- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Nancy Appleton, a retired potter, first stumbled upon a baby bird struggling on a lawn while walking her dogs around her Kailua neighborhood 10 years ago. It appeared to have fallen out of a palm tree in someone’s yard.

A lover of animals, she could not simply leave the baby mountain dove to an almost certain death, so she made several phone calls and discovered Wild Bird Rehab Haven. Volunteers at the Oahu nonprofit gave her advice on how to pick up the baby bird in a container and feed and care for it at home. After a few months the dove matured and was able to fly off on its own.

“He made it,” she said. “It was exciting but you worry about them.”

Inspired by that first rescue, Appleton became a volunteer herself and has rehabilitated hundreds of birds, mostly the kind you see in your backyard — mynahs, doves, sparrows, finches and cardinals.

The basics of assessing and caring for nestlings (without feathers) or fledgings (with feathers), including what to do with an abandoned or orphaned baby bird in the first 24 hours, were offered in a daylong public workshop by the group this weekend.

“All of the rehabbers I know started as I did — they personally found an injured or orphaned bird and needed to learn how to take care of it,” said founder Linda Leveen, one of the workshop’s instructors. “We really want to give people the skills and the confidence that if they find a bird, they can take care of it.”

Nesting season typically starts in April and stretches through August for most common backyard birds, so there is typically an upswing in the number of baby birds falling out of trees this time of year. Often, people find a helpless bird in their yard and don’t realize they can save it or call for help.

Leveen advises first seeing if the parents are nearby and whether you can place it back into the nest. If the nest is unreachable, then line a small box with torn paper towels or tissue and place it as high as you can in the tree near its parents. She says it’s a myth that avian parents abandon their offspring once they’ve been handled by humans. In fact, birds do not have a good sense of smell, according to Leveen.

If the parents are nowhere to be seen or if the bird is injured or bleeding, place it in a box and take it home to care for it — which is no small commitment. Wild Bird Rehab Haven recommends baby birds be fed frequently during daylight hours using special formula and a dropper.

WILD BIRD Rehab Haven, founded in 2003, is made up of a network of more than 50 volunteers throughout Oahu who care for birds at home. While there may be no ecological benefit to rescuing birds from common species, the volunteers — like many people — are motivated by a desire to help animals in distress. Collectively, the volunteer network has the ability to assess injuries, treat birds for shock and dehydration, and splint broken bones.

When necessary, volunteers also transport injured birds to avian vets or refer seabirds to Sea Life Park or seabird rehabilitator Carolyn Blackburn, who holds a federal permit to care for white terns and wedge-tailed shearwaters.

In addition to falling out of nests, birds can be injured by cats, dogs and vehicles. Some also get their claws entangled in human hair.

Leveen recently picked up two baby house finches — one discovered in someone’s yard in Hawaii Kai and the other near the Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki — and now has them in her charge. She keeps them in a towel-lined cage outfitted with a branch.

She said it’s important to keep baby birds warm and hydrated. She feeds them specialized formula from the pet store mixed with baby food for humans, usually banana or apricot-mango puree, from a dropper.

The house finches were weeks old when they came into her care but can be rehabbed and released back into the wild when they mature in a few months. When the rescued birds begin to fly, it’s best to let them exercise their wings in an aviary first, Leveen said.

Appleton has a screened-in lanai for that purpose. There are various cages where birds of the same ages and breeds are grouped together. Typically, she takes in up to 45 birds at a time. There’s also a special cage with a door that opens to her backyard.

Birds that are ready can fly back to nature from the door but also return to seek shelter. Eventually, the birds will go for good when they are ready, she said.

Learning how to care for the birds can be challenging at first, she said, but one learns with experience. Some birds make it back to nature, some become pets because they cannot be released and some, of course, do not make it at all, which can be heartbreaking.

“We’re willing to mentor and give advice,” said Appleton. “In the beginning it was hit or miss. So many people can now give you advice, and you can save that many more birds that way.”

Leveen regularly releases rehabilitated birds in groups and says seeing them healthy and free is the greatest reward.

“It was so wonderful,” she said, remembering a recent release of seven birds at Kapiolani Park. “I did it under a group of trees, and they all flew up and stayed together. I look up and they’re relaxing and preening themselves. That means they’re relaxed, at ease and happy, and they could call out to each other.”

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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