Sunday, December 28, 2014

Helping Birds During The Cold Winter Months

RELEASE OF THE WEEK:  A Barred Owl (photo above) is released after three weeks of intensive care after being struck by a car while flying across the road. The bird suffered severe internal hemorrhaging and brain swelling. Photo by Tony Greenleaf

By Catherine Greenleaf

Many birds that visit our backyards during spring and summer migrate to warmer southern climates during the winter. However, there are a number of bird species that remain here in New Hampshire, including Nuthatches, Juncos, Redpolls, Tufted Titmice, Evening Grosbeaks, Cardinals, Purple Finches, American Goldfinches, and Pine Siskins. These birds can certainly use your help to survive the cold weather:

1. Don’t rake all your leaves. By allowing some leaves to stay put you provide insects, a rich source of protein for birds. Insects have a tendency to hide under leaf litter and birds need to eat protein-rich insects to survive, especially young birds.

2. Many gardeners chop down all of their perennial plants after the frost. But leaving some of your plants standing will offer hungry birds delicious seed heads to feast on. Sometimes seed heads are the major source of food that keeps birds, like the Black-Capped Chickadee, alive through the freezing winter.

3. Instead of carting off all your dead twigs and sticks to the dump, create a brush pile in your backyard. This pile will provide a much-needed warm and dry place for birds to roost during major snow and ice storms. It’s also a perfect hiding place to stay safe from predators.

4. Leave up those dead trees. One of the best sources of tasty insects and warm holes to hide in is a dead tree. If the tree poses no safety hazard, allow it to stand and you will benefit species from owls to the tiniest songbirds. In fact, keeping dead trees on your property will prevent woodpeckers from drilling for insects in the wood frame of your house.

5. Provide roosting pockets or shelves. Roosting pockets are tiny, little huts made of braided grass that you can hang up on tree branches. These huts provide a warm place for cold birds to hang out in while a storm is raging. Roosting shelves are made of wood and attached to trees. They have a roof with a deep shelf inside. Often you may see half a dozen or more birds huddled together inside to stay warm during a sub-zero cold snap.

6. Birds need water, especially during the winter. You can place a shallow bowl of clean, warm water outdoors, in an elevated location safe from predators. You can even provide a heated birdbath, which the birds will love. Birds need water to stay hydrated and digest their food. They also need the water to clean their feathers, since soiled feathers can prevent the bird from maintaining adequate protection from the cold and rain.

7. If you elect to hang birdfeeders in your yard, you’ll want to make sure the feeders are clean. Birdfeeders can collect dirt, feces and mold, which can make birds sick. Scrub the inside and outside of your feeders with a long-handled brush, using a diluted bleach solution, and then rinse thoroughly. Only fill the feeder when completely dry to avoid mold contamination. Be sure to buy seed only from the highest quality companies. Always give your bag of birdseed the sniff test. If it smells moldy, put it in the garbage can.

8. Install bird feeders at least 30 feet away from any sliding glass doors or windows. Fifty feet would be even better. Many birds die each year from flying into glass. In warmer weather, if the injury is mild, the bird may recover in just a few minutes. However, in cold weather, a bird with even the mildest of concussions quickly succumbs to hypothermia. Put the bird in a shoebox, bring the bird indoors, and call your local wildlife rehabilitator.

By making just a few of the changes suggested above, you can save the life of many a bird!

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Bazaar To Help The Birds A Big Success

by Catherine Greenleaf

A big THANK YOU to everyone who turned out at the Lyme Center Baptist Church to buy bird ornaments in support of St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital. Your generous purchases will enable us to pay for badly needed medicine used to treat injured wild birds that come into the hospital.

This year, volunteers donated ornaments, and some people even got crafty and made their own! We had ornaments that featured owls, penguins, cardinals and blue birds. Your handcrafted gifts are much appreciated by us -- and the birds!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Little Hummingbird Takes A Temporary Detour

by Catherine Greenleaf

Most hummingbirds usually start to clear out of New England by the end of the summer, and migration to Central and South America can continue until mid-October. So it is always a nail-biter when someone brings me a hummingbird for rehabilitation in October. The clock is ticking, and every effort must be made to get the little guy (or in this case, girl) back outside and on her way before the major freezes start to occur.

I received a phone call on October 10 from a Lyme, N.H. resident, saying he had gone outside in the early morning to refill his hummingbird nectar feeder only to find a tiny hummingbird perched on his feeder and fast asleep! He had no trouble picking up the bird and placing her in a shoebox with a soft towel on the bottom. He drove straight over, and sure enough, an exam found the bird to be hypothermic, dehydrated and utterly exhausted.

As you can see from the photo above, the hummingbird took to her heated enclosure quite readily and spent the day cuddled up on a fleecy, warm blanket. I administered electrolyte fluids made especially for hummingbirds.

Birds, in comparison to humans, have an extremely high metabolism. The daily intake of food necessary to fly is enormous. Well, with a hummingbird the requirements are even higher, due to their diminuitive size and the speed at which they can travel. Most people believe hummingbirds subsist mainly on nectar from flowers and the nectar from feeders. However, hummingbirds spend most of their day catching tiny insects on the wing. Their need for protein-rich insects is just as high as any songbird's. In a hummingbird's case, think of nectar as a cup of coffee to help the bird stay strong inbetween insect meals.

By day's end she had perked up enough to start perching and drinking some nectar from a feeder inside her cage. By the following afternoon, she was flying and drinking nectar from a flying position. Her weight was good.

But what to do about the weather? The evenings were already teetering toward the thirties, and hummingbirds do not do well in frigid temps. I did the only thing I could do. I packed her up and drove two hours south to where New Hampshire meets the border of Massachusettts, and let her go, knowing she was now in a warmer zone and climate, and therefore able to continue her migration. The other good news is there was a warming trend building, which created safe passage as far as North Carolina.

The weather cooperated in this case. However, the carpicious weather can be a stern taskmaster, and many late migrants do not survive their journey. This particular hummingbird had most likely migrated from Canada. I am always so grateful to people like this Lyme, N.H. resident, who leave their feeders out very late into the season. In this case, he most likely saved this hummingbird's life. Hopefully, she is in Costa Rica right now, enjoying the sunshine and sipping nectar from a flower.

copyright 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Birds and Windows -- A Dangerous Combination

by Catherine Greenleaf

According to the Wild Bird Fund, one billion birds die each year in the United States flying into glass windows and sliding glass doors. 

When birds are flying they see only the reflection of trees and blue sky behind them, and they treat the glass as open air space. Unfortunately, this usually results in a fatality.

There is a great deal you can do to prevent this pointless suffering and death:

1. Make sure your bird feeders are at least 50 feet away from all glass windows.

2. Avoid putting bird feeders on back decks in close proximity to sliding glass doors.

3. Birds can injure themselves flying into the picture window of a home or the glass window of an office building. A bird can suffer various injuries, ranging from a mild concussion, to internal bleeding, to a hematoma on the brain, to a broken neck. If a bird knocks himself unconscious by flying into glass, it important to put him inside a shoebox or small cardboard box and keep him away from predators like cats until he regains consciousness. In the meantime, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. Even if a bird regains consciousness, he may still need medical treatment. Many birds allowed to fly off after regaining consciousness often die of internal hemorrhaging in the woods later the same day. If it is cold outside, please bring the bird indoors to warm up until he regains consciousness or the bird will die from hypothermia.

4. During spring and fall migration, millions of birds are confused by the harsh glare of city lights and become entrapped inside the dizzying array of high-rise buildings, ultimately striking a high-rise window and dying. Talk to your city or town officials about reducing night light and glare from downtown areas. You can also play a part by reducing the usage of your overall lighting at night, and making sure your outdoor lights do not create glare.

5. Another problem is male birds defending their breeding territories in the spring and early summer. This most often occurs with Cardinals, Northern Flickers, and Robins. The birds will fly into glass to fight what they think is another male bird (when it is their own reflection) and will sometimes fight to the death. The same holds true for the rear-view mirrors on your car. You can help this situation by covering your rear view mirrors, and amply covering the outside of any windows where territorial displays are being made.

6. Consider placing bird decals on your picture windows. These are black or clear plastic decals that will alert the bird they are flying near glass. Birds cannot differentiate between glass and thin air. These decals, quite literally, can make a bird swing up and away just in time to avoid serious injury. There are many bird supply catalogs, like, that sell these decals by mail.

However, decals are only effective if there are many, and they must be spaced four inches apart. Otherwise they will not be effective because songbirds can turn sideways and fly through two inches of space. Another important note about decals: they must be placed on the outside of the glass, not the inside, in order to disrupt the reflection and in order for birds to see them in time. If you have a window that seems to be a repeat offender, consider installing an awning to block the reflection of sunlight.

You can save many birds' lives by taking these easy steps!

The new brochure from St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital, "Birds And Windows -- A Dangerous Combination" will be available in January, 2015!

All illustrations by the extremely talented artist Stephanie Piro. Visit her at

Copyright 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Great Blue Heron Gets A Second Chance

by Catherine Greenleaf

Each year, I see a good number of Great Blue Herons at the bird hospital. When I think Great Blue Heron I think Pterodactyl. Their size and look always make me think of prehistoric dinosaurs. They are so tall and have such a wide wing span, they can get into all kinds of trouble. Most of the injuries I see are in first-year juveniles, who aren't wise to the ways of the road. They fly too low, trying to move from one marsh to another by crossing a road, and get hit by cars. Broken bones result in lengthy rehabilitation stays, and I can often have a heron with me for a month or longer.

The photo above shows a juvenile Great Blue Heron being released into a bog in Canaan, N.H. (You may have to click on the photo to see the enlarged version). This youngster was brought to me by a young woman in Canaan, who found him walking across her front lawn. He could barely move and spent a great deal of time kneeling down on the ground, making him likely prey for predators like fox and coyote. She put him in a box and drove him over to my facility.

I was aghast after I put him on the scale. At the end of the summer, a juvenile heron should weigh at least 900-1,000 grams, since a fully grown adult can weight anywhere from 1,600 to 2,500 grams. But this little guy was barely hitting 700 grams and was extremely weak. It is always dangerous when a juvenile heron drops below 800, since without proper nutrients and fluids, internal organs can start shutting down one after the other, leading to death. He could not fly because he had starved off all of the muscle on his keel. Without muscle along the keel, a bird cannot lift off to fly. He was grounded.

But after several rounds of special avian electrolyte fluids and medications, he appeared to be willing to fight to stay alive. That's all I needed to see, and I was happy to join forces with the bird and try to see the situation to a happy ending. I fed him a special liquified diet, loaded with essential minerals. After the third day, he was able to ingest dead whole fish until he gained enough energy to start jabbing live ones with his ultra-sharp beak. After two and a half weeks, he had gained enough weight to be able to fly again, and I knew it was time to take him back to the wild. Good luck, little fellow!

Photo by Phoebe Kilham                       Copyright 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The life of a wildlife rehabilitator can be stressful and harried. I often put in 14-16 hour days caring for injured wild birds. Between administering medical care, changing bandages, feeding, cage cleaning, laundry, and food preparation, I usually fall into bed face first around midnight, and then get up at 5 a.m. to start the process all over again.

So I have very little time to devote to special projects. Even projects that are urgent, like more cage space for birds. But there is a wonderful group of men in Lyme called Those Guys. These intrepid fellows are some of the most generous and caring people I have ever met. Last year, they swooped in and built a state-of-the-art raptor enclosure for the hospital. The hospital paid for materials, and Those Guys set to work, building and installing a mew that will house injured Red-Tailed Hawks, Broadwinged Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Great Horned Owls.

The addition of this new enclosure will allow me to expand my work, and accept even more injured raptors, which is very exciting.

A big thank you to Those Guys of Lyme, but in particular (as seen in photo from left to right): Tom Hughes, Tom Toner, Dan O'Hara, and Terry Martin. These fellows did the bulk of the work, and I can't thank them enough for their generosity.

Catherine Greenleaf,