It’s Raining Birds

Written By Lead Wildlife Keeper Grae O’Toole

Summers in the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation (CWBR) can best be described as chaotically busy. 

CWBR staff receive upwards of 30 phone calls a day regarding injured wildlife across New England, all while caring for countless critical care patients in the ICU, receiving and examining between 5-15 new patients a day, and feeding baby birds every half hour from 6am to 8pm.  Summer 2020 could also be described as such, but on a much greater scale.

Patient #1: Northern Cardinal nestling

April 29th, 2020 staff received the first baby bird (a cardinal) of the season. Generally, rehab staff don’t begin seeing baby birds until mid-May, so we were taken aback and excited to kick off our busiest season of the year.  In total, rehab staff took in 410 nestling and fledgling birds over the course of the spring and summer, 101 more babies than we had received in 2019.

Why were we (and all rehabbers across the United States) receiving so many more injured and orphaned patients though?  Something we all know was different about this spring and summer was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic across the country.  March is generally when many birds begin their nesting and breeding season and at that time many people were isolating at home.  This meant that a lot of wildlife got to experience the beginning of their breeding season in relative peace, without the usual stress of daily human presence.  Fast forward a month or two when people were still isolating, but also began exploring the outdoors as the weather got warmer and we all wanted to take a breath of fresh air.  All of the sudden humans were actively outside, exploring their surroundings more than ever before.  This meant humans were interacting with wildlife on a much broader scale than in previous years.

Cedar waxwing nestlings

To say our baby bird season was busy is an understatement, but getting to care for these babies is always a favorite for staff.  American robins, european starlings, cedar waxwings, these are some of the usual babies staff see in excess throughout the season and each has their own unique traits like an ear piercing starling begging call, a waxwing head bob while feeding, and the classic one-wing flap beg of a robin, but we also got to work with new species this summer.  Staff were able to successfully raise a one-day old American Woodcock to adulthood (a major feat given how difficult they are to raise in captivity).  We received more house wren babies than ever before, 29 by the end of the season!  We received more baby waterfowl than ever before at 50 birds, 37 of them being Wood Ducks (highly stressed in a rehab setting).  We even raised a Black-throated Green Warbler and Balckburnian Warbler, species that are rarely seen in our center.  

As I reflect on this summer I am proud of all the rehab staff were able to accomplish.  It is once the season begins to slow that we can finally all look back and think “wow, what a rewarding summer.”  We helped educate hundreds of callers on wildlife.  We helped care for over 400 baby birds.  We got the unusual pleasure of watching a baby bird grow before our very eyes.  We got to help prepare birds for life out in the wild.  We got to release hundreds of birds that may otherwise not have made it without our care.  We learned so much about different birds and how to cater to their needs.  We are closing the chapter on Baby Bird Season 2020 and now preparing ourselves for the next one, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first baby of the season and all that next summer may hold.

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