By Elizabeth Castelletti
Native wild bird numbers in North America have been declining at a staggering rate over the past four decades. A range of factors are contributing to these losses from environmental influences such as habitat loss, a decline in the insect population, climate change, and human interferences such as glass windows, automobiles, and domestic outdoor cats.
Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (TSBRR) is a non-profit, licensed, wildlife rehabilitation center specializing in rescuing and caring for over 3,000 birds in need every year. Mt. Cuba Center works with TSBRR to provide food and shelter resources which aid in their mission.
During the rehabilitation process, TSBRR takes necessary steps to reduce the stress load a wild bird must endure. Treatments are essential to support birds on the road to recovery and handling is required to apply and change bandages, administer medicines and food, as well as take blood samples and radiographs. All these human interactions, plus the need to keep the animal captive, add up to become a huge stressor on the system of a compromised wild creature.
Image 1: Cut grasses from Mt. Cuba help to create a habitat for recovering birds, like this ruddy duck hiding in its cover. Photo courtesy of TSBRR clinic staff.
To reduce this stress, TSBRR strives to create species-specific, seasonal outdoor and indoor enclosures which mimic habitats such as meadows, marshes, woods, and beaches. As Mt. Cuba prepares the meadow for its regular winter cutback, we set aside an assortment of resources to aid in the creation of these temporary shelters and to provide much needed food for the avian patients. Marian Quinn, a Clinic, Outreach, and Oil Programs CORE Team Volunteer states, “We work hard to create enclosures that our patients take to immediately by simulating what is normal and familiar to them. Species-appropriate habitat encourages foraging, eating, bathing, preening…their ordinary activities…which in turn keep stress down and support healing.”
Image 2: A Peregrine Falcon takes refuge high up in branches supplied by Mt. Cuba. Even though the leaves have wilted from the heat, they still serve their purpose to keep stress down and foster normal behavior in this rescued bird. Photo courtesy of TSBRR clinic staff.
Mt. Cuba staff and volunteers collect cut tree branches and tall native meadow grasses which provide cover for birds to hide and roost. Seeds are cut or stripped from meadow plants as they are winding down for the season. There’s a mutual benefit in this practice for both the garden and the rescued birds: the number of seeds spreading throughout the meadow is reduced, and the seeds become a food source during the winter months for recovering birds.
Image 3: Mt. Cuba staff cuts grasses in the meadow to supply TSBRR’s habitat creation.
In addition to providing seeds and other plant material, Mt. Cuba also supplies TSBRR with non-native praying mantid egg cases, known as oothecae, which are highly prevalent in the meadow gardens. The oothecae are found throughout the meadow on the stems of tall grasses and other plants, and these mantids compete with our native species. To reduce the population of non-native mantids and encourage the survival of our smaller native mantids, we remove non-native ootheca cases and donate them. TSBRR stores and hatches them as needed, providing food to baby birds and many others.
Mt. Cuba is happy to support TSBRR’s efforts and you can help too, find out how on their website. Also, if you have found a sick or injured bird, please visit TSBRR’s site for important steps to follow and additional resources.
- Beth Castelletti is a Horticulturist working in the Upper and Middle Naturalistic gardens at Mt. Cuba Center. Prior to this, she spent three years as a Seasonal Assistant Horticulturist rotating in several areas of MCC. She earned a degree in Sustainable Horticulture from the Community College of Baltimore County