Ground Control to Fledgling: Prepare for Lift-off! – what to do if your garden is used for an emergency landing.

Fledgling bird perched on someone's hand. Photo courtesy of www.thenaturegeek.blogspot.com

Fledgling bird perched on someone’s hand. Photo courtesy of http://www.thenaturegeek.blogspot.com

Earlier this week as I walked outside to go run some errands, I caught sight of Manneman – my furry garden companion – batting a fuzzy, round little thing back and forth. He seemed to thoroughly be enjoying himself, which is almost always a bad sign. I took a closer look. To my dismay, I saw that the new toy was a tiny, fledgling bird. I scooped it up, and got it out of reach of my incorrigible feline. The poor bird looked as if it was expecting to die, and it probably would have, had I been a few minutes later. But, upon closer examination, it didn’t seem injured, and I found no blood. Encouraged, I made it a temporary nest out of a lantern, put it up high – hopefully safely out of reach –  and left.

When I returned, I saw to my horror that the lantern was empty! Figuring, for sure, that my little protegé was by now cat food, I scanned the ground below where I had left it. Suddenly I saw it – still and quiet by the trunk of a shrub. Meanwhile, I could hear rather intense chirping from a nearby thicket. I wondered if it was perhaps the fledglings parents lamenting the fate of their young. Relieved to find it alive, I picked it up again, and put it in a box lined with soft tissue paper. Thinking that maybe it was injured after all, I went inside and Googled the Audubon Society’s rescue page. Since it was now rather late in the day, I called them to see what I should do. I’m so glad I did! I learned a lot from the kind volunteer who answered the phone.

Fledgling_Robin_Lin-and-Dan_Dzurisin

Contrary to what I thought, she told me that young fledglings often spend several days on the ground before they finally learn to fly. And here I had thought that only those who failed to fly ended up on the ground to become fodder for other animals! I stand corrected! July – August is the time of year when you are most likely to find aspiring flyers on the ground. This is apparently perfectly normal! The time spent on the ground is a vital part of childhood development in Birdland. She told me that the parents coach from nearby – they never ever leave their babies alone. During the time on the ground, they teach them how to find food, recognize predators, and – eventually – to fly.  This would explain the vivid chirping I had heard when interrupting this process, and I felt a bit stupid. In addition, I learned that birds have two “air-bags” on their backs. When cats attack birds, these air pockets are often punctured, by either teeth or claws. The puncture wounds in themselves can heal, but what generally kills the bird are the bacteria that enter their systems via the puncture – not the hole itself. Not unexpectedly, cat bacteria does not mesh well with those of birds.

Must feel pretty threatening to be a grounded fledgling and see this coming at you!

Must feel pretty threatening and scary to be a grounded fledgling and see this coming at you!

Concealed weapons laws do not apply to kitties - as far as I know...

Concealed weapons laws do not apply to kitties – as far as I know…

The kind volunteer apologized for “getting on her soap box” as she told me I should consider keeping our cat indoors. There are plenty of cat towers, scratching posts, and toys that would keep an indoor cat happy, she assured me. Some people even screen off their porch so that the cat can have an outdoor room from which to watch the world go by. Did I by chance have a porch to devote to this? Regrettably, I had to tell her ‘no’. I explained that I understood the very real dangers that especially manifest themselves when fledgling birds are on the ground, but that I could not consciously deprive my cat of the pleasures of being outdoors. Before we adopted him, he spent two years as an outside cat, and he would be miserable if we forced him to become exclusively indoors. In fact, he willingly spends the majority of his time indoors anyway – after two years on the streets he knows to appreciate his favorite indoor spots.

But there are things an outdoor cat owner can do. Manneman for a while, wore a bell. In his particular case, it did not appear to be helping much – a fact that was reiterated by the kind volunteer. Besides, it’s bright, metallic tinkling was terribly annoying when he moved around the house in the middle of the night. Last time I found a dead bird in my garden, I removed the useless bell. Instead, I resolutely cut his claws. As a result, he soon  had to abdicate his former reign of the neighborhood as he instantly got his furry tail kicked by other neighborhood cats,  but I didn’t mind that too much. A more positive effect was that I haven’t found any dead birds for a long time. But flightless baby birds on the ground..? Well, the odds are definitely stacked against them. But at least now the fact that this is the time of year to worry about that is on my radar. I’ll leave it at that – I’m most definitely not perfect…

Who could possibly say 'no' to that face? I go stir-crazy if I'm not allowed to be outside at least a little bit every day. I don't have the heart to keep him locked up. A couple of years as a street cat rendered him very traffic savvy - he hides whenever cars go by. I think cutting his claws is a decent compromise - even for an expert hunter. He can still enjoy the thrill of the chase, except not be as successful. And in the grand scheme of things, I think it's unfair to single out cats in the  blame game of why our bird populations are decreasing. Sure, they have a part in it, but so do moving vehicles - on the ground and in the air, glass curtain walls and windows, pollution, loss of habitat,  what have you...

Who could possibly say ‘no’ to that face? I go stir-crazy if I’m not allowed to be outside at least a little bit every day. I don’t have the heart to keep him locked up. A couple of years as a street cat rendered him very traffic savvy – he hides whenever cars or trucks go by. I think cutting his claws is a decent compromise – even for an expert hunter. He can still enjoy the thrill of the chase, except not be as successful. And in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s unfair to single out cats in the blame game of why our bird populations are decreasing. Sure, they have a part in it, but so do moving vehicles – on the ground and in the air, glass curtain walls and windows, pollution, loss of habitat, what have you…

This little fledgling did not show any sign of anything other than justified shock, so after talking with the Audubon volunteer, I released it from the box, gently put it back where I had found it, and temporarily locked up the cat. The next time I checked, I couldn’t find it, despite a thorough search through the surrounding foliage! I suppose this could mean that it became someone else’s dinner, but I am going to interpret this as a good sign that it finally learned how to fly. After, in its young life, having been roughly exposed not only to a playful cat, but also to an ignorant human, I think this particular bird is starting off its flying career more savvy than most. Here’s to a long life of enjoying the fruits and insects of my garden!

Note: Silly me – didn’t think to take photos of our little fledgling. So, I borrowed a couple of photos from the Web. Photo credit has been given to the best of my ability. 

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About annamadeit

Born and raised in Sweden, my aesthetics and outlook on life are strongly shaped by a culture rich in history and tradition. I care a great deal about environmental responsibility, and my aesthetic reflects the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia. I was trained as an architect at the University of Cincinnati and as a color specialist at the Scandinavian Colour Institute in Stockholm. I'm obsessed with plants and gardens, and aim to take my skill set a step further by designing gardens as well as interiors. As someone so aptly said: " Architecture is the skin that separates the exterior from the interior". So true - you can't successfully focus on one without incorporating the other. I'm also an avid cook, and I love to ski. In addition, I put time and efforts into trying to rectify things that I feel are wrong in my immediate community. As you will see, The Creative Flux will touch on all these things, and more. For sure, it's all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blog!
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11 Responses to Ground Control to Fledgling: Prepare for Lift-off! – what to do if your garden is used for an emergency landing.

  1. lindamallman says:

    Oh dear, I once had a fledgling hopping around the garden for a few days. I ended up scooping it up and taking it to the Audubon Society, thought it was grounded ! poor parents ! I didn’t now it was in training . The dogs kept chasing it anyway so it would have been hurt in the end. I did give the A.S. my address , so they could release it back , Hope it found it’s parents again….

  2. Ricki Grady says:

    Oh, thank you for standing up for feline rights. I have rescued a few critters (frogs, birds, snakes) from our Sami, but she also keeps our household vermin-free and has even done in a gopher or two.

    • annamadeit says:

      Absolutely! When we adopted him, we had to agree to keeping him indoors. This is one of the few times in my life where I deliberately told a lie. I’ll get on MY soap box and say that doing THAT would have been close to animal abuse. And yes – he always receives ample praise if he catches a mouse. So cute – he prancingly presents them like gifts – as well they are! Never had to deal with a snake though… shish… I’m a wimp when it comes to those… 😦

  3. Heather says:

    Some cats are just miserable left inside. I’m glad you rescued the fledgling from your cat and did your due diligence guarding him. I didn’t know this, so thank you!

  4. Kris P says:

    Thanks for sharing the information you received from the Audubon Society. I remember a similar sense of angst about a small bird I found sitting on our porch – I assumed that he’d flown into the window glass and stunned himself but maybe he was in “training” too.

    I have 2 indoor cats and a screened “cat porch” but I still struggle with guilt over keeping them inside. On the occasions they escape (one’s pretty good at opening doors if there’s the slightest crack) they have such a good time. My elderly male cat is seriously ill now and I keep thinking maybe I should let him out for a while to enjoy himself – I doubt he’s capable of catching a bird anymore. However, we’ve also had regular coyote sightings in the area even during the day so, other than the inadvertent escape, in the cats stay.

    • annamadeit says:

      You’re welcome, Kris! With coyotes roaming in the neighborhood, I’d be keeping our cat inside too – yikes! Even sharp claws would probably not be too helpful against one of those. But yes, I would still feel guilty… So sad to hear about your sick cat. I think your dear old kitty would love to feel the grass under his paws again, before he moves on to the next hunting ground…

  5. I didn’t know about fledglings on the ground – thanks for that information! I have totally shared your experience with cats outdoors. Our late cat, Phoebe, would go wild if we didn’t let her out. I think we would have killed her or she would have killed us if we didn’t let her roam outside. We did remove her front claws, but she still managed to hunt birds and small rodents. As she aged, her kills became a lot less common. If we were to get another cat, I’m not sure what we would do.

    • annamadeit says:

      Maybe it’s because our cat is no longer super-young (he’s 8), but it really seems that simply cutting his claws every other week or so, makes a difference. At least it makes me feel better to think it does. He hasn’t killed anything in a long time… 🙂

  6. annamadeit says:

    Reblogged this on Flutter & Hum and commented:

    Well people, it is fledgling time again, so I thought I’d reblog my post from last year to give everyone a heads-up. How do I know, you ask? Well, this morning, in my early morning barefoot stumble on the cool soil, I stepped on one. Granted, it was already dissected, presumably by my cat, but trust me – that delicate crunch will stay with me for a while. Yish! In other words, it is time to keep your eyes open for these little temporary ground dwellers when you’re out in your garden. Also, if you, like me, have a cat that likes to spend time outdoors, be sure to keep its claws trimmed (as in blunt) and preferably make it stay inside at night to give the fledglings a better chance of survival. As long as they are on the ground, these little guys are easy targets – even for a cat with modified weaponry.

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