A safe place for injured songbirds

Feather Haven is home to three birds who can't be released because they can't fly

They’re common enough situations you’re reading at home when a bird flies into your window, or the family cat comes through the door flap with a still struggling “present” in its jaws.

Many people have seen or tried to deal with an injured bird, but their wild and skittish nature makes it impossible for people to help them.

So what can you do with an injured bird? Kelley Ward, director of Feather Haven, says to bring it on down to her.

Songbird sanctuary

After years of study and preparation, Feather Haven opened its doors in Enumclaw July 2014, and so far, the organization has helped more than 185 wild birds in their sanctuary.

“Ever since I was a child, I loved animals,” Ward said. “We are so blessed here on the Plateau with some wonderful wildlife. This is my way of giving back.”

The non-profit is 100 percent volunteer staffed and is licensed by both the state and federal Fish and Wildlife departments.

A good portion of the birds that Feather Haven rehabilitates arrive with various injuries, and it’s not uncommon for birds to come with infections or fungus, but the majority of the organization’s time goes to helping baby birds.

“They’re orphans, or their nest was removed. Sometime’s they’re simply birdnapped,” Ward said.

Birdnapping often occurs when fledgling birds are out of the nest for the first time they flew out, but can’t fly back, and an unsuspecting passerby may think the bird fell out of its nest and needs help.

“It’s natural fledge activity,” said David, Ward’s husband. “They leave the nest, the mom is there watching and will feed it, but people pick them up.”

Telltale signs that a fledgling is venturing out for the first time, as opposed to an infant falling, is the bird is feathered and is mobile on the ground.

Injuries tend to be the second biggest reason why birds are brought into Feather Haven, but window strikes aren’t the main contributor; it’s cats.

“Cat attacks are huge,” Ward said. “We are very big promoters of keeping your cat indoors.”

According to a 2011 American Bird Conservancy report, free-range house cats are responsible for killing between 500 million to one billion birds every year.

And it’s not just the outright attacks that birds have to worry about cats can carry a plethora of dangerous bacteria and diseases on their teeth and claws. Even if a bird gets away with a small scratch or bite, an infection can quickly kill them.

Infections and fungus from dirty feeders are also a huge issue for birds.

“Some people don’t understand the importance of keeping their feeders clean,” Susan Quinzel, Feather Haven’ volunteer services coordinator, explained. “If you don’t clean that hummingbird feeder, the hummingbird can get a fungus on its tongue where it can’t withdraw its tongue. It’s going to die.”

Another common disease found around dirty feeders is called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, also known as Finch-eye disease, which creates a crust over the bird’s eye until they can’t see.

“Cleaning the feeders is an ongoing process,” David said. “Once a week, take your feeders down, use a weak bleach solution to wash them out and put them back up.”

Bird experts don’t recommend using soap because it can leave a residue in the feeder.

All-natural treatment

To help birds that are sick and injured, Feather Haven will use modern medication and rehabilitation techniques; birds with broken wings get pins inserted, or if they have a concussion or infection, they’re given anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.

But that’s close to the extent Kelley and her volunteers will go to use modern treatments. Nearly everything else they do is as close to how it is done in nature as they can provide.

When it comes to baby birds, Feather Haven does its best to replicate what mom and dad would do.

“We spent thousands of dollars in insects this last year,” Ward said. “We use very, very little formula.”

Feeding the birds quickly becomes a full time commitment; when they’re naked, Ward feeds them every 15 minutes from morning until night.

And that’s the easy part. As they grow up, each bird has to learn its own unique song in order to be successful in the wild.

“You have to watch that you’re not placing a robin next to a song sparrow, because they’re going to learn the wrong song,” Quinzel said. “When it comes to breeding time, and they’re out there trying to find a mate, they’re attracting sparrows and wondering ‘why all these sparrows coming to me?’”

Once the birds are old enough to fly and get food on their own, Feather Haven teaches them to forage.

“Last year we went out to the fields cutting blocks of grass and put meal worms in the grass so they would be down there pecking, trying to collect them,” Ward said.

To prevent the baby birds from imprinting on their human caretakers, Ward and her volunteers refrain from talking to the birds, avoid eye contact and raise the birds in groups, even if that means transporting the bird to another facility, or taking on another bird.

“These are wild birds, and we have to keep them that way,” Ward explained.

Sick and injured birds get similar treatments. After their various ailments and injuries are diagnosed and treated, often by Bridget Ferguson of Pine Tree Veterinary Hospital in Maple Valley, they’re kept in flights (shed-sized bird cages) until they prove to Feather Haven they’re ready to be released by showing they’re strong enough to fly and find food and shelter on their own.

Volunteers and donations

Ward, her husband and Quinzel are not paid for their work at Feather Haven, and the organization relies on donations, both money and supplies, to keep running.

But Feather Haven most needs volunteers who are available during the busy baby season that starts in April and tapers off in September.

Volunteers must be 18 or older for permit reasons, and a minimum commitment of four hours a week is required.

Positions open to volunteers include bird care, kitchen and food preparation and helping run educational programs; training for these positions are available.

Money donations are welcome, Ward and her husband said, but they also take donations of paper towels, masking tape and garbage bags as well as black oil sunflower seeds, finch mix seeds and other foods supplies.

Feather Haven can be reached by phone at 253-350-5792, email at featherhavennsr@gmail.com, or mail at PO Box 242, Enumclaw, WA 98022.