During the first week of May 2002, I found a soggy and dilapidated nest laying upside down on the ground in my yard after a severe thunderstorm. When I picked it up I discovered two featherless baby birds underneath. Their eyes were still shut and they were barely alive. They were maybe only a day old. I thought they might be Starlings. I brought them in, set up a makeshift baby bird incubator and called our local nature center to see if they could help. Although they have a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured wild animals, I was told they do not take in Starlings or Sparrows because they are not native to our area. Now what do I do?
I could not just put them back out into the yard to let them die, but I wasn't sure how to care for them. I talked with friends who raise parrots and I found information at a web site called Starling Talk. They had everything I needed to know to care for these babies properly, including what to feed them. It was at their message forum that I discovered that my baby birds weren't Starlings after all. They were Sparrows. I have to admit most naked baby birds look pretty much alike to me! At least the care is the same. They had to be kept warm, clean, fed and safe from my pets. Because I was raising them to be released back into the wild, it was vital that I did not handle them anymore than absolutely necessary. To survive in the wild they needed to identify with other birds, not people or my pets.
In the beginning, they needed to be hand-fed every half hour from six in the morning until nine or ten at night. As they grew, I backed the feedings off to every hour, then every couple of hours and so on. When they were about two weeks old, they graduated from the incubator to a cage. Everyday I would take the cage outside and set it near our bird feeding stations. Once they saw all the birds coming to eat they began eating on their own and they loved being outside! The final step before their release was to set them up in an outside flight cage. My babies needed to become acclimated to the outdoor environment and room to practice flying. They need about a week in the outside cage before they can be safely released.
My 5'x5' cage wasn't as big as I would have wanted, but it was the best I could do. I placed it in a group of large bushes near the outside bird feeding stations. I covered the top with plastic sheeting to protect them from the rain, put in some natural tree branches, a berry box filled with hay near the top of the cage for a warm sleeping area and their food and water dishes are on the bottom. They have lived in their outside cage for almost a week and have been doing great. I plan to release them in two days. Of course the cage will remain there with the door open for a while. They will probably return to eat and perhaps at night to sleep until they are fully integrated into Sparrow society. I will miss these little guys, but like a good Sparrow mom, I've got to let them spread their wings and fly!
I set my little Sparrows free on June the 7th. When I opened the cage and stood back, one of them flew immediately out and up into a tree. The remaining Sparrow simply sat on a branch in the cage and looked at me. As I watched, the first Sparrow came back to the cage and called to her friend. They both flew off together. I saw them almost everyday that summer with the flock of Sparrows that visit my bird feeders. How did I know it's them? My little Sparrows still had the little blue smudges of food coloring that I put on their chests before I moved them into their outside cage.