Rescuing a ‘chipping’ bundle of joy

It was a warm and lonely Friday evening, and I was taking a stroll a few blocks south of home. Suddenly, a movement on the sidewalk and a chipping noise focused my attention a dozen feet to the front. Moving closer, I found a baby wild bird.

It was half bare and half emergent feathers from pin tracks topped with a little bird down. Part of me said leave it there and let nature take its course, but the caretaker in me won out.

Luckily, I had my compact grabber/reacher thing with me, the one on the TV ad for $16.99. This young bird, which couldn’t have been more than nine days old and 2 inches long, kept trying to walk but was falling on its side after it walked 5 or 6 inches. This seemed pretty normal when you consider it had a large, mostly bare baby-bird belly to contend with.

After the second attempt, the juvenile was in my hand. Now, why didn’t they have someone like me picking up a juvenile passerine in the TV ad? He crouched down in my hand to keep warm; he looked so cute and perfect.

There were no nests around where a young bird might have fallen out, so perhaps it was dropped from above by an egg and young bird predator like a blue jay. Chicken Little was too small to be a cowbird. Its chirpings were different from a house sparrow but very characteristic of a chipping sparrow. It didn’t chirp; it actually chipped, hence his name—Chip.

Its call, coloration and size lends itself to being a chipping sparrow, Spizella passerina, though there are a few other species that can’t be ruled out. Guess we’ll have to wait till he’s a little older. I brought Chip home that night and put him in a small plastic container filled with shredded paper towels. It was just like a bird’s nest. Into the chest of drawers he went, secluded from Roomie, the cat.

I called my favorite retired mammal and bird rehabber, Jane Evans, to find out who would take the bird. She gave out some numbers to call and said if I got no response, then take the bird to Hillcrest Animal Hospital, and they would find a rehabber. Then she instructed me to feed the sparrow before I went to bed. Dry cat food soaked in warm water would do the trick for now. Chippy ate the food, snuggled in for the night, and Roomie, the cat, was none the wiser.

The next day after two feedings, Chippy and I went to Hillcrest. No pun intended—the place was a zoo! There were three lines of people holding their pets, all in some form of need.

Eventually, I reached the counter, handed over the bird, filled out paper, and then bade farewell. Chippy was picked up by a rehabber two hours later. (Sigh, sigh.) One for relief, one for sadness. I became attached to Chippy and wished I’d kept him for the whole weekend.

Spizella passerina is a common sparrow in our area and feels at home in parks, fields and yards. Its smaller size makes it less conspicuous; people are often unaware of its large numbers in man’s own back yard. It builds a small cup-shaped nest made of dead grass and lined with animal hair, usually placed in a shrub or small-to-average-sized pine tree. Cowbirds often victimize the birds shortly after the cowbird egg hatches. The young bird pushes the chipping sparrow eggs and/or young out of the nest, eliminating competition. It’s not uncommon to see adult chipping sparrows feeding a single juvenile cowbird three times the chipping sparrow’s size.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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