Grace was playing with friends in a local park last week when she saw something surprising: the tiny head of a small bird sticking up out of the long grass. She went over to see what it was, and she found a large bewildered-looking baby bird. The bird didn’t fly away; in fact, he stayed rooted to the spot, as if his feet were stuck in the ground. His claws were clenched tightly shut, hanging on to the vegetation beneath him.
Grace was worried about the little bird: there are a lot of cats in the neighbourhood, including pets and feral cats, and she had often seen birds being caught and killed by them. She was worried about leaving the bird on his own, so she decided to pick him up and take him home. He pecked her as she tried to lift him up, but it didn’t hurt too much, and he seemed to settle once she had him nestled in her hands.
When she got home, she showed her Mum, and they talked about what they should do. They had no idea what sort of bird this was, nor if he is injured or sick, so they decided that the first thing to do was to get a vet to check him out. They brought him to see me. Like most vets, I am happy to see wildlife for no fee. Wild animals don’t have owners, so when they need first aid and simple treatments, many vets will do this as a type of public service. When she arrived at the vet, we asked what the patient’s name was (as we always do for pets). “Nigel” was the first name that came into Grace’s head, so that’s what he was called from then on.
When I checked Nigel over, I could find no injuries or signs of ill health. He was a healthy young bird, but he was too young to be out on his own. He was a pigeon – either a Wood Pigeon or a racing pigeon gone wild (so-called “feral pigeon”). I could tell from his fluffy plumage that he was around 14 days old, and normally, a pigeon should not leave the family nest till they are at least three weeks old. He must have tumbled out of his nest accidentally, and once he was on the ground, there was no way he could get back up there. Without Grace’s help, he would have died.
I told Grace that the best thing she could do would be to take Nigel back to the same area, and put him somewhere in an open cardboard box, to see if his parents came back for him. And if they did, or if she could find his nest nearby, she could do her best to reunite him. Ideally, she might be able to put him back into his nest, and his parents would start feeding him again. If she couldn’t find a nest, and if his parents didn’t come back, she would have to move to Plan B.
Unfortunately, the mother and father bird did not reappear, so Plan B had to be put into place. Grace called the Kildare Animal Foundation, and they agreed that the best thing would be for Nigel to be transferred to their sanctuary. They rescue many wild animals, and they have experience in caring for orphan pigeons. They would make sure he was fed properly, and they’d keep him in an aviary away from human contact so that he remained as a wild bird. If Grace tried to rear him herself, he’d become tame, and he wouldn’t be able to fend for himself in the wild.
Nigel was taken to Kildare, and that’s where he is now. He’s putting on weight and growing more feathers, and soon he’ll be able to be released, close to where Grace found him.
Grace has learned that if you find a wild animal in trouble, it’s best to get advice from people who have experience in helping them.
Visit the Kildare Animal Foundation at animalfoundation.ie