fallen... I caught him handily and started my descent. I couldn't see the underslung last step as I came down and missed it. Tumbled into a straw ottoman which nicely broke my fall. I rolled a bit, holding my precious cargo high in my right hand. He was unharmed, and so was I! But his little eyes were both screwed shut, which I found very touching. He probably thought he was toast when I went down.

And there may be yet a third way to catch a goldfinch. I'm getting cwaftier and cwaftier! I recently installed a New and Improved Secret Studio Feeder, which avid readers and social media followers will remember from 2017, when Jemima visited it for chicken breast, basmati rice, pecans, sugar snap peas, raspberries and the like. I went looking for a nice narrow plexi drawer organizer that I could wire up under my crank-out studio window, installed some plastic cups, and now I have a steady stream of awesome birds right up close to enjoy. My idea was to be able to offer some special foods like Zick dough and sunflower hearts to my beloved regulars without attracting big flocks of house and gold finches who would carry disease.

And wouldn't you know, a little female goldfinch with one squinty eye figured out how to get in there and eat. Bless her little heart! Needless to say, I'll be ready when she's finally robbed of her sight. I'm so touched that she spotted the sunflower hearts and had the courage to come in for food. That's a stretch for a goldfinch. They are sweet birds, but they are not innovators, the way titmice, Carolina wrens, blue jays and even chipping sparrows, to name a few, can be.

I am delighted to report that on March 29, this bird's good eye finally closed and I heard her toenails on the plexi of my new feeding station. Oh my gosh, there she was. BUT the screen was in, and the window was closed. Well, it was worth a try. Stealthily, I removed the screen. Still she sat and ate. Even more stealthily, I cranked the window out. The bottom of the window brushed the top of her head as it oh-so-slowly opened. Still she sat! One pounce of the Gentle Cobra and she was mine--the last of the last of the last sick goldfinches, I pray! I was beyond delighted to finally have her in my mitt.

So the saga continues. I sincerely hope to be able to stop running a goldfinch hospital in the nearish future. As is, with the birds I've got, I'll be caring for birds into the third week of April. Good thing I've done my taxes.

And speaking of taxing, I humbly thank you all for reading, and staying with me on this bizarre journey. Special thanks to those of you who have chosen to support my madness with blog donations. You don't have to! I got this! but you are very kind and I am grateful. I keep doing it because I feel terrible that goldfinches seem to be succumbing to the disease, usually mostly the province of house finches, in such alarming numbers this spring. I don't know why that is, or what has changed--has the bacterium mutated? But it's clear that their resistance to this awful disease is poor. 

I keep doing it because I love goldfinches, and if I have had any part in making them ill, I want to make them whole again.

I keep doing it because there's nothing quite like helping a blind bird see again. The only thing that's better than that is seeing a caged bird fly again. To my dear friend Donna I owe this poem excerpt, which she sent me on hearing my caged goldfinch singing. 

Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight. Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted, And beauty came like the setting sun. My heart was shaken with tears and horror Drifted away ... O but every one Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

Sigfried Sassoon

The best little singer of the bunch really tuned up in the four days before his release. Since his cage was in the foyer, I got to enjoy it all day long from the adjacent studio.

And now, watch that beautiful singer and his female friend go free!


This just makes my heart smile ❤️


Thank God for people like you, Julie!

I surely do want that salad just about now!

I love your heartfelt chuckles at your birdie friends!

Julie, check out a video on the weather channel regarding people contracting salmonella from birds and bird feeders...

Thank God you have a huge ♥️

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