For the Birds Radio Program: Baby Birds

Original Air Date: June 14, 1995

Laura Erickson may say she isn’t going to take any more injured birds, but she apparently doesn’t always mean it. 4:00 (date confirmed)

Audio missing


This year I gave up my rehabilitation permit—taking care of hurt and orphaned birds is draining in terms of money, time, and emotions. Nonetheless, somehow I ended up with two babies—a Pine Siskin and a robin. The people who brought the siskin thought it was a baby Blue Jay. They told me they saw one of the parents at the nest and figured one of the baby jays had died and the parent was trying to carry it off, perhaps to bury it somewhere, when the other fell out of the nest, which was too high up in the tree to put the baby back. The story made me suspicious, not of the people but of the jays, and I figured the whole thing out when the baby turned out to be a siskin. Blue Jays feed their babies the nestlings of other species; this parent jay was obviously raiding the siskin nest, and the little siskin barely escaped being incorporated into the body of a baby jay.

Anyway, it’s a dear little thing. Pine Siskins are true finches, which feed their babies regurgitated seed rather than the insects that most songbirds feed their young, and can breed in just about any season, so to protect themselves, baby siskins quickly grow a thick layer of fluffy down, especially endearing because they are so tiny. And the inside of baby siskin mouths is an intense raspberry red, almost like it was painted on with gaudy lipstick. Just about all baby songbirds have bright mouths to make a conspicuous target into which their parents can stuff food, but most are yellow or orange. Crows and jays have red mouths, but a different shade, and somehow doesn’t seem quite so fake as a siskin’s read, maybe because the corners of a jay’s mouth are also red, or because the jay is white and blue with the red completing the patriotic motif. The corners of a siskin’s mouth are yellow, almost clashing with the inside color, and the bird’s feathers are so drab that the red seems doubly out of place.

The siskin was about ten days old, and at first stayed in a margarine tub lined with toilet paper. Now he’s graduated to a house plant, obediently perching wherever I leave him. He gets excited whenever I come near, and his animated begging is an effective prompt. I’m very well trained.

The little robin was a casualty to weed ‘n feed—she was found flailing about on her side in a yard in Aurora, Minnesita, and rescued by a nurse. Little robins are winsome, and this little one wormed her way into the nurse’s heart in short order. She cared for her overnight and then drove her all the way to Duluth. She looks bulky and oversized compared with the siskin. She had trouble hopping and getting about the first day, but the pesticide application had been a light one, and her system apparently cleared out pretty quickly. By the second day, she was hopping all around my office, leaving blueberry stains and droppings all over for me to keep up with.

Both little birds are at the fledgling stage now, spending hours each day preening and flapping their wings. The siskin’s been making tentative flights, whizzing through the air for several seconds at a time. He does a fair job of staying aloft but an abysmal job of landing. Sneakers doesn’t mind him–he’s too small to count. But the robin makes her wildly jealous. Every time she tries to take off or hops anywhere near Sneakers’s cage, the Blue Jay raises her crest high and starts squawking at the top of her lungs. In another two weeks or so, my babies will be off on their own. Sneakers won’t miss them a bit, and all I’ll have to show for their brief but pleasant visit will be a few blueberry stains.