It’s been a morning to remember. It started at 2:05 a.m. when I got the first of what would be 11 alarms/alerts/text messages/phone calls—within 30 minutes—warning me of a tornado/severe thunderstorm/flash flooding. How many of those alerts did I actually need? Zero. It was a powerful storm, and we got lots of much-needed rain, however I’d have preferred the thunder to be my only emergency alert.
Soon after my dogs and I started our morning walk, around 6:30, we came upon a fledgling, belly up in a puddle, but still moving a little. It was soaking wet, with lots of skin showing. It looked large to be so naked. So I picked it up. Blue jay? Grackle? This was no tiny nestling, but it was still helpless and could barely lift its head. I tucked it against my chest under my rain poncho, leaving me one hand for the leashes, phone, and dog-poop bag. I could feel the bird squirming against me as it warmed. It seemed to be gaining strength as my T-shirt absorbed its wetness. I found an earthworm, picked it up and offered it. Not interested. Still, it survived the 15-minute walk home despite lots of jostling.
As it dried, its feathers showed their true colors: This was a baby American robin. I decided his name is Willy Maykit. I put him in a cat carrier (locked in my bathroom, safe from my cats), with a “nest” of rags and a jar of warm water wrapped in a towel. I gave him a branch in case he could perch. He could.
And I began a text conversation with Julie Zickefoose. Lucky for me I know JZ! Not only is she a licensed songbird rehabilitator, she’s the author and artist of Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest, in which she documents the daily development of 17 songbird species. (It’s an amazing, beautiful, moving book, by the way.) She knew immediately that he is 18 days old and ready to be hopping around on the ground, but still dependent upon his parents. She advised me to dry him with a hair dryer on low, fill his belly with scrambled egg, and return him to where I found him ASAP. She instructed me on how to open his mouth if he refused to gape, and to shove lots of egg down his throat. It’s impossible to over-feed fledglings, she said.
I’ve never done this before, and I needed all that information. I also needed a third hand to hold the squirmy bird still while I attempted to open his mouth and shove in food. He was so squirmy, and his legs and wings were strong. I was sure I was going to break him somehow as I wrestled to open his bill. I did manage to get a bit of egg down his throat, but then decided that, now that he was warm and dry and so strong, his parents would do a much better job of feeding him than I was. Besides, I had to get to work.
So I took him back to where I found him. The branches of tree he apparently fell from were all way too high for me to reach, so I put him into a landscaping bush on the other side of the sidewalk. I hope his parents find him soon. An hour later, on my way to work (late), he was in the same spot, but still very alert. He should be on the ground, but there are too many cats in my neighborhood, and too many puddles this morning. I texted this photo to Julie. She said that as soon as he gets hungry, he’ll get noisy, and his parents will find him. I hope so. JZ said his name is Lucky. I think I’m going to change his name from Willy Maykit to Betty Will.
About the Author
Dawn Hewitt is the managing editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.