Busy summer for Sonoma County songbird rescue group

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A Sonoma County bird hospital reports this year's breeding season got off to an earlier-than-normal start.

A Sonoma County bird hospital reports this year's breeding season got off to an earlier-than-normal start, possibly because of the lack of winter rain. Human activities are already causing the decline of many native songbird species, so volunteers at Native Songbird Care & Conservation in Sebastopol are determined to help as many injured and orphaned birds as possible.

The care center is licensed by both state and federal Fish and Wildlife departments. This time of year it's always packed with patients, with a steady stream of new arrivals. Some are eager eaters. Others need a special touch until they are ready to eat on their own.

The bird hospital is in the middle of a garden oasis, which also happens to be Veronica Bower's backyard.

Petaluma resident Christine Plociniak recently dropped off baby house finches to NSCC. "My neighbor knocked on the door. She was was having her house power washed to be painted and they had knocked a nest of baby birds out of the eves," she said.

The baby birds were about seven to 10 days old. They got a quick check and then were snuggled into an incubator to warm up.

Bowers started the bird rehabilitation center 10 years ago with a focus on native song birds. "There are a lot of species of songbirds that really have unique needs that require some more specialized care to really give them the best chance of survival and release back to the wild," she said.

The busy season usually begins about the end of June, but this year it started in April. "The early spring, the lack of winter really got those hormones going with the song birds a little earlier than usual and they got down to business right away," Bowers said.

The entire staff is made up of volunteers carefully trained to handle 50 different bird species.

Volunteer Mary Pierce has worked at the NSCC since the center opened. "It's amazing to see birds up close that you see out in the wild," she said.

There can be as many as 200 birds at a time, many with the same sad story.

Over 50 percent of the birds they receive have been attacked by free roaming cats, Bowers said.

Another serious threat to baby birds is accidental kidnapping -- that's what happened to a Black-headed Grosbeak at the center.

The bird was brought in by hikers who spotted it near a trail. The bird is in perfect health and Bowers believes its parents were probably right nearby. "It's important to know that, for many species of baby songbirds, they actually leave the nest before they are able to fly," she said.

The babies hop around on the ground with parents still caring for them, but well-intentioned rescuers sometimes misunderstand. "It's usually a very normal situation and it's best to leave the baby where it is," Bowers said.

However, if you find a bird lying on the ground or with no feathers or a broken wing or leg, it's time for action. Get the bird to a licensed care center where volunteers are ready to help.

"It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun. It's just so rewarding to see these little birds that would be gone," volunteer Beth Haylock said.

One more tip from songbird experts is to put off tree trimming until fall so bird nests won't be disturbed until the babies have moved on. Songbird nests are often very tiny and hard to see until it is too late.

Native Songbird Care & Conservation relies entirely on private donations.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney
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