WildCare asks you to Respect the Nest this spring and summer!
It’s springtime in the Bay Area, and even as you read this sentence, birds, squirrels and other animals are preparing nests for their newborn and newly-hatched babies in your trees, shrubs and hedges.
WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital admits hundreds of injured and orphaned baby animals every spring and summer, many of them victims of tree-trimming and pruning accidents.
Nests are camouflaged intentionally, and this means baby animals too often become the victims of chainsaws and clippers.
WildCare’s Respect the Nest Campaign will spread awareness of the vulnerability of baby birds, squirrels and other newborn wildlife during the spring and summer months. Although the prime nesting months for wildlife vary by region, with some species in the Bay Area nesting in January and February, nest awareness everywhere should begin in March and continue through the autumn.
When is Wildlife Nesting?
Spring (and summer!) are busy baby season— procrastinate now!
When is wildlife nesting?
There is some variation, but most wild animals have their first brood of babies in the spring, between March and June. However, especially in warmer climates, animals may actually nest year-round! ALWAYS be nest-aware when pruning and trimming!
Many species will also have a second brood in July or August if food supplies are sufficient, meaning that "baby season" stretches into October in many areas.
As our Respect the Nest graphic states, please be especially nest-aware from March through October!
If you can plan to trim your trees in the winter months (November and December), you can generally avoid the possibility of damaging a nest.
Note that January is probably safe in most areas, but WildCare does often admit our first baby hummingbirds and Eastern Fox Squirrels in January, so be extra cautious!
Winter is also a healthier time for the trees, when the sap has gone down and trees will be in their dormant phase.
Call WildCare at 415-456-7283 if you're unsure when it is a safe time to trim or remove a tree.
Nests are camouflaged intentionally, so they can be missed, even by the most careful inspection. It really is best to avoid trimming and pruning between March and October.
WildCare also asks you to avoid pruning shrubs bushes and hedges during the spring, summer and early fall months because many species nest in them too. However, not all plants want to be pruned in November/December. For some plants you may be removing flowers or fruit. Check with your local gardening experts for guidance on plant species in your yard, but always be nest-aware when pruning!
How to Tell If Songbirds Are Nesting
In Northern California, most bird species nest through spring and summer, but watch for hummingbird nests as early as February!
How do you know that nest is present?
You can start by looking carefully for nests, but this is NOT a foolproof method! This photo shows how tiny and well-camouflaged a hummingbird's nest is. This branch was cut from the tree, even after a careful inspection had been completed.
Birds camouflage their nests carefully and deliberately. Watch for the activity of adult birds to indicate a nest's presence, but remember that parent birds are very anxious to protect their young and they will often enter and exit the nest quickly.
Look for birds entering and leaving the tree or shrub at the same spot to indicate the approximate location of a nest.
A female hummingbird may buzz and dive toward you aggressively, in which case you should consider yourself warned of the presence of a nest. But even without overt indications of a nest, or visible confirmation, remain extremely vigilant while working in trees or bushes. It is not uncommon for female birds may sit on a nest for extended periods, giving no indication of their presence.
Having an extra pair of eyes on the ground is helpful to avoid disturbing nests. Garden, trim and prune with a partner so someone is always paying attention to the movements and potential aggravation of adult animals, indicating the presence of babies.
Remember that disturbing a nesting wild family can disrupt caretaking and have long-term consequences for the growing young animals.
Please delay non-emergency tree work and pruning until after the young have fledged, ideally waiting until November.
If birds are nesting in an area of your garden or a tree that needs work, call WildCare's advice line (415-456-7283).
Birds are federally protected, (including nests that are occupied by eggs or babies), and we can help you determine which species is in residence, and tell you how soon the babies will fledge and leave the nest.
The good news is that most birds fledge very quickly. In most cases, simply being patient for a couple of weeks is all it takes before you can safely (and legally) remove the nest.
House Finches provide a good example of the process.
These birds tend to nest in precarious places close to our living quarters: on top of porch lamps, in hanging flowerpots or in outdoor wreaths.
The mother incubates her eggs for 11 to 14 days. Enjoy watching the babies grow for about two weeks, and you'll ultimately see these little youngsters leave the nest.
If you want to do some work in the area of a House Finch's nest, remove it as soon as the babies have gone; House Finches will reuse the nest for a second family soon after the first clutch fledges!
Most bird species (other than House Finches) won't use the nest again this year once all the babies have left. This means you can safely remove it and reclaim your property.
Keep your cats indoors for a week or so, to give the fledglings time to get the hang of this flying business! (Better yet, keep kitty indoors all the time for her safety as well as theirs!)
Quick Review of Bird Family Life
Most birds have their own territories. Even if their nest has been destroyed and their babies have disappeared, parent birds will remain in their home territory, often searching for their babies for up to two days.
Nestlings are helpless, featherless or pin-feathered birds that cannot keep themselves warm. An uninjured nestling that is still warm stands the best chance of survival if it can be quickly returned to the nest, where the parent birds will continue to care for it.
Birds' sense of smell is not well understood, but parent birds will not reject a baby simply because it has been handled by humans. They will even accept and care for orphaned baby birds of the same age and species as their own nestlings.
Fledglings are slightly older birds with feathers and short tails. They can perch, hop or walk.
Birds at this age are learning to fly, and may live on the ground for as long as two weeks while developing their flying skills. Unless they are injured, or in immediate danger from humans or other predators, they are best left where they are.
A fledgling's parents continue to feed him until he learns to fly and is able to find food. Sometimes this takes a while. Swallows, for example, have to learn to snatch insects from the air in mid-flight. Can you imagine how much practice that takes?
Parents will guide their fledglings into bushes at night to hide from predators, but will not come to their babies if you or your pets are nearby.
How to Tell If Squirrels Are Nesting
Squirrels nest in cavities (holes) in trees, or they build nests called dreys, which look like large clumps of leaves instead of the carefully-constructed nurseries that they actually are.
When building a drey, a squirrel will choose a juncture of two branches to support the drey, and begin by weaving together green twigs and branches as a base to support the nest. Building up layers of insulative materials is next, and finally an outer skeleton of branches, leaves and sometimes vines is added for additional structure and waterproofing.
The interior of the nest is soft and warm, the perfect place to give birth to tiny, hairless, helpless baby squirrels.
The construction of a nest in a tree cavity is similar, with soft, warm material lining the interior.
How to Identify a Squirrel's Nest
Although squirrels take care to camouflage their nests, you can identify a drey with some careful observation.
It can be challenging to find a nest in a cavity, but look for a clump of leaves in a Y juncture of branches fairly high in the tree. Dreys are spherical (globe-shaped) and usually measure a foot to two feet in diameter.
In a leafy tree, a drey can be challenging to spot, but note that the leaves from which the drey is constructed will usually be brown, in contrast with the green foliage of the living branches around it.
Mother squirrels plan ahead, and a mother may have four or five different nest sites built in her territory. Especially when her babies are newborn, the mother squirrel won't leave the nest very often, so don't expect squirrel activity to alert you to the presence of an active nest.
Assume any drey you spot between March and October is an active drey, and refrain from tree trimming until winter.
Squirrel Family Life
The gestation period for Western and Eastern Gray Squirrels is 43 and 44 days respectively. The babies are born hairless and helpless, with eyes and ears tightly sealed shut.
The babies' ears lift up from their skulls at about three weeks or age, and their eyes open at approximately 4 weeks old.
The mother squirrel nurses her young for about 10 weeks, but the curious youngsters will start playing outside the nest at approximately 5 weeks of age.
Watch your trees for uncoordinated baby squirrels who are just learning to climb, and call WildCare if you see one fall 415-456-7283.
How to Tell If Raptors Are Nesting
It's not just songbirds that become victims of tree trimming! Larger birds like raptors can also be orphaned by tree work.
The nests of cavity-nesting raptors like Western Screech Owls can be difficult to spot. Assume that any hole in a tree is likely to be the nesting hole for an animal of some kind.
Natural cavities in trees are incredibly desirable nesting sites, and they're hard to find. If you have a tree with natural holes that you hope to remove, please leave it in place throughout wildlife baby season (March - October in Northern California). And actually, please consider having the tree safety-pruned instead of removing it, so as to offer valuable nesting sites in future years too.
Raptor nests that aren't in cavities seem like they would be easy to spot because they're large, but it can be surprisingly challenging to pick out a nest from the foliage surrounding it. Hawks and owls nest high in trees, and the birds build their nests to offer protection to their young from both ground-based and air-based predators.
The best way to tell that you have a raptor nest in your tree is to look for "whitewash" from the birds' droppings.
Both parent and baby hawks and owls will defecate over the edge of the nest to help keep it clean. This often leaves a tell-tale splatter on the branches, trunk and ground under the nest.
While not all raptor nests will show "whitewash," this can be an effective way to tell if you have nesting raptor neighbors.
Another method is to listen and observe. Many raptors are fairly noisy (especially Red-shouldered Hawks!) and hungry baby hawks make a lot of noise when they beg.
Watch for adult raptors circling your trees, and listen for begging calls to determine if young are present.
When to Rescue (Know the 5 Cs)
Never hesitate to rescue a baby bird that needs it! Call WildCare's Hotline at 415-456-7283 for advice.
It is a MYTH that parent birds will not accept their nestling back if he or she has been touch by a human. Birds will absolutely accept a fallen baby back into the nest!
They will even accept and care for orphaned baby birds of the same age and species as their own nestlings.
However, parent birds will not tend to more than one nest, and attempting to replace a missing nest often fails.
If a nest or baby animal has been cut from a tree, the likelihood of injury is high. Assume that any baby animal involved in a tree-trimming accident needs to come to WildCare, and always call before attempting to replace or substitute a nest.
There are other situations that also always require rescue. Naked nestlings and baby birds still covered in downy fluff need immediate care. Keep a naked or fluffy baby warm and call WildCare immediately if you find one on the ground.
If a fledgling (feathered) baby bird has not been involved in a tree-trimming accident, but you're concerned she has been abandoned, watch for the parents. Observe the baby continuously for 60-90 minutes from a distance of about 50 feet. Remain quiet, out of sight, and keep children and pets away from the area. Watch carefully; the parents fly in and out quickly.
If you have a rescued bird in a box, check the feces. Clear droppings with white or green bile indicates a baby bird is not being fed and is likely orphaned. Color in the feces indicates that the the baby has eaten recently, and you may be able to return the baby to her parent's care if the original nest has not been disturbed. Call WildCare to confirm at 415-456-7283.
How do you know if a wild animal of any species needs your help? The Five Cs!
The first things to look for if you think a wild animal of any age needs rescue are the Five Cs. If an animal demonstrates any of these five symptoms, it is an emergency and he needs immediate help:
1. Is he Crying?
2. Is he Cold?
3. Is he Coming toward you (approaching people)?
4. Is he Covered with blood or insects?
5. Has he been Caught by a cat or a dog?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, immediately call WildCare’s Hotline at 415-456-7283 for assistance and advice.
Meet Orphaned Squirrels in the Wildlife Hospital
Tiny and pink to fluffy and orange!
When these tiny baby squirrels first arrived at WildCare's Wildlife Hospital, we could only guess at their actual species.
When any baby squirrel is this small, pink and helpless, it's virtually impossible to tell if they'll grow up to be a gray Western Gray Squirrel, a brown Eastern Gray or an orange-tinted Fox Squirrel.
The homeowner who found them said she had both Fox Squirrels and Eastern Gray Squirrels in her yard, so we understood they could be either.
We knew that they were squirrels, and that they definitely needed help.
Their nest had been cut from a tree by a tree trimmer who didn't check for nests before cutting.
The nest plummeted to the ground, leaving the baby squirrels helpless and squeaking in the dirt. All three babies had significant bruising when they arrived at WildCare.
WildCare's friends on Facebook have watched these babies grow up in a series of "Squirrel Thursday" livestreams showcasing them (reproduced here).
Be sure to "like" WildCare's Facebook page to see wonderful photos, enjoy entertaining videos like these and more! facebook.com/WildCareBayArea
A WildCare Squirrel Foster Care Team member, Rachel, volunteered to take the tiny babies home and give them the specialized (and exhausting!) care they would need to survive being orphaned at such a young age.
For the first few nights, these baby squirrels were fed every TWO HOURS, around the clock. Getting them accustomed to the special squirrel formula on which they would be raised in our care is always a challenge, especially when the babies are newborn, and the frequent feedings are necessary to give them enough calories and hydration.
Fortunately, after the initial few nights, Rachel could go to feeding her charges every three hours. That must have felt like a comparative luxury!
Fast forward nearly three weeks, and it's obvious these orphaned squirrels have done very well in care.
In the video above you can see they now have fur, their eyes are almost ready to open (baby squirrels open their eyes for the first time at about four weeks of age) and they're silky, plump and completely healthy.
As their fur grew in, and they started to develop very characteristic orange bellies, it became clear that these were, in fact, Fox Squirrels! Fox Squirrels are the largest species of squirrel that lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and they're also a distinctive red-orange in coloring, which makes them easy to identify.
The video above shows our baby squirrels on August 4. They are still being bottle fed and stimulated to urinate and defecate, but they're very close to opening their eyes.
At the time of this video, Rachel, their foster care provider, was feeding them every four hours, but she no longer had to wake up throughout the night to care for them. At this age, baby squirrels get a feeding at midnight, and then not another one until morning.
You'll notice these videos are quite long in duration... that's because they were steamed live to Facebook viewers! "Like" WildCare's Facebook page to see our next livestreams! facebook.com/WildCareBayArea
Once baby squirrels in care at WildCare open their eyes, they seem to start developing exponentially quickly.
They move from a small carrier to a larger wire cage and we start introducing them to the foods they'll eat as adult squirrels.
These young squirrels also have less and less contact with their foster care mom (or any humans), to make sure they become completely wild.
In the video above, you can see that Rachel's three orphans are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! It is such a pleasure for WildCare staff and volunteers to see injured, helpless orphans like these squirrels were when they first arrived turn into such handsome healthy juveniles!
The next steps for these young squirrels will be to move from their large wire cage to a larger outdoor enclosure.
There they will develop their climbing and jumping skills, and learn how to build nests and crack nuts.
Once these young squirrels demonstrate that they are completely self-feeding and able to build a warm nest for sleeping, they will be released to the wild.
Meet Orphaned Baby Hummingbirds in the Wildlife Hospital
The smallest of all birds, adult hummingbirds weigh only 0.1 to 0.3 ounces (2.5 - 8 gm).
Hummingbird nests and the babies they contain are vulnerable because they are so small. Even the most conscientious arborist or home gardener can easily overlook the miniscule and carefully-camouflaged nest of a hummingbird, with disastrous consequences.
The baby hummingbird in the video above has a horrific story-- he was found on the bumper of a tree trimmer's truck as it pulled into the greenwaste dump!
The arborists were convinced that they had checked the trees thoroughly from their last two jobs, so they were shocked to find the baby hummingbird on the bumper when they arrived at the dump. That he survived the tree trimming, the branch loading and the ride to the dump, and especially that he was spotted sitting on the bumper is nothing short of a miracle!
Unfortunately because the truck load was comprised of trees from multiple job sites, attempting to reunite the baby with his mom would be impossible. The arborist was very grateful to be able to bring the baby to WildCare!
This tiny orphan arrived at WildCare traumatized, dehydrated and chilled. Fortunately an exam determined that this tiny bird has no injuries and is in remarkably good shape, despite his ordeal. After being warmed up and receiving subcutaneous fluids (a challenging thing to do on a bird this small!) he started gaping for the specialized formula we give our hummingbird patients.
This hummingbird will go into care with a foster care specialist where he has an excellent chance of growing up healthy and ready to return to the wild.
How to help hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are admitted to WildCare's Wildlife Hospital for many reasons. A fluffy baby bird of any species found on the ground needs immediate help. If you find a baby hummingbird on the ground, gently pick her up, including whatever she's gripping with her feet. Hummingbirds have strong toes, and removing something from a baby's grip can actually break her tiny bones.
Keep the baby warm, dark and quiet, don't try to feed her and don't peek at her. Call WildCare immediately at 415-456-7283.
It is absolutely not true that a mother bird will reject her young if a human has touched the baby, so please don't hesitate to pick up the baby bird! If you find an injured hummingbird of any age she is more likely to survive if you bring her to WildCare immediately.
Do not feed the bird. A cold, sick or injured bird may not be able to swallow the food and can aspirate (choke). Sugar water on a hummingbird's feathers can impact the bird's ability to thermoregulate (control body temperature), her water-proofing and even her ability to fly.
If you find an intact hummingbird nest in one of your trees, give it lots of space. Hummingbirds are very fast both in flight and in feeding their young. It is unlikely that you will even see the mother feeding her chicks and, if you get too close to the nest or are present for long periods, you may prevent the mother from feeding her babies.
If a hummingbird is caught inside, you can often lure the bird outside with a pot of brightly colored flowers. As with all birds, turning off lights, closing blinds and making the room as dark as possible to contrast with the open door will encourage the bird to fly out. Even better than potted flowers, if you have a hummingbird feeder, hanging it just outside the door will draw the bird out even faster.
Speaking of hummingbird feeders, please always keep your feeders clean! Especially in warm weather, the sugary food quickly grows bacteria that can be very bad for the birds. A feeder also attracts a larger-than-normal number of hummingbirds to a single area, which can spread disease. To properly clean hummingbird feeders, do NOT use bleach! Use vinegar and water in a 9:1 solution (9 parts water to 1 part vinegar) and special bottle brushes to get into small holes. Rinse thoroughly! Remember to change the food often-- fill with only enough to last 1-2 days (sooner if gets cloudy/moldy).
To further protect the hummingbirds in your yard, cats should be kept inside or in enclosures to protect both them and wild birds, including hummingbirds, which are particularly susceptible when feeding in flowers. This is especially important during the spring and summer months when young birds are fledging and learning to fly.
Caring for hummingbirds at WildCare
At WildCare sick, injured and orphaned hummingbirds are stabilized and kept in a warm, quiet environment.
Young hummingbirds need intensive, time consuming, and specialized care. The ingredients in hummingbird formula have to match their age-specific nutritional requirements precisely. As the chick grows, the percentage of insects and sugar in the formula is adjusted, as is the time between feeds. The enclosures in which they are kept need to be frequently modified too, in keeping with their age-related requirements.
Baby hummingbirds are fed every 20 - 30 minutes from dawn until dusk, and yes, our dedicated Hummingbird Foster Care person is a volunteer! Thanks to her, rescued baby hummingbirds like the ones in these photos grow up healthy and ready to return to the wild.
Being placed in the care of an expert is what saves the lives of most hummingbirds. Hummingbirds of all ages have tremendously fast metabolisms, so time is of the essence. Remember, if you find a hummingbird on the ground, please bring her to WildCare immediately. Call our Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-SAVE (7283) with any questions.