After a fierce bike ride on Friday afternoon, as I dutifully removed a can of cat food from the cabinet to answer the yowl of the domesticated, flashes of rapid motion outside the adjacent window caught my eye. I usually keep the draperies drawn to block the sun’s heat from reflecting off the patio into the house, but it had been cloudy, so I’d left them open and consequently noticed the tiny bird floundering on the pavers. My guess is that, while flitting back and forth from his nest to help feed his young, he collided with the screened window beneath which I found him. When I scooped him up in my hand, I could see he was one of the chestnut-sided warblers I had been so cheerfully watching through my binoculars over the last several weeks. It was the song of the males calling out their territory that compelled me to the windows every morning for a glimmer of the source. Warblers often dart through thick, bushy undergrowth searching out insects from the undersides of leaves, which makes it very hard to get a visual on them.
He thrashed about relentlessly, so we placed him in a cardboard box with a heating pad beneath it and a soft dish towel with a few bunched-up Kleenex inside to allow for traction without any loops in which he could become tangled. The tissues also make it easy to keep birds clean from any waste. If he was merely stunned, once he stopped seizing, he would be ready to fly away within an hour or two. It was worrisome that he was unable to lift his head without our support, and I began scouring the Internet for local wildlife rehabilitators. Unable to reach anyone licensed to accept songbirds, we started offering him water from a small dropper, and were delighted when he reached toward it, inserted his beak into the tip, and drew from it. I removed the dropper to jiggle more water down to the tip, offered it again, and repeated this until he stopped drinking and settled into the tissues to sleep. We hoped that, since it had grown dark, it would be fine to release him in the morning.
I was up at 5:00 a.m. to carry the box gingerly outside, expecting him to zoom out of it, but his condition was the same, head drooping unless supported by the towel or a hand. Seeing the sky, trees, and hearing the other birdsongs, though, he struggled mightily to be among them. Saddened, I returned to the house and placed the box back on top of the heating pad. He had exhausted himself, and it was in the upper 40s outside, which was too cold to linger out there given his condition. He had so much fight in him, I thought, we must keep him going until we find someone with better means to rehabilitate him.
I put some moist cat food on the tip of a toothpick, and reached it into the box. His jet black eyes widened, glinted as he focused on it, and he thrust his beak forward to grab and eat it. This was a great sign! He ate this way, hungrily, over a period of a few hours while I thought hard about how to get more help.
I suddenly realized that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is only about two hours from where we live, so I called them. Their companion animal hospital connected me to the Janet Swanson Wildlife Health Center, where they were anxious to receive him. We hurried to gather ourselves and some extra water for the warbler, which he drank from the dropper at stop signs and red lights. Alice, the kind and – more importantly – skilled technician who greeted us, admitted him swiftly for emergency care. He was given subcutaneous fluids, dextrose, and an anti-inflammatory for the head trauma he suffered. It was likely swelling that prevented him from holding up his gold-capped head. Alice commented on how energetic he was once treatment began. Hopefully he will heal quickly and released back into the wild. I will post an update when I have one!