3 March, 2013 in Article, Images | Comment

A veterinarian was jogging one day when he stumbled upon this tiny freshly hatched songbird that had fallen out of its nest. Unable to locate the nest so he could return the baby bird to it, he decided to take it home and hand raise it himself.

Here is the amazingly beautiful story:

Day 1

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Here is the little chick on the first day. My brother had been out jogging, and found it on the sidewalk. It was actually still attached to part of its shell and some dried membranes. Clearly freshly hatched, we were unable to locate the nest in the group of trees above us.

Day 2

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We kept the chick in an incubator, carefully controlling the humidity and temperature. We decided she was a she (though we were never able to find out if it was male or female), and called her “Dumpling.” All baby birds look very similar, so we had no way to really know what kind of bird this was. We’d have to wait and see how she grew, and what her feathers looked like.

Day 3

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Baby birds eat a lot! We fed this chick primarily with crickets, mealworms, waxworms, caught insects, and a commercially available liquid formula for chicks. We fed the chick every 30 minutes for 14 hours/day, simulating what she would get in the wild.

Day 4

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You can see here the amazing development of the wing feathers in just a few days’ time. Also, she had a hilarious wispy mohawk of down feathers that got even more ridiculous when she got a little older. She would start squawking to be fed every 30-45 minutes.

Day 5

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By day 5, Dumpling was able to sit more “sternal” (on her chest with the legs tucked under her body) with more stability. Look at the changes in the feathers in just another 24 hours! She is actually starting to look like a bird! Her eyes were starting to open just a little bit by this time, as well.

Day 6

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Here is a nice shot of the amazing continued development of her wing feathers. You can see them encased in a cornified sheath. Once the feather gets to its final size, this sheath disintegrates and the feather is allowed to spread open.

Day 7

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Overnight, all of the feather sheaths fell away and -tada!- we have a bird! You can see here as well that she has a bent lateral toe on her left leg. Not much to be done about that in a bird this small, and it really didn’t slow her down at all.

Day 8

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“FEED ME!!” At this point, she was eating 3 large crickets +/- waxworms at every feeding. I’ll attempt to make a gif later from some video I have of her scarfing them down.

Day 9

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By this time, we were able to stop using the incubator. Since her body was covered in feathers, she was able to regulate her body heat on her own. The tufts of chick fluff and the eternally grumpy expression that baby birds have was hilarious.

Day 10

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We moved her into more of a conventional cage, and gave her more materials to explore. She was really happy, despite her expression.

Day 11

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She was able to officially perch for the first time! Definitely a big step in the right direction. She doesn’t have much of a tail yet, so her balance isn’t great, but she had a really strong grip and could hold herself up there very well, bad toe and all.

Day 12

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She was a very sweet little bird, and enjoyed perching on our hands, early on. You can see some sprouting millet seeds in the background, which we added to her diet to continue to increase the variety of food she was exposed to. By this point, we actually didn’t have to feed her as often. We would hand feed her every 1-2 hours, and place worms in the cage for her to forage for in between times.

Day 13

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Almost 2 weeks from hatching, and she is now perching very well! You can see that her strength and balance has improved even compared to Day 11. Her legs are more upright, showing a better perching posture. This “hocks up” posture is very characteristic of 14-day old songbird chicks, so she is right on schedule.

Day 14

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She is starting to look more mature. That hilarious baby down is disappearing. Now that she is over 2 weeks old, I’ll start skipping days.

Day 17

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Here she is in a larger cage that she graduated to. We put in freshly cut branches so she can have a variety of perching options, and can explore the leaves and twigs like she would in the wild. By this point, she is hopping and flying around the cage like a professional.

Day 22

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We started placing her cage out on the deck to get her exposed to the wind, the sun and other birds. This is important for socialization and training. Other birds would come to the feeders and interact with her, and she could watch them and learn their songs.

Day 23

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This is one of my favorite pictures of her, showing her wonderfully patterned feathers. By this point, we decided she was likely a White Crowned Sparrow or Chipping Sparrow.

Day 25

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Another lovely side view of her, showing her feather patterning. It provides for great camouflage as they flit among the trees.

Day 27

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By this time, she was completely off of eating crickets (showed absolutely no interest in them), and her diet was more seed and worm-based. She was also eating on her own, completely. She actually didn’t let us feed her anymore, which was a good sign.

Day 29

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She loved all of the new leafy branches we’d put in for her. A large part of their diet in the wild is tree buds, and she’d go after those immediately whenever we put fresh branches in for her.

Day 33

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At this point, she was essentially releasable. However, there were some expected storms rolling in over the next few days, so we decided to keep her for a few days longer to give her the best chance.

Day 36

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After storms the night before, Day 36 dawned beautifully. Confident that the weather was going to be nice for several days, and that the recent rainfall would give her plenty of drinking and feeding opportunities, we decided this would be the perfect day to send her on her way!

Bye Bye, Dumpling!

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We opened the cage door and stepped back. After a few minutes, she hopped out and flitted immediately up into a tree. She didn’t hesitate at all. She immediately started exploring the branches, biting at tree buds and hopping from branch-to-branch like a wild bird. Pretty soon, we lost sight of her.

Hopefully, you enjoyed Dumpling’s story, and learned a little about wild birds. I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t try to raise wildlife of any sort unless you’re trained to. Find a local wildlife rehaber or veterinarian to help you out! Please let me know if you have any questions, and I encourage you all to enjoy natures little miracles that are all around you!