It’s the time of year that we need to be reminded to leave wildlife in the wild

Crowded nests and fallen nestlings are normal in nature. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

I don’t remember why George and I were playing together that long-ago spring day. He was a couple years older than I and not particularly enamored of fishing and outdoor pursuits like me. We were near his house, where an overgrown lilac bush was located at the back edge of their yard.

That’s where we found the baby bird, peeping in the leaves and tall grass near the bush, obviously fallen from a nest somewhere. I looked up and spotted a nest and an obviously disturbed momma robin, both far out of reach of two grade-school boys.

My worry was if we rescued the fledgling, found a ladder and put the ugly little creature back in the nest, the mother bird wouldn’t understand our mission and might attack violently. I also understood, if this was to be done, I would be the guy on the ladder, taking the risk. I’d spotted the bird, I was the outdoorsman, and most significantly, I was the little guy in a bigger guy’s yard.

But it had to be done, in my mind. I’d have to take the risk. “First step,” I thought. “Secure the bird.”

I reached down for the baby, watching momma robin as much as the baby, but before I could grab it, George told me authoritatively, “Don’t touch it.”

I stopped and he went on to explain: “If you touch it the mother bird will smell your scent on the baby and stop feeding it and probably just kick it out of the nest again.”

I had no reason to believe George other than he was a couple years older and we were at his house. Maybe by the time you are going into the fifth grade, you’ve learned about baby birds. Maybe his dad had told him about baby birds and mine hadn’t gotten to it yet. Maybe, I reasoned, it was a good excuse to not climb a rickety ladder and brave an upset momma robin.

For whatever reason, we did the right thing. We left it alone.

Had the nest been in reach, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt anything to pick up the baby bird and put it back. Chances are the momma robin wouldn’t have attacked, but even if she did, if no ladder was involved, no one would have chanced a spill. I know now, most birds have a very poor sense of smell and the smell of a rescuers hand wouldn’t be off-putting.

Chances are the baby bird, or one of it siblings, would eventually end up on the ground under the lilac bush anyway. Nature is cruel and birds commonly “over-produce” to ensure a few survive to reproduce. A robin normally lays three or four eggs and nest two or three times each year. Do the math. If all or even most of the eggs produced an adult robin, the lilac bushes would soon be overloaded. The de-nested baby was just one meeting its fate sooner than later.

Still, it’s human nature to want to save or rescue a fallen bird. If you can safely put the bird back, give it a try. It has a shot. Some parent birds will continue to care for a fallen fledgling, at least until some predator finds it. That gives it one more slight chance.

Don’t rescue it and try to raise it yourself. First, it’s illegal – unless a person is licensed, it is unlawful in Michigan to possess a live wild animal, including birds. Second, it’s tough work caring for a baby bird – feeding, watering, keeping it warm.

And they don’t teach that even in middle school.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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