Volunteer to Feed the Baby Birds

The upcoming weekend of June 12-14, 2015 will be the Punta Gorda Blues, Brews & BBQ Fest.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  But my eyes are watering now because Peace River Wildlife Center is already singing the blues.  We are in dire need of people to help us through the summer baby season.  Since many of our volunteers have gone back up north for the summer, our presently depleted staff of volunteers and a few paid employees is having a hard time keeping up with all the little mouths (and beaks) constantly peeping, cheeping, screaming to be fed.


What do we feed all these babies?  Some of you will be surprised to learn that we do not feed them milk and bread.  I am always taken aback when rescuers bring in a baby mammal and claim they have given it milk.  My next question is always, “cow’s milk?”  This is a logical question for me, because there are lots of puppy and kitten milk replacers that can be purchased over the counter and are closer in nutritional content to what those babies should be receiving.  The answer to my “Cow’s milk?” question is often prefaced with a blank stare and, “no—milk from the store.”  Do that many people sincerely not know where milk comes from before it gets to the store?  Most stores carry goat’s milk too, which is actually better for almost every mammal species than cow’s milk.  Except cows, I guess.  And then there was the new mother who found an orphaned raccoon baby and she was so proud of the fact that she had fed it breast milk.  I did not ask if said libation had been expressed and bottle-fed or…well, I just don’t want to know.  I love wildlife but even I have my line in the sand.

So, what do birds eat?  NOT BREAD!!!  Do not go to the pond and feed the ducks bread and crackers.  Please.  Don’t feed potato chips and French fries to the gulls at the beach.  Don’t give hot dogs to the neighborhood-mooch great blue heron.  Yes, they will eat these items (notice I didn’t say “food”?) but these things are unhealthy for us, and much less so for birds and other wildlife.  Too much of this type of junk food and the animals won’t eat their normal diets.  How healthy would your (grand)child be if you fed him nothing but Snickers bars?  We feed highly specific diets to each species that comes in to us.  We have a grain-based gruel that we tube feed directly to the stomachs of the seed-eaters like doves.  We have a protein-based formula that we feed to insect-eaters with a dropper.  And as each bird matures, their diets are changed as they become weaned and more self-reliant.  All of these meticulously researched formulas help to ensure the birds will grow strong and healthy.  Please do not eradicate our extraordinary efforts by feeding birds the crap you eat after we release them.  (Lest you think I am judging you, please understand that if any other being on this planet tried to subsist on the junk that I eat, it would die within days.)

We occasionally get the odd bird with very special needs or dietary constraints.  We always consider what they eat naturally and at least try to replicate that.  Sometimes we have to go to the local pet store for live snails for limpkins (their main dietary staple) or tiny live fish for killdeer (they are attracted by the motion).  We buy mealworms and crickets for the insectivores, and at $25-50 per box, that gets expensive.  It would actually be more nutritionally balanced if we collected a variety of naturally-occurring insects, but who has the time for that?  Spiders are one of the most nutritious sources of sustenance for birds.  Again—line in the sand.  I am not collecting, touching, or feeding spiders.  Just the thought creeps me out.  One of my biggest fears when considering becoming a veterinarian was what if someone walks in and plops their sick tarantula on the counter and expects me to treat it.  Then I realized—it’s good to be the boss.  The receptionist is the one who is going to have to deal with that scenario.  And I have armed her with a fly-swatter and a can of Raid.  (Not really, just make sure to show up on Wednesdays when Kelly works.  She will take care of the eight-legged ones.)  Sorry, arachnophiles, it’s just not my thing.

PRWC is currently accepting applications for volunteers to help in all aspects of our services, including habitat cleaners, tour guides, gift shop clerks and hospital helpers (aka baby bird feeders at this time of year.)  On the job training is provided and some positions are very flexible as far as days and hours scheduled.  Call Callie at 941-637-3830 for more information. We also hold more in depth training sessions for mammal home care and rescue volunteers periodically.  Anyone interested in those activities can get on the list for the next classes.

by–Robin Jenkins, DVM

Feeding nestlings
Feeding hatchling mockingbirds
Grackles feeding - how much are those birdies in the window
Feeding fledgling grackles
Mockingbird Nestlings
Mockingbird Nestlings