As part of our major landscape overhaul, several of our old and ugly Honeysuckle shrubs were torn out in order to be replaced. Unfortunately one of those shrubs had a Cardinal nest with three eggs. I visited the nest every day closely monitoring the progress of the eggs, and three days after the first hatching, the shrub was torn out. I had given orders to the landscaping crew to only tear out that particular shrub after they had alerted me and I had a chance to relocate the nest. Merely four feet from the old shrub was another one which I decided to use as the relocation home. I carefully held the nest, while Jesus, the foreman of the crew cut the entire branch on which the nest rested. We then attached the branch, nest, and babies to the new shrub.
We stood back and gave the frantic parents plenty of time to find their nest but they couldn’t find it. The chicks weren’t old enough to call out for them yet. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch the two birds search desperately for two hours before giving up. By then I knew I had to go and get the food I had used before to raise lost chicks.
The babies were adopted and fed and special high protein diet of ground dog food, super-fine sand (a mere trace), and some chopped eggs (they were discontinued a few days later). When they were older I added mealworms (fresh but killed, and mushed), and all except Wilbur the youngest, thrived. Wilbur survived despite my predictions, but he was very weak and had bad legs. The older ones quickly became very strong, and trampled poor, weak, little Wilbur, so we separated them and put them in a cage as soon as they were able to perch. It helped Willy a lot not to be trampled anymore.
At that time then, I also called the WildLife Rescue organization in our area. Even though I called on a Sunday, I was quickly called back by a very stern sounding older lady who read me the riot act, about how what I did was illegal ( it is, and I knew that), etc. She also asked a bunch of questions, and became a lot friendlier when she realized I wasn’t completely incompetent.
After explaining to the kids that the birds needed to learn their species appropriate behavior, and they couldn’t do that with us, I called the lady and arranged to bring the three birds to her.
What a delightful person, she turned out to be. As a licensed specialist, she is incredibly knowledgeable and I learned a lot in the first hour I spent with her. She took Arya the female Cardinal, and Borgia the Finch (as it turned out), but asked me to keep Wilbur in my care for a little longer. Yes, the kicker was that a finch had laid an egg in the Cardinal nest, and Cardinal Borgia, turned out to be Finch Borgia. This is rather odd, as finches aren’t generally brood parasites.
Poor little Wilbur was given a special nestling formula to be fed to him every half our or on demand. The birdlady had seen that our care of the birds had been good and felt confident that we would do right by Willy. And boy did he thrive on that stuff. I kept him by my side (even took him to the office) and popped him a serving whenever he wanted food, or as soon as his crop was empty. Within a week, he had strengthened, grown a remarkable set of feathers and turned out to be a little Cardinal male. His challenge was in the fact that his feet/toes weren’t doing what they were supposed to, so a week later, the bird lady took him in to tape his feet and hope to save his life. Hopefully the feet can be fixed, otherwise it’s birdie heaven for Willy. A bird which cannot perch, cannot survive in the wild.
Meanwhile Arya and Borgia are thriving in their flight-cage home. Arya has learned to fly ever so well, but she isn’t an independent eater yet. Borgia lacks in the flying department, but requires no hand feeding any more. Using the techniques shown to me by the bird lady, I helped raise Willy to be on his way to be an independent feeder, during the last week we had him.
As a caution to my readers, keeping wild animals isn’t permitted, even with the best of intentions. If you do come across an injured, or abandoned wild animal, you need to call your local WildLife Rehab place and arrange to have the animal picked up. What I did wasn’t legal, but I had raised several other birds before and I knew the feeding wasn’t a problem. But when the birds were able to perch, I knew it was time to consider their future education in being wild birds.
Taking care of these birds took a tremendous amount of time and care. Between myself and my daughter we spent countless hours feeding them, cleaning up, making sure they were alright. But, now that I have the local contact, should I find myself with an orphaned bird, I will call her right away. I guess, not doing that from the get go was because we feared that they wouldn’t take the time to raise these incredibly small, fragile birds, and would simply destroy them.
Wilbur was put down two weeks after he was placed with BirdLady. Despite the braces the legs never worked properly. His feet and other joints just didn’t work right.
Borgia, the finch male was let go around that time. He was ready to go. He lives near the BirdLady’s house and comes to enjoy her generous selection of seed from a multitude of outside bird feeders.
Arya had developed a serious eye infection which BirdLady treated successfully with antibiotics. Once she had healed she was given her freedom as well. Like Borgia, she lives near the BirdLady and enjoys the plentiful offerings in the yard.
Two out of three day old nestlings survived and thrived, that is an unusually good success rate, the BirdLady said. Wilbur would never even have lived as long as he did in the wild.