Dear Andrea: I found a baby mockingbird lying in my flower bed. I was afraid a cat might eat it, so I put it in a basket and brought it into the house. I've given it small pieces of tomato and water.
What should I do from here, take it back outside or continue to try and feed it until it's bigger?
--K.M., Simi Valley
Dear K.M.: By now half my readers are cheering the impending demise of this baby. Why? Because mockingbirds are noisy and aggressive and reportedly drive away more appealing--as in, colorful, cheerful--songbirds.
For the rest of you kind spirits, I talked with Nicky Nowrooz, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Wildlife Care of Ventura County. She said what you do next depends on the following:
Is the bird injured? To tell, look for blood, a droopy wing or obvious signs of head trauma. Does the bird look fully feathered and capable of flying, or is it an infant, downy and newly born?
If the bird is injured, you'll need to take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. While you're busy finding one, put the bird in a towel-lined cardboard box in a dark, quiet room away from noisy kids and pets. Place the box half on and half off a heating pad set on low.
If the baby is feathered and doesn't appear injured, it is probably on the ground because it is a fledgling and is learning to fly. Intervening at this point is unnecessary. But if you do intervene, put it in a small cardboard box (after lining the box with cloth so the bird won't slip on the cardboard and break a leg). Place the box outside in the same general area in which you found the bird and let nature take its course.
Of course, if you have dogs or cats loose in the area, bring them into the house or they'll have an easy protein snack.
According to Nowrooz, you may have inadvertently intercepted a bird that didn't need rescuing, a phenomenon that happens all the time because baby birds leave the nest before they can fly. During this period, fledglings spend most of the day hopping around the ground, one or both parents standing guard, delivering food while the baby learns to fly.
If the bird is an infant and simply fell out of its nest, locate the nest and place the infant back in. Contrary to the old wives' tale about mother birds snubbing infants once they've been handled by humans, mama will go right back to caring for it, assuming she's still around. If you can't find a nest, you'll need to get the bird to a rehabber.
The two biggest no-nos when dealing with wild animals are feeding them and handling them.
"Wild animals have very particular food requirements which vary between species," Nowrooz says. Feeding them the wrong food may make them sick or, in the case of baby birds, may even drown them if an eyedropper is used to give them water.
To get in touch with Wildlife Care of Ventura County, call the hotline at (805) 667-4878. To find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in other counties, call animal regulation in your city or a veterinarian and ask for a referral.
Dear Andrea: I just moved back to Manhattan Beach after being gone from California for about 20 years. There are pelicans everywhere, in huge flocks. I thought they were endangered, that there were hardly any left after fishermen were found mauling them.
-K.C., Manhattan Beach
Dear K.C.: You've got it half-right. Despite their endangered status, California brown pelicans are plentiful along our coastline. But the reason for their steep decline in the first half of this century wasn't aggravated fishermen.
It's believed the pelican population suffered a drastic decline because the pesticide DDT had seeped into the food chain. Widely used on farms and in homes into the early 1970s, DDT made its way into our coastal waters and into the local fish and, hence, into pelicans' main food source. The poison caused their eggshells to become so thin that they collapsed during incubation.
According to Pat Moore at the California Department of Fish and Game, wildlife biologists still debate the issue. But there is no doubt that after DDT was banned in 1971, the California brown pelican hatchling success rate went from nearly zero per year to thousands today.
Got critter conflicts? Send your queries to wildlife biologist Andrea Kitay at P.O. Box 2489, Camarillo, CA 93011, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and city. Questions cannot be answered individually.