Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fused Bluebird Chicks Due to Heat & Drought

Bluebird drought-induced "Siamese Twins". The drought brings trials to the midwest, not only to the farmers whose crops are most likely lost - but also for the birds. Yes, the birds. Not that I compare these challenges as being equal in importance on the grand scale of economical effect, but parenting songbirds are struggling to keep their babies alive in their nests with these 90 degree temperatures. I spoke to a local bluebird expert today, who stressed the importance of filling bird baths twice daily. Bathing parent birds can bring some relief to chicks in the nest.
Even though vented, bluebird boxes must get unbearably hot. Chicks are fledging before it is time due to the dire need to get out of the little "oven" in which they reside, per Ann. No doubt because of this, I received an S.O.S. call late this afternoon. I am not sure how many of my Purely Living readers know that years ago my husband and I raised parrots for a number of years. We've dealt with chick malformities, I've assisted our avian veternarian at the time on many occassions, and I learned how to medicate and handle chicks that were poor doers or needed extra TLC. I would like to say that I saved every one, but it is not the case, and my heart was broke a number of times after spending many sleepless nights tending to the needs of chicks every hour that were likely not going to make it. We had our victories, however, which was sweet!
We are still known as "the bird people" to many, and are often called for nature's mishaps of songbird chicks being found from the nest and in a predicament. We are not wildlife rehabbers - which is where the chicks often end up going.
I received such a call from my cousin-in-law, Linda, this evening. Two baby bluebirds were found in her yard as she was bringing in laundry. The chicks were struggling in the grass, one dragging another. As it turns out, their legs were fused - connecting them as if they were "Siamese twins". It seemed as though the extreme temperatures melded their legs together while snuggled in the nest.  The parent birds were nearby and keeping an eye on things when I arrived to find the baby birds in a shoebox with a lid, as I instructed to help keep them calm.
Can you see the situation in the photo? It seemed like tissue or ligaments held the legs, like sinewy thread. Unsure what I would need prior to arriving, I packed up AB Rescue Wash, FC5 Skin Conditioning Oil, toothpicks, cotton tipped applicators, a small container, water, and paper towel torn into smaller pieces.
When I called the bluebird expert she explained how feces from the babies in the nest can create a "cement" that can fuse chicks together, which is why she checks and monitors nestboxes frequently. I figured I would be cleaning up dried poop, even my cousin described it as "skin fusion". My cousin was right - there was very little dried feces involved in the situation.
I talked my 14 yr. old son into coming along - I knew I would need someone to hold the magnifying glass no matter the situation.
Before starting the procedure I called Ann to give her an update, and she explained how bluebird chicks, unlike most songbirds, are cared for by the parents for two weeks once they fledge from the nest. Our goal, if we were successful in separating the chicks, was to return them to the pine tree from which we thought they had come, as it was dead at the top and had a small cavity. For those that are not aware, bluebirds are cavity nesters and rely on nestboxes, as many years ago they would nest in rotting wooden fenceposts. Once farmers switched to the metal fence posts, bluebirds lost their nesting sites and became much more scarace.
I showed Linda how to hold the birds in a light cloth, keeping their heads covered to reduce stress, and ensure no pressure was put on the crop which would cut their air supply. They really did not struggle, which was  a great help. We prayed over the situation prior to starting our little operation - no doubt God had a hand in calming His creatures as we tried to help them.
I added Rescue Wash to to a little water in the dish and dabbed a paper towel into the solution, squeezing drops onto the fused area - to ever so slowly loosen up the sinew, or whatever, that was fusing the legs together. I was just grateful they both had two legs and that it was not a case of true "Siamese Twins" sharing a body part! I have heard of that in the animal world. Because of its detox properties I figured the Rescue Wash would cleanse the affected area as I worked with our little feathered patients.  Using toothpicks and Q-tips, we made slow progress. We did find some dried on "fecal cement" that had to be cleaned. As we progressed, what we discovered was a fine thread, like a horse hair, wrapping the legs together. We had to take a break while we found a small, fine tiped scissors to get into the very tiny area - it was like stitch ripping a seam, but OH so carefully!  Our son helped with this part, while I held the birds for the delicate procedure, and Linda held the magnifying glass.
Once we had separated the two, it was obvious one chick's leg had fared better than the other. Cleaning up the leg of the one chick, we applied a grape seed extract anti-biotic that Linda had, and "patted it dry" with a Q-tip. I applied FC5 skin conditioning oil to help heal the skin, as I have seen some pretty amazing testimony pictures after a bike rider had a bad fall and road rash that had become infected. If it works for us humans, I figure it should help these little birds!
The second chick still had some fine "thread" wrapped on his leg, and major swelling. We could also see how the hair had wrapped so tightly that it had cut off circulation, and it also seemed like it had cut to the bone. We allowed him to rest in the box a couple of times and we could see the leg was highly favored.
We were not sure the second chick would be able to perch on a tree branch. Linda retrieved a ladder/scaffold from the garage, which was a confusing mechnism. She went in the house to ask her father how to open the ladder - and it was then we learned there was a bluebird box. Sure enough, we found it in the neighbors yard and this is from where they came. What a relief! We we trying to figure out how high Kyle would be able to climb and set each chick securely on a branch. I was certain the second chick would not balance well and fall right back to the ground.
We knocked on the neighbor's door to get permission to inspect the nestbox, which was empty. They had been watching the parents take food in on a regular basis. As Ann had explained. I cleaned out the top portion of the box, removing some nesting material with fecal matter to provide not only a more clean environment, but it lowered the chicks from the exit hole as well - I figured they would need more time in the nest for their legs to heal and I did not want them to climb out again before they were ready. Fresh grass was added on top to give them a soft, clean bed. I hope the parents do not mind the intrusion of tidying up their home!  We replaced the chicks, snapped their photo one more time and closed it up.
I asked the neighbor children who had come over to watch us work on the 2nd chick, to keep an eye out for the chicks leaving the nest. I do hope they make it!
Bluebirds are such beautiful creatures, one of our favorite songbirds. Even though their need arose just as I was about to work on a project I had wanted to get to all day - I would drop everything again to come to the aid of a feathered friend, even a sparrow. God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, and if we find them I am sure He is pleased when we come to their aid.
To your health, and theirs, may it rain and may the Lord grant us relieve from the unusual midwest heat.
Rita S.

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