The tragedy of the avians – and what you can do if you find a stunned bird.
In the last week alone, I have rescued three birds that have flown into the windows of clients houses. The first two were goldfinches, in their first year, and the third belonged to an unidentified species that looked to be a warbler of some kind. Still a juvenile, and probably having fewer than half-a-day’s flying time under its wings, its markings were indistinct and I cannot be certain what it was. (If any of you are skilled twitchers and make sense of the bird, then please let me know – the juvenile colours make identification quite hard).
The goldfinches both recovered after I held them in my hand for several minutes to get them warm, before finally flying off into a nearby tree where they re-adjusted themselves and then flew off in pursuit of the charm (the charm is, of course, the word used to describe a collection of goldfinches, and very suitable it is too as you catch a glimpse of them bobbing across the meadows in tiny flecks of yellow against the blue sky).
The as-yet-unidentified, suspected warbler, however, was not, I think, so lucky. For a long time it refused to leave my hands, and it only made the occasional, single tweet from deep within its throat which I had to strain to hear.
I tried to get it to flap its wings and inspire the instinct of flight within its limbs by slowly tipping it from one hand to the other. It drew some response, and the wings flapped to steady itself, but not with enough confidence for flight. Then, as I had to attend to my client’s Malvern garden, I put it in a terracotta saucer on top of an old garden table. There was water nearby, and I remained close enough so that there was no threat of hungry magpies or jackdaws that would endanger it. After some minutes, the bird hadn’t moved, and I knew that I couldn’t stay for too long.
I took it gently and moved it into the branches of a hornbeam hedge, where it sat under cover and didn’t move. Some moments later, after I’d finished clearing the patio from liverwort (on my hands and knees and with a miniature scimitar to get between the brickwork – it’s very hard work), I glanced up to see that the bird had attempted to fly to another branch, only to see it falter and spiral down to one two feet below. Not wanting to let it fall into the undergrowth at ground level where a neighbourhood cat would have it, I returned it to a stouter branch, closer to the main trunk of the hornbeam, and crossed my fingers.
A short time later, when I glanced up again, it was gone.
I have no idea what became of it, but I have to say I don’t think its chances would have been too good. It was a young bird without experience that was still learning to fly, and there was no sign of any parent around to encourage it back into the wild. But what should you do if you retrieve a stunned bird from your garden?
The most common advice is simple enough: put it in a shoebox with a perforated lid to allow ventilation, lined with kitchen towel. The bird should recover in a half hour or so and then you can release it. Do not try to feed it. And do not try to keep it either – it is against the law to cage wild birds. If, after an hour or more, the bird is still not responsive or ready to fly, then it might have damaged a wing or sustained some other internal injury. At this stage it’s probably advisable to contact the professionals. In the case of Worcestershire, then the nearest site is in Tewkesbury, the Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre.
Of course, prevention is always better than the cure. If you do find birds that have flown into your windows on a frequent basis then it might be advisable, at this time of year, to keep the curtains closed or the blinds down to make sure they see that there is something there. Failing this, a few stickers on the insides of the windows can sometimes suffice. The other thing to remember is that birds will often fly into windows where they can see though the whole house: so if there are opposing windows then they might perceive that they have a clear flight path. Sometimes, closing a door to block this perceived path might help reduce the impact rates.
For my own part, I have also restricted the use of my bird feeders. I have, temporarily, withdrawn the niger seed for the goldfinches (partly because I have run out and it can be difficult to find). This is important at this time of year when the young birds are growing up and the adult birds are passing on their knowledge of the local area and where they can find food naturally, without help from Capability Dan. I have also done the same with my suet balls and peanuts: the suet attracts magpies that can, only just, get the occasional morsel from my modified suet cage (I have put my suet feeder in between two empty framed hanging baskets linked together at the waist. It stops, or very nearly stops, the bigger birds getting to the food. It’s an effort for the magpies that they only do at this time of year when their brood is famished and demanding).
The lack of food in my garden thus gives the birds less incentive to stop by whilst they learn what grows in the nearby fields. I would prefer them to regard my garden as a treat, rather than a habit, and not become too dependable on it should I ever move away and have an accountant move in who issue a tax on plumage.