Bird memories litter my days as a child growing up in Idaho. The camp robbers that used to haunt our campsites in the Idaho National Forest…the sound of their voices is something I still remember and the flash of their wings, a gray streak heading for the pines. This memory was brought back along with a flood of others as I was reading the article on the four congenial birds in the February March edition of Birds and Blooms Magazine. There is a photo on page 36, but it wasn’t the picture but that name…”Camp robber”. The past few days have been interesting as I recount one memory after another of the delight I had in birds as a child and seeing how that has impacted my interest in them today. Back then we didn’t know what we were doing so we made a lot of mistakes. It was a learning experience for us with mixed results and emotions. I share the follow memories as cautionary tales in part as if I had known then what I know today the stories would have been quite different.
The sound of killdeer calling from the rocky soil in the field near my home here in Oregon, evokes memories of the time one of my brothers brought home a young killdeer and put it in our empty swimming pool. It may have been one that had fallen off a roof in an attempt to learn to fly. Killdeer were always nesting on the rock-covered roofs of the houses in our neighborhood…not the safest place to nest but we would often see them running along the rooftops and hear that familiar “kill-deer kill-deer kill-deer”.
Growing up I remember wandering the fields near our house, investigating the creatures that lived there, tadpoles in the drainage ditches, horned toads, lizards, garter snakes and grasshoppers, which seemed to be one of our favorites. The grass hoppers were probably a favorite because they were so plentiful and easy to catch and always surprised us as the flew up from the tall weedy grasses. We spent hours chasing after them. The sound of grasshoppers as they fly makes me feel eight years old all over again.
As we tromped through the fields killdeer would often fly up from their camouflaged cover calling “kill-deer kill deer kill-deer”, or pretending to have a lame wing. For a long time we didn’t know why they did this and finally learned it was to distract us from their nesting sites. I remember once wanting to find a killdeer nest and I accidentally stepped on it instead because it was so well camouflaged that I didn’t see it until it was too late and a little bird lost its life. It still makes me sad to think about that moment. Today if I’m out in a field and I hear that killdeer cry my eyes shoot down to the ground immediately because I know the nest is very near somewhere and could easily be stepped on if I’m not watching for it. It’s best to just redirect my path and relieve the parents of fearing for the safety of their young.
Another time we raised a baby sparrow and fledged it, naming it Roadrunner after our favorite cartoon character. There were originally three baby birds but only the one survived. I remember mixing up a sort of gruel, actually oatmeal, that we carefully fed the wee birds. I’m surprised any of them lived actually. Oh and the reason for us bringing birds home in the first place was that we believed if we touched the baby birds the mother birds would reject them and we didn’t know how to get them back in the nest without touching them so they came home with us. As it turned out our little sparrow bonded to me. I remember taking care of it a lot and evidently became its surrogate mother, a job I loved.
One day I got the notion to try and train my little sparrow. Guess I figured if our dog would come to a whistle why not a bird and began to whistle for it, calling its name and low and behold it worked! I may also have been influenced by the book “Are You My Mother”, about a little bird that is separated from its parent and goes searching for her. The training began at the same time I was teaching it to fly, lifting it ever so slightly up from the ground and giving it an upward shove. It would flutter a bit, was a little clumsy but soon got its wings working right and flew across the room. Next I tried whistling for it from where I was standing on the other side of the room and it flew and landed on my hand. I was as thrilled as when a mother watching her baby’s first steps and elated at the fact that it actually worked! The bird knew my call!
Birds are wild things though and it wasn’t long before one day after letting it fly in our back yard that the day came that I would have to say goodbye to my young fledgling. With Road Runner on my finger I went out the back door onto our patio and gave it a little lift up with my hand, signaling my bird to fly. It flew to the back fence and sat there chirping and checking out the surroundings. One last time I called for it with my whistle and one last time it flew to my hand. My fledgling sparrow looked up at me for the last time as if to say goodbye and flew back to the fence, gave a chirp and then flew off into a tree. I don’t know if it ever came back to visit, I couldn’t discern its voice like it could mine. I kept hoping it would return like and for the next couple of years would give a whistle out the back door but I never saw the little sparrow again.
Here’s a link for info that will help you if you find a little bird on the ground or nest.
As the weather warms and we are outside more there is a chance we might come across animals we feel need our help. Experts say its best to leave them alone but if they are in need of medical attention to contact authorities who can provide the proper help for them. Here are some links with more information.
If you find a wild animal that is injured here’s some folks that can help. http://www.wildliferehabber.com/
Find your State Fish and Wildlife Department
Today it is against the law to do what we did back in the 1960’s as Federal laws have changed and now permits and certification are required. If you find an injured animal contact your local Audubon Society or Wildlife care center and remember, wild mammals can be dangerous so its best to let the professionals handle them.