After the morning family program at Beczak, we hopped on a train into NYC for the Urban Park Rangers' Out on A Limb program at Central Park's Belvedere Castle, featuring veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators and rescuers. Ranger Sheridan gave Mikro and the kids a "Wildlife Detective" badge. We took a quick tour of the castle ramparts before the program started, then headed inside.
Leading off were Karen, Rita and Karen from the WILD BIRD FUND. Wild Bird Fund cares for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife, especially birds, with the goal of releasing each into its natural habitat. They are NY State licensed wildlife rehabilitators, and can care for all New York State nonmigratory birds. We were surprised to learn that means only three species, all of which are actually non-native, introduced species: the Rock Dove (aka pigeon), European Starling, and House Sparrow. They also have a federal permit, which allows them to care for migratory birds as well. Birds reach them through good samaritans, park rangers, and Audubon's Project Safe Flight.
Wild Bird Fund sends animals to Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary (all birds, releasable or not), The Raptor Trust (raptors and waterfowl, releasable only) and the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (chickens). They have also aided other animals, including bats, beavers and squirrels.
The most common injury to migratory birds is head trauma, which has a high mortality rate. Across the USA, 1 billion birds are killed each year by flying into glass. Birds are also injured by discardd fish hooks and fishing line.
Pigeons are the most decorated wildlife, having won military medals for reconnaissance and communications service during both World Wars. Sadly, they are also the most abused wildlife. Chickens are also frequent victims of abuse, and are used in religious rituals. One bird was found covered in red wax, wandering in Central Park.
We received a handout on what to do if you find a baby bird on the ground.
If the bird appears injured or sick, you should call a wildlife rehabilitator, your state wildlife agency, or a veterinarian who deals with wildlife. Only in the event you can't reach any of those people should you try to rescue an observedly sick or injured bird yourself.
If the bird is not sick or hurt, check to see if it has feathers. If so, it's a fledgling, and it is perfectly normal for it to be hopping around on the ground. If the bird is in an area where it is reasonably safe from cats, dogs and people, leave it alone! Its parents are still feeding it and will come looking for it. If it is in a high traffic area and might be stepped on or in danger from predators, place it in a nearby bush or tree. Watch from a distance to see if the parents return. If they don't return in 20 minutes to half an hour, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
If you find a featherless bird on the ground, it is a nestling, and it is in trouble. Look for its nest nearby. If the nest is intact, put the baby back in and watch from a distance to see if the parents return. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If the nest is damaged, make a substitue nest. Poke holes in the bottom of a clean, small plastic food container, line it with grass and hang it from the original tree or nearby. Put the baby in your nest and observe from a distance. If the parents do not return, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
For ground nesting birds like waterfowl (geese, ducks), quail and killdeer: If you know the mother is dead or the baby is injured, call a wildlife rehabilitator. If you can find the mom, put the baby close enough for her to hear it and watch from afar. Mom will find it. If the mother does not return within an hour, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
Remember, a baby bird requires nearly constant feeding. Its best chance of survival is its parents.
If you need to rescue a baby bird and have tried unsuccessfully to find a wildlifde rehabilitator, here's what to do:
Prepare a container with a lid-- you need air holes, and should place a clean, soft cloth in the bottom. (You can use a plastic cat or dog carrier.) You should wear gloves if possible to avoid being bitten or clawed, and to avoid parasites like fleas, lice and ticks. Cover the bird with a light towel or cloth and gently lift it and place it in the container. If the animal is cold, warm it up with a hot water bottle (you can use a clean plastic water bottle). Make sure your bottle does not leak. Close the container. Wash your hands. Make a note of precisely where you found the bird, so it can be released appropriately when the time comes. Keep it in a warm, dark, quiet place. Don't give it food or water. Don't handle it. Call a wildlife rehabilitator, wildlife agency or veterinarian as soon as you can. In many states it is illegal to keep wild animals without a license, even if you plan on releasing them. Get the bird to a rehabilitator as soon as possible.
The second speaker of the day was Chris. He has a NY State license and rehabilitates small mammals, especially squirrels. While doing his presentation, he had a young grey squirrel named Sebastien inside his jacket.
Squirrels in the wild eat acorns, walnuts, pecans and peanuts. They live about 4 years (up to 14 in captivity). They have two litters of young each year. The babies are born hairless and with their eyes closed. They nest in tree cavities or build leaf and twig nests, which they line with fur and leaves. At 12 weeks, the babies have weaned and are self-sufficient. There are red, grey and black squirrels.
If you see a baby squirrel alone, usually it is just fine. If it is still pink and hairless, watch for around 20 minutes for the mother to find it.If she does not return, touch the baby. If it is cold, it is getting hypothermic and needs to be warmed up. Use a hot water bottle or a heating pad on low heat. Squirrels can go 2 or 3 days without food, but will die of cold much faster. Wash your hands after handling squirrels. Call a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.
For more information on how to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, check out the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
PDF: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Is It For You?
PDF: How to Help Wildlife
PDF: Do's and Don'ts of Helping Injured & Displaced Wildlife in Need
Just for Kids: Wildlife Jobs
Urban Park Rangers