A Little Sorrow, a Little Joy

Thank you to readers Lisa and Eliza for correctly identifying the songbirds posted in A Tale of Two Wrens. Our feathered guests are House Finches.

Last week I rescued a finch from our walkway. It sat fluffing its feathers but not otherwise moving. I brought him inside, made him a little nest inside our cat carrier and drove to the local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility. I learned a few days later that the sweet little songbird suffered from a highly contagious and generally incurable eye disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis or MG. Our rescued finch has been humanely euthanized by the caring folks at Wildlife Center Silicon Valley.

There is small comfort knowing he died in a pair of loving hands. Left on the cold sidewalk he would have surely fallen prey to a cat. Further, since it’s highly contagious, removing any diseased bird from a community gives the others a fighting chance.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Male House Finch with MG, a highly contagious eye disease prevalent in songbirds

Clinical Signs
House finches with mycoplasmal conjunctivitis will exhibit swelling around the eyes, crusty eyelids, and watery ocular and/or nasal discharge. Extreme swelling and crusting can lead to impaired vision and at times blindness. In severe cases, birds may become debilitated, depressed, lose body condition, and die. Some birds can act as carriers of MG while showing no clinical signs of the disease. 
Diagnosis
Mycoplasmosis is diagnosed based on clinical signs and the isolation of M. gallisepticum by culture or other laboratory tests. 
Treatment
Treatment of wild birds with MG is not recommended. Although antibiotics may clear clinical signs, birds can become asymptomatic carriers that can spread the bacteria to new locations. 
Management
Management efforts to control mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in finches focus on transmission prevention. Bird feeders and baths should be kept clean and spaced far enough apart to prevent crowding. Only clean, fresh feed should be provided at feeders. Tube-style feeders seem to be particularly problematic in MG transmission. During outbreaks of mycoplasmosis, bird feeding should be discontinued to eliminate this source of transmission.

https://www.northeastwildlife.org/disease/avian-mycoplasmosis

We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

Armed with this new information, I was anxious to learn of the wellbeing of our second House Finch. He arrived in December and continues to sleep under the eaves each night. Most nights he’s facing in so I can’t see his face. I finally captured this photo showing no outward signs of MG.

Male House Finch, San Jose, California
Male House Finch Closeup San Jose, California

 His healthy presence brings a bit of joy to each day.

Please consider sharing this post with anyone attracting songbirds to their garden.

 

A Tale of Two Wrens*

Note: Since publishing this post, I’ve learned that our feathered visitor is a House Finch not a House Wren. I’ve made changes accordingly.

As I walked up the garden path this morning I noticed a house finch sitting on the ground. Mouse the cat was just a few yards away so I had to think fast. I waited for the bird to take flight. Instead he fluffed his feathers and bobbed his head, but made no effort to move.

In a flash, Mouse shot through the bushes, aiming straight for the bird. In one fell swoop I scooped the bird in to my hands and lifted him off the ground to safety.

Now what?

I loosely cradled the finch in my hands, its soft wings fluttering against my skin.

house wren

Closeup of the house finch in my hand

The next five minutes are a bit of a blur, but I somehow managed to get Mike’s attention through the kitchen window and he came to assist. He secured the cat, assembled a cardboard box from the recycle bin and even managed a few pics from a safe distance.

I opened my hands to see if the bird would fly. He climbed on my finger and calmly perched to survey his surroundings. It was then I noticed that he couldn’t open one of his eyes. It didn’t look damaged, but it may have been what grounded him in the first place.

He eventually hopped from my hands to a low bush but leaving him there would mean certain death. I caged the little fellow in a cat carrier (oh the irony) and drove to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.  How lucky we are to have a place like this that will rescue, rehab and return animals and birds to the wild whenever possible.

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley signage

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley

Later in the day when I had time to think I wondered if the injured finch might be my nightly visitor. Over the past thirty days, a male house finch returns at dusk and spends the night on the cord under the eaves.

I lingered outside till 5:20 willing my nightly visitor to return. I came inside with a heavy heart assuming the two finches were one and the same. Then moments later, I glanced out the kitchen window into the dark corner of the eaves and spotted his tail feathers under the eaves!

house finch under the eaves january 24

This house finch arrives at dusk to spend the night under the eaves

I’ll learn tomorrow the fate of the bird in the care of WCSV.

Raptors and Revelry at the Winery

You don’t often see the words “raptor” and “revelry” in the same sentence, and certainly not at a winery. Yet we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary this past weekend at a fundraising event that incorporated all three.

Wente Brothers Vineyard, 1995, Seekers Vineyard, 2017

When you’re an animal lover, you get excited when an event lands on your anniversary for the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. Wingin’ it at the Winery is held annually  to raise funds for this vital, local non-profit.

Count us in!

The center (WCSV) processes over 5,000 wild animals a year. Animals come to them injured or orphaned, and sometimes both. Staff and volunteers at the center make every effort to return the young to their family. Barring that, they rehab the animal or bird in a way that keeps them wild, and therefore self-sufficient. Once ready, they reintroduce the animals back into the wild, usually within ten miles of their original home.

Wingin’ it at the Winery included a live and silent auction, wine tasting, appetizers and a fully vegetarian meal. It’s not often I can attend an event and eat everything on offer. What a treat.

Seeker Vineyard

Gathering for dinner and a live auction

Auction items included art and wine, travel and experiences and a number of animal-centric gift baskets. Seeker Winery in San Martin generously donated the venue, along with wine from their private reserve.

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

One of the biggest draws though, was the potential release of an owl. There were no promises. The animals well-being comes first, but if all went well, we would get to witness an owl released back to the wild.

Like many non-profits, WCSV has a small staff. They rely on many volunteers to help care for and rehab the animals. I first learned about WCSV from one of my Pilates classmates. Ellen volunteers at the center, and used to share intriguing stories about her work with the animals

A couple of years ago we rescued this orphaned hummingbird

rescued baby hummingbird

Rescued baby hummingbird

and I turned to Ellen for guidance. She confirmed that taking the small and needy bird to the center was the right thing to do. That little hummingbird had a happily ever after story, when she was re-released back into the wild.

While we’re on the subject of re-releasing birds into the wild, you’ll never guess the extraordinary highlight of the evening?

Agency staff and volunteers released three raptors (in this case owls). They had been in the shelter since May.

As we stood together along the length of the vineyard at dusk, the owls flew into the trees, one by one. Though the owl in the center box was initially reluctant to venture out, she too eventually flew into the trees she would now call home.

Preparing for raptor release Seeker Vineyard

Back to front: Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager,Holly Cormier, Development Director and Ellen Lovelace, volunteer

Ashley Kinney owl release

Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager encourages the third owl to take flight…and she did

What a spectacular night!

Owl soaring

Full wing span as the owl soars toward the palm tree

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Fostering a Hummingbird

It’s been an amazing 24 hours. Our neighbor came to the door last night with news that she’d found a baby hummingbird. She spotted the hummingbird on the sidewalk while walking her dog. They brought the bird home but were unable to contact a rescue group on a Sunday night.

Together we went back to the spot a few blocks over hoping to spot the mama and the nest. Alas, no luck.

So…I brought him home. My boys were pretty excited to have a fledgling hummingbird in our midst and a social one at that. They took turns keeping him warm till I figured out a temporary nest.

baby Anna's hummingbird

My oldest son keeps watch for a while

In the end I used a small Sake cup, which is about the size of the nest mama bird would build. I lined the bottom with cotton, then shredded mohair fibers and made a fluffy nest for the night.

hummingbird in homemade nest

Cozy in his homemade nest

Mike made a batch of sugar-water using the formula we put in our feeders: Four parts clear water, and one part sugar. I offered our tiny guest drops of nectar from the tip of my finger. His tiny tongue lapping sugar-water from my finger was almost imperceptible.

He was mellow and trusting and once resting on my thumb, he didn’t want to let go. I eventually transferred him to his surrogate nest and after one last check, turned out the lights.

I should also mention that I live with three cats so finding a safe spot was critical. We have a laundry room off of the guest washroom, so I set him up in there. We used the ‘clean room’ method of walking into one room and closing the door, then going into the inner room and closing that door. Even then, I covered the nest with a ventilated laundry basket *and* a towel.

I tossed and turned in bed this morning starting at 4:00 am. Eventually I gave in and got up to take a look. There he was, cozy in his nest and looking content. I fed him three more times before leaving to take the boys to school. My friend, Laura offered the great tip of feeding him from the end of a drinking straw. In between feedings I did some research online. I checked in with my friend Ellen who volunteers at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. I’ve been listening to Ellen’s stories for months during our shared Pilates class. I know her to be caring and knowledgeable.

Hummingbirds are not easily rehabilitated and require constant care. They must eat every twenty to thirty minutes from dawn till dusk. Can you imagine? I had two clients today, on different sides of town in addition to carpooling three teenagers to school. It would not be possible to give him the care he needed.

Anna's hummingbird

Still waiting for his tail feathers to grow in

After checking in with my client and dropping the teens at school, I drove to the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center one town over. While it was a relief to know the hummingbird was in excellent hands, I was melancholy too.  I connected with the tiny creature and felt just a twinge of sadness when I let him go.

the wildlife center of silicon valley

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. Can you see the mature hummingbird flying toward me in the lower right corner?

Here’s a one-minute video from this morning. I’m feeding him with the tip of a coffee stir straw.

Good to know:

World of Hummingbirds: Hummingbird First Aid

Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley: A Rehabilitation, Release & Educational Facility

How to tell a male from a female?  It’s hard to know