What to do when you find a baby bird “in need”

Now is the time of year when there start to be chicks (baby birds) in our backyards, in the park, everywhere. It’s also the time when we see the most birds out of a nest and looking helpless. Though so many people have the best of intentions, helping a chick, especially one that is learning how to fly, is a very delicate situation.

Think of it this way: No child could ride a bike perfectly the very first time. And sometimes a bike rider gets away from their parents/guardian. And sometimes the bike rider might fall down and even get hurt. We would never want a stranger who was just trying to help to take the rider away to the hospital without telling the parent/guardian first.

Photo by JERutter

Photo by JERutter

Chicks can not fly perfectly the very first time either. So we should not remove the chicks from the area where their family is unless there is a visible injury or need.

Tree Swallow juveniles Photo by JERutter

Tree Swallow – juveniles ready to learn how to fly
Photo by JERutter

To  help the birds as best as you can there are two important things to remember:

1) KEEP CATS INSIDE

2) Follow the chart included below.

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I really could not have said it better myself.

Let’s all do what we can to help the fallen chicks because chicks already have so much to overcome on their journey to adulthood.

Sharing Birds with *Everyone*

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There is a campaign that was started by the Cape May Bird Observatory and New Jersey Audubon some years ago, based on the simple act of sharing birds with children. It should be no surprise that I could not be more supportive of this.

Through my experiences as a bird educator so far I have faced certain challenges…very unexpected challenges…that have made me think more about the realities of taking any and every child birding. These obstacles are not transportation based or a lack of supplies (binoculars, bird guides, etc…) or some other logistical problem. I’m referring to much more real and important issues that I think we as a whole need to address.

I’m referring to children (and even adults) with special needs. I did a school program some time ago where one student had a learning disability and another student was blind. (It’s this experience specifically that sparked this post.)

I have to admit that I never really thought about these issues before. There’s only been a handful of times when it’s come up in my life. I was always an observer at these previous times, so my role and the way it impacted me was very different.

When I did the Texas Classic (a birding competition) in 2006, one of the adult teams was made up of participants who were blind. This team competed completely by ear and the bird sounds they identified. (The majority of teams have the ability to create a bird list based on what they identify by sight and/or sound). They had a driver and some additional people that would help guide them through certain parks, but otherwise were completely independent and self-sufficient. This team was incredible at identifying bird sounds. They did quite well and completed the competition with a very impressive list. I remember being in awe that this team existed, let alone at what they accomplished.

At Hawk Mountain there is a special wheelchair built to handle the trails and transport people to the lookout spots along the mountain. I have never seen it in use, but it’s always there at the trailhead. Whenever I see it, it doesn’t look like a sad object sitting on the sidelines. It’s always given me the feeling of a loyal and eager service dog waiting quietly in the corner until it’s called upon to help however it can.

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The start of the path up to the various look out points at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. (K. Rutter and JERutter, right, Photo by P. Rutter)

Ever since I can remember I’ve said that “I’m a bird watcher, not a bird listener.” Being thrown into a situation where I had to lead and not just observe was challenging but one I am so grateful to have had. Even just this one time has pushed me to re-evaluate how I am as a bird educator.  And it’s made me re-evaluate how the birding community is as a whole.

During the school program I was able to adjust how I spoke and try to connect on the right level for the student with a learning disability. I made sure to play bird calls and guide the blind child in feeling the study skins I was showing (the beak shape, wing shape, softness of feathers, etc.). I was able to get by and accommodate my diverse group of children that time. But I honestly wonder about the next time, and other needs that may come up. These are real issues that deserve our attention and thought. While I wouldn’t say that this issue has been swept under the rug or avoided, I do think that we should start talking more about how to address them. And we need to think about all types of situations where special needs may require additional assistance in getting as full of an experience as possible…in the classroom, on a bird walk, at home, in a group, one on one. The Texas Classic team and Hawk Mountain anecdotes above show that any person can go birding as well as enjoy and learn about birds, especially when the community rallies behind them and supports their needs.

I think it’s important to raise this topic because when we talk about taking kids, or anyone for that matter, birding we need to be inclusive. Not only because we can have a larger impact then, but because it’s just the right thing to do. Honestly, maybe future signs that say “Take A Kid Birding” should include something like “no matter what”.

 

Citizen Science and What’s in a name

Citizen Science…

This topic and even the term is a can of worms that can be discussed for days later, but I’d like to use it as a jumping off point. I’m a huge fan of citizen science. It’s an incredible way to get people of all ages and backgrounds engaged and actively participating in current research. And it’s a term that is not only informative in regards to the type of method being used to conduct research but also a badge people can wear with pride. Given the direction of my current research though, I feel as though the term either needs to become more encompassing or I need to create a new one. Because what do you call it when people’s support and sharing info to others helps fuel a project even though they aren’t actually collecting any data for the research?

As I plan for my summer field season and get the specifics of my project set up, I’m realizing that one of, if not, the only way I’m going to be successful is if people help me. The questions I’ll be chasing first, revolve around what the current Michigander attitudes and background knowledge of my study species (Great Lakes Piping Plover) are in an attempt to help influence future conservation efforts. Given that this is incredibly human oriented compared to strictly bird focused, I already know that the challenge of not getting enough data won’t be due to issues catching birds but issues getting people to participate. Thus, I also know I’ll be relying on people to help me not only by participating but encouraging a friend (hopefully friends) to as well.

So disregarding the issue of labels, what do I call the wonderful people that will be supporting my project? Science helpers? Science supporters? Does that even matter? The involvement of a citizen helping science even if they aren’t in the field getting bird data should be highlighted. Sometimes the ripple effect of telling someone else about a project is just as valuable.

JER, Bird Liaison

Someone(s) once commented that Pete Dunn is a writer who birds, while Kenn Kaufman is a birder who writes. (Both of these men are well known in the birding community and have published countless books each.)

I am in no means a writer. Or at least I don’t consider myself to be one. However, I think that if you substitute writer with educator, this phrasing might work for me. Thus, Jordan is a birder who educates, not the other way around.

JER giving a bird banding demonstration to a kindergarten class in Texas

JER giving a bird banding demonstration to a kindergarten class in Texas

I bring this up because several people (all of whom don’t know each other) have brought up the idea/suggestion that I be a teacher. While that’s always been an option and kept on the back burner list of possibilities, I just don’t see it being the vocation I make my life’s career out of. Being a teacher isn’t the job that I feel compelled to rush out and sign up for. Being a bird educator/outreacher of some kind though, that is something I can day dream about.

Why dismiss a traditional teaching position so quickly when it comes up? Well, to be honest, there aren’t any birds…or at least not enough. Yes, there are programs (some of which I’ve worked for and am connected with) that can be brought into the classroom. Yes, there are lesson plans and curriculum involving birds and bird information. But for me, that’s not enough.

Why not just be an ornithologist then? This situation is the complete opposite of teaching though. Where are the people to share the bird information with? Where is the opportunity to talk and engage with people from other backgrounds to get new perspectives and always push me/us to be the best, most scientific ornithologist as possible? Where is the ability to be continually re-energized by the excitement and questions and wonder seen in other people that are being exposed to birds and bird research.

A summer job I once had seems like a great match then. (I put on educational bird events for kids.) Here’s the only thing, the constant change in kids was basically the only thing that made it new and exciting. We had a set program that we did…every, single time. To be honest, after a while it started to get a little repetitive for me.

The issue I see with doing something that involves so much repetition is that I fear I might lose some of my enthusiasm or spark. This is why I need the balance of both worlds. What I may lack in terms of formal education background or training (as of now), I make up with passion. The research aspect keeps me learning and giving me the ability to always have new material to share with others. The outreach component gives me the opportunity to feel like I’m making a difference and doing my part for science and the environmental movement.

How do I describe the balance of ornithology and education/outreach? Liaison. That is what I want to be. I don’t know how else to describe it. I want to take the science and ornithological research and translate that for everyone else to understand.

I’m finding it very difficult to do this though. With the way things are today, it seems as though the choice is either classroom or lab. I’m not happy settling with only those two options.

This all probably sounds stubborn or greedy, but if I’m going to follow what I’ve been taught and stressed by countless people over my life, then I need to “love what I do and do what I love.” And birds and talking about birds is what I love.

JER at Bird Rock, Cape St. Mary's, Newfoundland

JER at Bird Rock, Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland

Moving Like a Bird

Bird’s flying. It’s something that has made people envious and jealous for thousands of years. As birder’s we watch the birds fly for hours on end. As ornithologist’s we study how and why birds fly. And yet I question if we will ever truly understand it.

In ornithology classes, the Bernoulli Principle and what physics has to say in regards to explaining how birds can fly is taught. And yet, personally at least, it never really made sense. Until recently that is.

I went sailing for the first time with a friend over the summer. On the lakeshore, she told me all about how the sails and boat worked. She told me the conditions wanted for the best and fastest sail possible. And yet she never told me what it would feel like once we were sailing at the fastest speed we could reach. She didn’t tell me how thrilling it would be or how fast things could change. She didn’t tell me that it would help explain bird flight to me.Bald Eagle

As we sailed, my friend tried to explain everything to me again now that things were actually happening. However, all I could do was realize that the things that were making us move thru the water were the same things that make birds fly. Suddenly, it all made sense as to why northernly winds were preferred for spring migration and southernly winds were preferred for fall migration. It had always seemed backwards to me. Weren’t those winds going in the opposite direction that you wanted to go? Isn’t a wind that pushes you more helpful? But birds fly and I was sailing, not riding a bike. The sails “sung” the loudest and we were going the fastest when we were going straight into the wind with hair in our faces and hands holding our hats down so they wouldn’t blow off into the water.Sailing

To be honest I don’t think I can truly explain the “how” of sailing or flying. Physics has never been my strong suit. But I can explain that the feeling was incredible. To move so efficiently and so swiftly all because of wind and only wind. It made the birds that can just soar endlessly in the air, the ones I’ve seen all my life, even more impressive to me. The buteos, the vultures, the gulls, the swifts and swallows and all the rest. They flap, they glide, they soar, they fly. And it is flight that will always be part of what makes birds so magical to me.