Fledgling Barn Swallows await an insect meal at MARS Hospital. Photo supplied

Fledgling Barn Swallows await an insect meal at MARS Hospital. Photo supplied

MARS Moment: It’s baby bird season – avoid trimming your hedges and trees

By Jane Sproull Thomson

Special to Black Press

A recent arrival at MARS Wildlife Rescue brought a timely reminder about nesting season, when a baby Anna’s hummingbird was found on the ground, after the residents had trimmed a bush, and brought to the hospital. The nest could not be found and was apparently destroyed. Please don’t do your hedge- and tree-trimming during the spring and summer.

A fluffy young ‘nestling,’ without feathers (of any species) found on the ground needs immediate help. If you find a downy baby hummingbird on the ground, gently pick it up, including whatever it’s gripping with its feet. Hummingbirds have strong toes and removing something from a baby’s grip can break her tiny bones.

Keep a baby nestling warm, dark and quiet, don’t try to feed it and don’t peek. Call MARS immediately at 250-337-2021.

Like other animals, baby birds can be either altricial or precocial.

Most of our backyard birds are altricial, meaning that like human babies, they are born naked, very immature and helpless and require warmth and intense parental care until they get down and feathers and can move around and find food. A precocial bird – think of ducks, for example – has warm downy feathers and can move around very soon after hatching.

A chick soon grows from helpless ‘nestling’ to a ‘fledgling’ and at the latter stage it is most likely to be bird-napped by a well-meaning human, because fledglings are often seen on the ground, still a bit fluffy and unable to fly well despite having some flight feathers. It may seem to be in trouble (and if an outdoor cat is nearby and sees it, it is!), but if the bird is in a safe place, just keep your distance and watch for a while. You’ll probably see mom or dad come along to feed it, so don’t be hasty in deciding to ‘rescue’ it. Left on its own, the fledgling will soon be able to flit about.

Vauz swift ready to fly

On another subject, an annual air show will begin shortly in Courtenay. Yes, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds are practising their aerial skills, but the show I’m referring to is performed by the vaux swift.

Thousands of these tiny acrobats will soon be migrating through town and showing off their formation-flying at dusk each evening as they swirl in the air above the Courtenay Museum’s huge chimney. The show culminates in a vortex as they dive into the chimney to roost for the night. The performance is not to be missed and tickets are free!

Not every chimney is safe for birds, though. In 2012 thousands of swifts died after being unable to escape a chimney in Cumberland. Avoid having bats in your belfry or birds in your chimney by ensuring yours has a cap and no gaps large enough to admit either animal.

MARS Visitor Centre exhibits and gift shop open Friday to Sunday from 11-3; for a tour of the property and to see the ambassador birds, make a reservation at marswildliferescue.com

animal welfare