Don’t Pick Up That Baby Bird!

baby birdEvery Spring, I hear about people finding “abandoned” baby birds. They “rescue” them, bring them home and care for them until they inevitably die. Here’s the thing. Those birds aren’t abandoned! They are fledglings. They fly out of their nest and spend a few days on the ground learning how to forage. They haven’t been abandoned by their parents. Imagine the poor parents watching a giant human carrying their baby away!

The Wild Bird Fund in NYC gets inundated every Spring with these baby birds. Take a peek at their pdf below for what to do on this topic. In case you haven’t heard of the Wild Bird Fund, they are the first wildlife rehabilitation center in NYC. Take a peek at their website to see the cool things they are doing.

I had this post all ready to go out (minus this really helpful diagram from the Wild Bird Fund) and then I found my own fledgeling bird today. It was on the sidewalk calling to its parents. This sidewalk is extremely busy with foot traffic, dogs being walked, strollers, etc. The parents weren’t going to go down. They were calling to the baby, which was making the baby hop towards them. Unfortunately it was hopping into traffic on a very busy street. I scooped the little guy up and put it back on the sidewalk. It kept hopping into the street.

Now I was attracting passersby, who were adding their helpful comments. “It fell out of the nest and can’t fly”. Not true. It’s a fledgling. “Don’t touch it, the parents are going to smell you”. Also not true. Gah!

I knew I couldn’t stay there all night to keep scooping the baby out of the street. There weren’t any trees nearby to put it in. I noticed some starlings peeking out of a cornice *way* up in a building. I knew I could never get the baby back up there. There was an abandoned lot across the street, which had wooden boards all around it. It’s been neglected for so long that ailanthus trees are growing in it, and the wooden boards are sagging. I figured that if I could catch this baby, I could fit my hands through the boards and it would be in this lot and unable to hop back into the street.

It took a little bit, but I was able to catch the little guy. He was hunkered behind the tire of a parked car. Fledglings aren’t particularly afraid of people yet, so that made things much easier. I got him into the lot. He let out a big shriek, so his parents were able to hear him and see where he was going. I’m feeling very hopeful about his survival.

That’s him in the top photo. I love his grumpy, yellow mouth! And just for the record, I wouldn’t have touched him at all if he wasn’t in imminent danger of getting squashed by cars or strollers.


Lovely Weekend

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. On Saturday I went with some girls from my Brownie troop to see the last Liberty basketball game of the season. If you haven’t been to a WNBA game, I highly recommend it. The girls enjoyed themselves and unknowingly got a little feminist boost watching women athletes.

Yesterday we went to Harriman State Park. It’s just over an hour out of the city, and comprises miles and miles of varied hiking trails. I first went here with my mushroom hunting group. This time we tried a different trail that led us to a lake. The water was clear and all of us were itching to swim in it. Next year we’ll pick a nice hot summer day, leave the city early and spend some time there.

We had an interesting wildlife sighting while we were hiking. Our friend Kate saw a snake move and then heard a rattling noise. It turns out this 4-foot snake is a timber rattlesnake. We warned people who had dogs about the snake as they approached the area to hilarious results. Most picked up their dogs and were fascinated. One woman completely lost her mind and started shrieking about snakes. I think even her dog rolled its eyes at her.

Blue Bird

Over the years, the bluebird population has greatly decreased. Bluebirds, as many other animals, have suffered loss of habitat. They are cavity-nesters, that seek out hollows in decaying trees. Besides the fact that there are fewer trees left to decay, there are also 2 non-native birds (european starling and the house swallow) that are much more aggressive than the timid bluebird. They snatch the available nest sites, and even take over a nest that the bluebird has claimed (by cracking their eggs and killing the nestlings and/or the parents).

A number of years ago I noticed little wooden bird houses popping up in farmer’s fields in upstate New York. This was a part of a bluebird recovery effort. I was curious about this because I had never seen a bluebird and like to hear positive stories of human/animal interactions.

Last year when I visited the Berkshires, the neighbors next to my in-laws had several bluebird houses up in their backyard. They had several bluebird families living in them and I finally saw my first bluebird. If you have never seen one, you will be blown away at the beautiful shade of dark blue on their back feathers.

This year, my  in-law’s neighbor gave them a nest box and now they too have bluebirds in their yard. In fact, I saw more bluebirds than any other bird while I was there this past weekend. I tried to photograph them, but didn’t get very close. My best attempt is below, but here’s a site with a lot of information and photos.

Gardening with a Purpose

from Detroit Lakes-Online, July 8, 2009

Increasing urban sprawl is creating more homes for people by taking away habitats for wildlife, forcing nature’s creatures to become vagabonds on the move or leaving them homeless on the streets.

In fact, according to The Biodiversity Project, a leading environmental advocacy group dedicated to conservation initiatives, one million acres of open space, including parks, farms and natural areas are lost to sprawl each year.

However, others are fighting to reverse this damage from development by providing food, water and shelter for evicted animals, transforming their own backyards into wildlife sanctuaries.

Detroit Lakes resident, Liz Ballard, lives in town not far from Highway 10. Entering her yard from the paved sidewalk one stets through an arch of native vines into a haven of ferns and wildflowers with birds chirping, bees buzzing and chipmunks running across the visitors’ feet.

Though Ballard said that she started her gardens when she moved into town for her own benefit as well — to use as an escape from the city.

“I’ve always been a country girl,” Ballard said. “I missed seeing the animals.”

National Wildlife Federation Ambassador for the Wildlife Habitat Program and sustainable garden landscaper, Mat Paulson, said that the trend of natural gardening is increasing in northern Minnesota as homeowners learn more about the many benefits.

Sustainable gardening attracts wildlife and also helps the environment reducing dependency on pesticides, improving air and soil quality and cutting down energy use on regular garden maintenance. Con

Paulson also said that natural gardening is beneficial for your pocketbook. As native plants and shrubs are already tolerant of Minnesota weather conditions, less care and cash needs to be placed towards watering and expensive fertilizers.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, attracting wildlife is a simple accomplishment:

• Food — This may include providing bushes with berries, flowers with nectar and pollen or supplemental bird, squirrel, and butterfly feeders.

• Water — There needs to be presence of standing water that wildlife can access for drinking and bathing. This can include seasonal pools, birdbaths, rain gardens or ponds.

• Cover — Wildlife need shelter from bad weather conditions and predators such as wooded areas, bramble patches, rock piles and roosting boxes.

• Places to raise young — Wildlife also requires special areas to bear young. Some examples include mature trees, dead trees, dense shrubs and nesting boxes.

Providing these habitat conditions will make your home a portal to the great outdoors. To learn more about sustainable gardening to attract wildlife, obtaining your backyard wildlife habitat certification and listen to Mat Paulson speak, attend the “Creating a Wild Backyard” workshop at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge at 2 p.m. on July 12 at the visitors center.

Foraging with Wildman Steve Brill

On Saturday my friend Alison and I went on a wild edibles foraging tour of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Wildman Steve Brill was our very funny and knowledgeable guide. We had a big group of about 25-30 people and we raised eyebrows as we all bend down, picked some weedy looking plant and then put it in our mouths. I highly recommend any of Steve’s tours. I learned a lot about plants I’d never really taken notice of before. He shared tips for what part of the plant is edible, how to cook them, what time of the year you are most likely to find them, and their medicinal properties.

Here’s a list of what we found on Saturday. Alison took the notes while I took the photos. There was so much information, it would have been hard to do both!

1. Hedge Mustard
2. Poor Man’s Pepper
     a. good in stews and salads. Prevents cancer cells from developing.
3. Garlic Mustard
     a. very invasive! Eat a lot of it.
     b. Use it in pesto
     c. Root is also edible and tastes like horseradish
     d. Is in season well into May
     e. Flower bud looks like broccoli and the best flavor is when the plant is blossoming.
4. Lesser Celandine
     a. in the buttercup family
     b. eat it before it flowers. It’s toxic after it flowers.
     c. Best cooked w/ rice
5. Gout Weed
     a. Parsley and celery flavor
     b. Use it like parsley.
6. Kentucky Coffee Tree Seeds
     a. Seeds and green pulp are poisonous raw. Roast them about 1.5 hours at 300º. Grind them to       make decaf coffee.
     b. Can be added to hot chocolate and chocolate cake.
7. Star of Bethlehem
     a. Poisonous to eat
     b. Can be confused with field garlic. It has a distinguishing white stripe that field garlic doesn’t.
8. Japanese Knot Weed
     a. Related to rhubarb
     b. Peel the stem and eat it. Don’t eat the leaves.
     c. Makes a nice fruit compote. 1 part knot weed to 10 parts fruit.
     d. Short fat stems are optimal
     e. Has pretty, lacy flowers in the fall
9. Hercules Club (aka Angelica Tree or Devil’s Walking Stick)
     a. Shave the thorns off with a knife and steam the developing shoots like asparagus.
10. Red Bud Blossoms
     a. put them in salad or toss in batter and make fritters
11. Chickweed
     a. Eat leaves, stems and flowers raw or cooked
     b. Tastes like corn
     c. Loads of vitamins
     d. To cook: wash and chop into bite-sized pieces. Cook (steam the wet leaves) in a pot on low          heat until wilted. In a separate pot cook garlic in oil and toss together.
12. Mugwort
     a. It’s in the wormwood family
     b. You can make a tea to help with PMS
13. Field Garlic
14. Daylily
     a. Has tubers that look like potatoes.
     b. The leaves taste like green beans.
     c. You can eat the leaves, stems, tubers or flowers
     d. 1 in 50 people have digestive problems w/ daylilies. Gradually build up to eating them.
15. Sassafras
     a. Branches grow out at 45º angles from trunk
     b. Smells like root beer
     c. Wash the root, simmer for 20 minutes and chill the tea
     d. Can also use the cambium of the root as cinnamon
16. May Apple
     a. Poisonous except for the ripe fruit
17. Violet
     a. Use the leaves in salad
18. Burdock
     a. Delicious root. Cut the root razor thin on the diagonal, simmer it and put it in rice or a stew.
     b. Leaf has silver, hairy underside.

Watch Atlanta Peregrines on Web Cam

It’s so wonderful that falcons and hawks have made a come back in big cities. We’ve had red tailed hawks in our yard drooling over our chickens. I know they are in the area to munch on the rodents that live near all our restaurants, and I say “welcome hawks! Munch away!”

Well Atlanta has set up a webcam to spy on a pair of nesting falcons. Read the press release below to learn more about this pair.

Atlanta’s most prominent falcons couple is back in the public eye.

A Web camera at is again providing frequent updates on two adult peregrine falcons and their nest outside the 51st-floor offices of the McKenna, Long & Aldridge law firm in downtown Atlanta.

The protected raptors, which typically mate for life, began laying eggs February 27. They have four now. The nestlings are expected in early April. The young will leave the nest at about 5 weeks old.

Clay C. Long, founding partner and a former chairman of the law firm, said the peregrines offer an annual treat, watching the young “from birth through the transition from down to feathers, then learning to fly and to hunt, and finally ending with our couple sending their young off in the world to find their own cliffs on which to dwell.”

Peregrines were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species because of a successful population recovery effort, but Georgia still lists the birds as rare. There are only two known peregrine pairs nesting in Georgia, both in Atlanta, said Jim Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with the state Wildlife Resources Division.

Peregrines are possibly the fastest animal in the world. Their dives, used to catch birds in flight, have been clocked at more than 200 mph.

The Wildlife Resources Division and the world have watched falcons nest at McKenna, Long & Aldridge for five years, thanks to the law firm and a grant from The Garden Club of Georgia. One of the first peregrines nesting there was released in Atlanta by the state, in a partnership with Georgia Power and Zoo Atlanta, Ozier said.

The new falcons will face an urban environment plump with pigeons and other prey on the wing but also packed with potential hazards such as windows and traffic. Two of the three peregrines that hatched on the high-rise balcony last year were later treated for injuries.

“The young have to learn how to survive in the city,” Ozier said.

To see this year’s nest, go to and click “Conservation,” then “Species of Concern” and the peregrine falcon Web cam link under “Bird Conservation” label. The view shows the planter in which the birds nest. Frequently hit your computer’s refresh, or reload page, button: The images are updated every 30 seconds.

Urban Foraging

wild parsnip

wild parsnip

So I mentioned that while I was on a birdwatching tour of Prospect Park I ran into a friend taking a foraging for wild edibles tour. I keep thinking about it and figured out who was running the tour. The man’s name, appropriately enough, is “Wildman” Steve Brill.

On her tour, my friend found wild parsnips, sassafras and other edible plants. It was pretty amazing because almost nothing is green or blooming yet.

Here’s a schedule of his classes. I think I’m going to the one on April 18th in Prospect Park.

Sunday in the Park


This Sunday, friends of ours from Lindsay’s school took Lindsay for the day. We had 4 hours to ourselves and decided to walk around Prospect Park. We went to the Audubon Center, which somehow I had never visited. The 1905 Beaux Arts building was nearly torn down in the 1960s, but NYC granted it landmark status. The Prospect Park Alliance teamed up with Audubon New York to restore the boathouse and in 2002 it was completed. It’s a really lovely building that houses the nation’s first urban Audubon Center.

They have lots of events, including free birdwatching and nature walks every saturday and sunday. We took a nature walk and saw many of the birds we saw the day before at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Our guide was funny and nice and really knew his stuff. While we were out on the tour, we ran into a friend on a different tour. Her tour was a 4-hour guide to wild edibles. She’s planning an article on Depression eating. I really want to take the next tour, which will be in Central Park and will be at a time when more plants are out.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

On Saturday we went to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is a part of Gateway National Recreation Area to get a nature fix. This national park is lovely and in most areas you have no visual clues you are in or near a huge city. I kind of like the area where city meets nature, so my photos show more of that than the quiet nature. We saw lots of birds that were too far away to take decent photos. Some of what we saw was: downy woodpecker, northern shoveler, american coots, canada geese, snow geese (by the hundreds) great egret, eastern phoebe. There were many other birds that were hiding in the bushes, including many sparrows, which I don’t know how anyone can identify.

I’m not very good at identifying water birds, so we kind of looked over the shoulders of other birders and asked for help. Some were dressed as though they were going on a safari, which was kind of hilarious. Reminded me of the photo nerds I have spent countless hours around.

Jamaica bay

Jamaica bay_4
I really like the quiet color palette of winter.

Jamaica bay_3
Hundreds and hundreds of snow geese

Jamaica bay_1