It’s fall migration season- do you have your bird rescue kit ready?
During the summer, if you come across a bird on the ground that can’t fly, it’s often safe to assume that bird is a baby. But during spring and fall migration, birds that are found on the ground that do not fly away are frequently adult migratory birds that have struck a window or become disoriented and are in need of human help.
Many migratory birds do most of their travelling at night, when they use the light from the moon and stars, reflections from bodies of water, and even particular sounds to help them navigate their way to their winter grounds down south. Bright lights of urban areas, especially those that extend high into the sky such as skylights and skyscrapers, are particularly dangerous. The most common places to find these birds will be early in the morning on the sidewalk below tall city buildings, but you may find them sitting below the windows of your home and business as well.
Remember- the head and spinal trauma that can result from colliding with a window at high speed is a medical emergency! Common signs of collision include: looking “puffed up”, squinting eyes, squatting down instead of standing upright, and neurologic signs like trembling or a head tilt. Rapid action is so important to the bird’s survival.
Rapid action is so important to the bird’s survival.
Here’s what to do if you find a bird on the ground that you suspect may have hit a window. First, have a “rescue kit” ready so you can act quickly if you see a bird in distress. Keep the following items handy in your car or bag: a paper bag or a small cardboard box with a lid, a tea towel, old t-shirt, or small blanket, and a pair of gloves. They are small things to have, but they can help to save a bird’s life!
Be sure to approach the bird slowly and from a safe angle. Even if a bird is stunned, they may still have limited ability to fly so we don’t want them to fly into traffic or back into a window or building again! As soon as you are close enough, drop a small towel or cloth down over top of the bird, completely covering the head and wings. This will help to reduce stress and keep the bird calm. While wearing gloves, pick up the bird in the towel and place them in the paper bag or cardboard box. Fold the top of the bag down and secure it with a paperclip, or close the lid of the box. This is very important- the bird is likely in shock, and needs to be kept as quiet and stress-free as possible during transport.
As with any injured animal, do not try to give them food or water. A bird with head trauma could drown or choke if they can’t properly hold up their head, and eating improper food items can cause serious medical issues. Keep the bird in a quiet, dark place and transport them to your closest wildlife rehabilitation centre as soon as possible.
Migratory bird populations are declining all over the world due to climate change, habitat destruction, and human-caused conflicts like window strikes. Keep your eyes open and your rescue kit ready, and be a hero to the birds!
By Rebecca Michelin, CWR | Wildlife Rehabilitation Consultant
Our Wildlife Clinic treats thousands of injured, orphaned, and sick animals every year. Join us for a virtual behind-the-scenes tour with our Wildlife Rehabilitation team with Director Chris Strub and Assistant Director Liz Ellmann. Our clinic, the only one in Philadelphia, has handled over 150 different species, everything from tiny hummingbirds to massive snapping turtles. Chris and Liz will answer all your questions about how you can champion wildlife and rehabilitation in the region.
By Jasmine Lee, Communications Intern
Fall migration, the large-scale movement of birds from their summer breeding homes to their winter grounds is part of an annual cycle that is undertaken by more than half of all the birds in North America. Unfortunately, it is estimated that in the U.S. alone, one billion birds die each year as a result of collisions with glass windows, walls, and other structures, with numbers typically spiking during migration months. At the Schuylkill Center and the Wildlife Clinic, warblers of all kinds, flycatchers, woodcocks, and even hummingbirds are passing through as they make their way down south for the winter.
As a student at the University of Pennsylvania obtaining my Masters in Environmental Studies, I have a special interest in birdwatching and ornithology, in addition to my career interests in conservation science. Back in March, I moved from West Philly back to my parents suburban New Jersey home due to the pandemic, and I was excited to spend some time closer to nature, as opposed to the bustling city streets. Using a recycled glass beer bottle, I fashioned a homemade bird feeder to attract some feathered friends for the spring.
Homemade bird feeder: birdseed comes out from the bottle and into the tray.
Attaching it to the trees in our yard posed a problem, as the squirrels had easy access to the birdseed tray and would often scare off any potential bird visitors. I decided to use an old patio umbrella frame to secure the bird feeder so it was away from any branches where the squirrels could jump onto it.
Feeder attached to umbrella frame. Bag of finch food hanging off to the side.
Within hours of setting up the frame and feeder, we saw a cardinal munching from the food tray. I stayed at our kitchen table all morning so I could watch the feeder through the window.
Brown-headed cowbird on feeder, American goldfinch on finch food bag
We did continue to fight the squirrels on occasion, when they tried to climb the umbrella pole. Eventually, we removed the bottle because it encouraged them to to climb up and gorge themselves. Now, my dad puts out a handful of seeds for the birds each day, but not enough to tempt the squirrels.
Now that it is October, the feeder is less busy, although we do still see the occasional fall migrant passing through. We are looking forward to springtime next year, when the migratory songbirds return.
As part of our #YearOfActionChallenge, the Schuylkill Center encourages you to take some actions to help protect our travelling feathery friends.
- Urge your senators to co-sponsor the Bird-Safe Buildings Act requiring public buildings to incorporate bird-friendly building designs and materials.
- Apply decals, window guards, uv-coverings or other collision preventing materials to windows to make glass more visible to birds and reduce the chances of flying into them.
3. Turn off the lights! Many birds migrate at night, and can become disorientated by bright artificial lights, increasing the chances they will collide with a window. Whenever possible turn off excess exterior lights and reduce interior lights at night, especially those on higher floors or in building atriums. Visit Lights Out- Audubon to learn more.
It’s a cornucopia of questions about nature, wildlife, the environment and all things green– even frogs. Which nocturnal animal plays dead, emitting a putrid smell to escape its predators? What popular nocturnal creature’s droppings can actually be used as a fertilizer? Gather around the computer and vie for prizes in our live Zoom trivia event. First place will receive a pint glass and t-shirt from Twisted Gingers Brewing Company plus a prize from our gift shop. Prizes will also be awarded to second and third place teams. Teams can consist of 1-6 players.