The Whisker Chronicles

Whiskers are also known as vibrissa, from the latin vibrare "to vibrate". Vibrissa are the specialized hairs on mammals and the bristlelike feathers near the mouths of many birds. Their resonant design is symbolic of the energies, good and bad, that are reverberating throughout the natural world. Every living thing is connected and, by birthright, deserves to exist.

What Is That Crazy Bird Doing?!

Juvenile Cardinal, still has downy feathers but already independent in feeding itself.  Photo by Maymie Higgins

Juvenile Cardinal, still has downy feathers but already independent in feeding itself. Photo by Maymie Higgins

Every spring, I am presented with stories by friends who want to know why birds are behaving in certain ways.  Or sometimes they just want to explain to me why they think they had to kill a bird or destroy its nest.  Please remember that most birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law which makes it illegal, with very few exceptions, to kill birds or to disturb or take birds, eggs, nests and feathers.  However, it is my hope that readers are much more inspired to peacefully co-exist with wildlife out of genuine biophilia as opposed to the threat of criminal punishment.

We all tend to filter our concept of animal behavior through a human perspective, or anthropomorphize.  From that perspective, we often make inaccurate conclusions that an animal is sick, injured or just plain crazy.  Usually none of those scenarios apply.  Rather, we are most likely witnessing normal and natural breeding behaviors that will end in just a few weeks.  We can do our part to help wildlife by ignoring and/or tolerating these behaviors and leaving the animals alone.

Here are some of the most common scenarios with birds that have been reported to me over the years.

Source of photo unknown.

Source of photo unknown.

A bird is pecking at house windows.   Birds are very territorial during mating season, and sometimes even during non-mating season.  The slightest bird intruder of the same species will become the target of aggression as turfs are being established.  We must remember that birds do not have the same visual experience that humans do.  A reflection of themselves in window glass looks like another bird.  This is not because they are stupid.  Their eyes and brain genuinely perceive another bird.  The solution is simple.  Place a towel or pillow case over the inside of the window or otherwise eliminate the reflection from the outside (shutting the blind, shade, etc.).  I have done this many times over the years and it is amazing how quick and effective it is.  This is probably only going to be necessary for a few days to a few weeks, depending on the bird species.

Photo courtesy of Bird and Blooms Magazine online.

Photo courtesy of Bird and Blooms Magazine online.

A bird is pecking at the car side view mirrors and pooping on them too!  Again, this is a reflection being perceived by the bird as another bird that is trying to encroach on his or her turf.  Pop your mirrors in or cover them.  This has always worked like a charm for me. And by the way, the bird is not just coincidentally pooping.  Nope.  It’s an act of aggression towards the perceived intruder, which is why there is so much of it.  I don’t know about you, but if a person was glaring at me while darting their head towards my face and dropping a load, I would move on for sure.

Barn Swallow nest photo courtesy of Carrie Rinehart.

Barn Swallow nest photo courtesy of Carrie Rinehart.

A bird has nested on my front porch and there is poop everywhere!  Yes, poop is gross.  No argument there.  But you will have the reward of seeing some really cute hatchlings, nestlings and fledglings over the next few weeks.  Make some concessions that are temporary and usually not all that inconvenient such as moving your furniture just a little.  It is actually an honor that a mating pair of birds saw your structure as a safe place to raise a family.  Maybe that’s exactly what you thought the first time you saw your home too.  Hey, you’ve got something in common!

Carolina Chickadee hatchlings in 2013.  Photo by Maymie Higgins

Carolina Chickadee hatchlings in 2013. Photo by Maymie Higgins

There are baby birds on my lawn that are all alone.  Humans are primates and when we are born, we are altricial for a very long time.  That is a fancy way of saying we require constant care and attention for years, with the need tapering and then ending somewhere in our early to mid twenties.  Some human parents right now are uttering, “Yeah, right!”  But birds are not like that.  Bird parents have to find food for their babies, starting immediately after the chicks hatch (hatchlings), as they grow larger (nestlings) and even for a time after they leave the nest (fledglings).  Though birds become independent in flight and foraging skills very quickly after leaving the nest, there is a brief time that they are on the ground or in other “unsafe” locations.  During this time the parents continue to feed them and begin teaching necessary skills such as how to avoid predators.

The best thing you can do when you see baby birds that are not obviously sick, injured or too small to be out of the nest is to leave them alone.  And make sure your children and pets leave them alone as well.

It is okay to watch the proceedings from afar, far enough away that the parents will feel comfortable flying to their babies to feed and guide them.  Think of it as when you were taught to ride a bicycle for the first time.  Eventually you peddled away from the grown up that was teaching you, but they were still watching.  Imagine the horror the adult would have experienced if a big monster came and snatched you away, just because they thought you were unsupervised.

In wildlife rehabilitation, on a daily basis, healthy juvenile animals are brought in as “orphaned” during the spring and summer.  They are quickly labeled as “kidnapped” because a human made the false assumption that the animal was alone merely because they didn’t see an adult animal.  The truth is the adult animal was likely hiding and waiting for the scary human to go away. Don’t be a kidnapper.

For guidelines on how to determine if an animal needs human intervention, visit The National Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association.  There are excellent guidelines for determining if baby mammals and baby birds need rescuing. There is also helpful information for finding wildlife rehabilitators in your area.

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