This conversation actually took place. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent.
A few days after the chickadee eggs in one of my nest boxes hatched, I took this picture during a NestWatch visit and then posted it on Facebook. Things got interesting when Facebook friend Peg questioned what the hatchlings were laying on.
Peg: Sweetness-what does their white bed consist of Nancy?
Me: Interestingly, the nest material that was on the bottom when there were eggs has been moved and they're actually on the floor of the box.
The nestbox is made of PVC plastic which makes it kind of slippery on the bottom. The base of the box is also larger than the 4" x 4" that is typically recommended for chickadees. The beautiful cup that the eggs had been nestled in was gone and all the nest material had spread out, revealing the hard floor of the box.
Good thing Julie Zickefoose was hanging out there in Facebook-land. The author, naturalist, and wildlife rehabilitator saw a problem and jumped into the conversation.
Julie: Nancy, I'm worried that those babies are on the bare hard bottom of the PVC box. Sometimes chickadees can get a little too enthusiastic with their deep tunneling. If this were my box, I'd take them out, borrow some nesting material from the tall soft sides of the nest and pack it tightly on the box floor, to put it under them STAT. They can get permanently spraddled limbs from resting on such a hard surface. Science Chimp, checking out. Eee! Eee! Eee!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology NestWatch Code of Conduct makes it clear that you cannot handle or touch the birds in any nest you're monitoring. I'm a stickler for rules and know why those rules and laws exist. And I'm not one that believes that rules are for someone else or that I'm immune to them. So I had a dilemma: handle the birds without the proper permit so I could give them the greatest chance of developing correctly, or adhere strictly to the law and let them be, risking the possible deformity of 6 little chickadees. I decided I had to step in.
With the help of another adult, we gently tipped the box to move the hatchlings into a pair of cupped hands. Though it was warm outside, we closed those hands around the birds to help retain the heat in their tiny, naked bodies. Working quickly, I rebuilt the nest by replacing the moss over the bottom of the floor, used my fingers to create a new cup, and put in some additional alpaca fiber to line the cup with. We placed the babies back in the cup and closed the box. The entire operation probably took less than a minute. We then left the area to observe from a distance as momma chickadee, who watched the entire ordeal, returned to the box.
My heart was beating so fast! We had just held those 6 little babies and hopefully had changed the course of their lives. I excitedly reported back to Julie on Facebook.
Me: Dr. Julie, I responded to your Code Red and put a nice layer of moss with alpaca on top back under these little nestlings. Hopefully the 5 days they spent on the floor will not have a permanent effect on their development.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for the advice. The power of Social Media works again. I can't thank you enough.
Another friend watching the conversation weighed in, followed by Julie's response.
Lynne: You all warm my heart.
Julie: Knew you'd hop to it Dr. Castillo! But alpaca? Didn't you have any Russian angora? Because chickadees are known to have champagne tastes and Budweiser budget.
So here's a picture of those 6 little chickadees a day before they left the nest. I was able to see a couple of them make their first flight and thankfully everything seemed just fine.
Now, the last thing I want to do in telling this story is to give the impression that it's okay to handle wild birds. But with expert guidance, and swift, careful actions - with the birds' well-being as the top priority - I feel we were able to make a positive difference in those chickadees' lives.
In closing, I would again like to offer Julie Zickefoose my sincerest gratitude for helping us help what I consider "my" birds. This post is a tribute to Julie who best summed it up in her final Facebook comment that day, "All for the birds and birds for all!"