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The House Finch

by Bonnie Wilkins Overcott

          The problem was suet solidifying into a greasy blob on the stones beneath my bird feeder. As the birds pecked, chunks fell to the ground leaving messy stains on the flagstones of my new bird feeder. It hindered the growth and spread of the ornamental thyme planted between the stones. The mess attracted flies.

After some research, I purchased a contraption to solve my problem. It was described as a “sturdy plastic dish” and came with chains and hooks “to accommodate any kind of bird feeder.  It seemed perfect for hanging beneath my suet holder.

When it arrived, I put it together immediately, so delighted that I had a solution. The circular bowl-shaped dish had a couple of small holes for water to drain. A flat seed tray drilled full of one-half inch holes fit inside the dish, stabilizing it, and allowed the bits of suet to fall through and collect at the bottom of the tray. Immediately I assembled it and hung it from the suet feeder.

It solved the problem. Not only did it collect the suet, but some birds loved to stand on the tray eating the suet dangling overhead.

One morning last summer, I looked at the feeder and saw the dusty-brown, feathered, back-end of a House Finch pointed up while it ate the suet that collected on the bottom. “Wonderful,” I thought. “It looks like the smaller birds will eat the suet collecting in the bottom of the dish through the holes in the tray and save me from buying so many suet cakes.” When the baby birds, particularly the House Finches, begin flying on their own, they devour cakes of suet.

A couple of hours later, the Finch was in the same position. I went to the feeder and realized the baby Finch’s head was stuck in one of the holes of the tray. I didn’t know if it was alive or dead or whether it’d been there all night or just that morning. I took down the seed collector. The bird was still breathing, but hardly moving. I carefully pushed its head out of the hole.

The little thing came to life and flopped around on the grass, trying to fly. It couldn’t. I didn’t know if its neck was broken. Its feet and legs didn’t seem to be functioning. It flopped around flapping his wings, trying to fly, and then rolled on its side. As I approached, it flipped underneath my hostas. It was afraid of me, but I didn’t want some animal to kill it in its weakened state, so I got some quilt batting and a cookie tin to place it in once I was able to get a firm grasp of the bird’s body and pick it up.

I examined the bird. In the summer I use “no melt” suet. The suet is mixed with a grain, usually corn meal, which binds the suet together. Its beak was caked in suet and seemed sealed shut. I scraped off as much as I could without hurting the bird and tried gently prying open its beak. I couldn’t get it open. It didn’t seem to be able to open its beak on its own. Either it was too weak, or the suet still held it shut.

Thinking, if it’d been out all night, it may be dehydrated, I got a dish of water and dipped its beak into the water until it appeared to be swallowing a little water. Then I put it into the cookie tin to rest on the patio table as I sat there working. I checked it periodically. It rested. Occasionally it opened his eyes to look at me. I talked to it so it wouldn’t be frightened of me. I fully expected to eat lunch and find the little thing had expired. Yet every time I leaned in to check on it, resting there on its side, its eye would open and look at me.

Two hours later, the bird was still breathing. I Googled “caring for a sick wild bird” to find out what I could do for it. One site recommended calling the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, MN. I called, and after asking me a couple of questions, they suggested I bring the bird in to be seen by a veterinarian. I was surprised that there was a place that would care for small birds and animals that weren’t endangered.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota began in 1979 as a student club of the University of Minnesota Veterinary College. They accept injured, sick and orphaned wild animals. They are a non-profit funded by donations. Their medical staff works with over 600 volunteers to care and treat more than 13,000 wild animals every year. They treat every kind of wild critter including mice, squirrels, geese, sandhill cranes, coyotes, turtles, frogs and even hummingbirds.

I set Google Maps on my phone to guide me to the Wildlife Center, put the bird in the cookie tin on the front seat, and set off. Rush hour traffic was picking up, and I had to concentrate so I didn’t make a wrong turn or miss the freeway exit.

Halfway there the little bird started flopping around in the tin. I tried to wrap it in the quilt batting to keep it calm with one hand while driving. The bird kept getting out of the batting. I was concerned that it would start flying around inside the vehicle or fall on the floor beneath my foot and the pedals. I picked up the little creature, wrapping my hand firmly around its body to stop it from trying to fly, held it in my hand as I drove, hoping I could control it for the rest of the trip.

The bird stopped struggling. I noticed it was turning his head around looking at the scenery outside the car and periodically looking at me as we whizzed along the freeway. I was so glad to see it moving his neck. It wrapped one foot firmly around my thumb, and I assumed that leg was okay. I continued to hold the little bird, which was calm now as it observed the world outside the car windows, in my right hand on the steering wheel, as I followed the instructions on my phone to get to the Center.

In the parking lot, I re-wrapped the little creature into the batting and carried it inside to be turned over to the Center staff. I was just ahead of a woman who had an injured bat in a brown grocery bag. The girl behind the counter brought a shoebox with air holes punched into it and I unwrapped the little bird and placed it inside.

According to their website, I could email them to get an update. I didn’t. Even though we had bonded during our time together, the little finch is a wild creature. Staff at the Center will do everything they can to help it get better. If it can be released back into the wild, they will know where and when to do that. I imagine it flying freely through the air, having a family of babies,  and telling them about the adventure it once had.


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