Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

Eulogy for an indoor cat


Joey the indoor cat. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 1, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Eulogy for an indoor cat.”

By Barb Gorges

Today I write a eulogy for Joey, an ordinary orange and white house cat who lived with our family.

I offer the details of her life as an example of the advantages of an indoor cat.

Joey died in the fall at the age of 18 ½ years old. She was my writing companion, sometimes draped over my left shoulder, sometimes over my lap. She exuded enough cat hair to melt down my previous laptop by clogging up the fan.

She was opinionated. She talked about a lot of things, her self-assured gaze drilling into you, assessing you.

Joey and her brother were products of a liaison between an unknown father and a footloose mother belonging to a friend. Our boys, in grade school and junior high then, enjoyed building climbing gyms for the kittens and playing catch and release cat toy games with them.

We took the cats outside occasionally on harness and leash, but Joey’s brother soon refused after stepping on a bee and getting stung.

Joey was always the one to look for before opening a door. It wasn’t that she wanted to go outside. She just wanted to go to the other side, whether into the basement or into a closet. If she did get out the front door, all we had to do was quietly leave the door open, circle around behind her, where she was quivering under a bush, and gently herd her towards the door.

However, one time she escaped without us realizing it right away. It took three days for her to come home and start pounding on the aluminum storm door. We were the only happy people that week after 9/11.

One good reason to keep your cat indoors is so you don’t have to worry about them. Of course, you could build them a “catio”—safe enclosed space for them to enjoy the outdoors. The enclosure would also prevent your cat from hunting local wildlife.

Even if it isn’t important to you to save billions of animals each year—birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians—from domestic cats, if you have children, you don’t want them in contact with cats that roam outdoors.

Cats are the hosts for toxoplasma gondii, a parasite with eggs that persist in soil. We know it causes serious health problems for pregnant women who come in contact with cat feces. But we now know that a large percentage of the global human population is infected and studies suggest toxoplasma gondii can cause behavioral and personality changes and is associated with disorders including schizophrenia.

Outdoor cats, whether owned or feral, are a bigger and more complicated problem than we ever expected. You’ll want to read “Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer,” by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella, neither of whom are cat haters.

For an introduction to the book, see the video of Marra’s talk last month at Search with the term “cat wars.”

One moment Joey was a tiny kitten, and the next moment an adolescent adventurer, then an unflappable middle-aged cat who would still perform amazing acrobatics to catch miller moths buzzing ceiling lights.

And then she became my elder, content to follow the daily rotation of sunny spots around the house, lounging among the house plants while watching birds at the feeder outside.

I believe Joey and her brother, who died of natural causes a few years ago, had better lives, longer lives, than if they had to roam outside in the hazardous world. I know I’ve had a better life because they were inside with me.

In Joey’s memory, please work to keep cats off the street.



Feral cat policy will fail

House cat

An indoor house cat is safe from outdoor dangers, and the birds are safer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec.10, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, as a column on the opinion page. “Feral cat policy will fail.”

By Barb Gorges

Last month, the Cheyenne City Council passed an ordinance allowing the Cheyenne Animal Shelter to implement a “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release program” for feral cats in the city.

The shelter staff is tired of euthanizing cats–84 last month alone, many more in spring months–and sees this as a proactive measure.

The Community Cat Initiative allows “community cat caregivers” to bring in feral cats and pay $30 to sterilize and vaccinate then release them, their ears tipped so they can easily be recognized as neutered.

Normally, unwanted cats, if not adoptable (and there is a barn cat adoption program for the less sociable), are euthanized.

I object to the TNR program, as it is referred to, for several reasons.

One is, I love cats. Our current feline, an indoor cat, is pushing 16 and is curled up on my shoulder as I write this.

I think more inhumane than euthanizing them is leaving cats outdoors. Feral cats as well as roaming family pets encounter life-threatening dangers: vehicles, predators–including other cats, not to mention inhospitable weather.

Conversely, feral cats untrapped—and unvaccinated—are public, human, health concern.

Why tolerate cats running loose, but not dogs?

It’s also inhumane to leave wildlife at the mercy of a non-native predator like the cat. Many of our native birds here on the prairie are ground nesters, easy prey, as are small mammals.

In the U.S., free-roaming domestic cats kill an estimated 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored-study. More recent studies show it could be more.

Nowhere in the literature has “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” been shown to be successful in controlling feral cat populations.

On paper, the program sounds good, and I wish it worked.

Simply put, if you have a colony of cats and neuter all of them, the colony will die out when the last cat dies. Problem solved in the space of a feral cat’s lifetime—probably less than five years.

In real life, no agency practicing “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” has been able to trap enough cats to substantially lower the population.

Cheyenne’s policy, waiting for the public to bring feral cats in, is doomed to fail even more rapidly.

Trapping cats is a bit like herding them. Plus, do the soft-hearted have deep enough pockets?

A staff member at the shelter said they are pursuing grants that would allow for a more aggressive “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” program.

Meanwhile, we’ll have an ever-increasing feral cat population (think about lying awake at night listening to cat fights) until nature finally deals with it—probably an ugly new and deadly disease. Not very humane.

Here are some more humane suggestions.

Hunt for nests of kittens and bring them in to be neutered and adopted at the age they can be socialized and become happy indoor cats. But don’t allow them to be released outdoors.

Also, instead of charging people to bring in feral cats for neutering and vaccination, pay them $30. Putting a price on a species sent the passenger pigeon to extinction and nearly did the same for the buffalo.

Next, release adult, neutered feral cats, if they cannot be socialized, in a cattery, a place where they are safe and wildlife is safe from them.

Those options I’ve mentioned take money. Meanwhile, the problem grows.

I don’t think it is fair to ask people charged with sheltering animals to do what really needs to be done from the wildlife and public health standpoint.

The wildlife agencies need to step in, as they have in Hawaii, another place where non-native predators, including feral cats, are decimating the wildlife.

Removing feral cats, euthanizing them, is not a happy proposition. Each one looks just like our own cat.

We need the fortitude to take actions to insure the well-being of cats. Releasing them to fend for themselves is not good for them, nor for wildlife.

If you want to read a balanced look at this topic, see this Nebraska Extension Service publication, “Feral Cats and Their Management,”

Hootie, the red-breasted nuthatch, comes home

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Rescued Red-breasted Nuthatch contemplates freedom. It is illegal to harbor wildlife without a permit or oversight by someone with a permit.

Published Oct. 12, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Rescued bird finds his way home.”

2014 Update: My eBird records for my Cheyenne backyard show observations of Red-breasted Nuthatches, including heard only records, occur year round. Apparently, not every individual goes to the mountains for the summer. But it is not known whether the nuthatches in the city in summer are breeding.

By Barb Gorges

Hootie’s mother once told him she met his father at a backyard feeder in Cheyenne early last spring. She said as soon as the weather warmed they went up to the forest to look for a building site, eventually settling on a ponderosa pine with a broken top and a rotten spot.

Hootie’s mother did most of the tree excavation and stuffed the new home place with shredded bark, grass, feathers and fur. It became a cozy fit as the six red-breasted nuthatch youngsters grew larger.

“Stay away from the doorway!” was his parents’ constant refrain as they darted in with different kinds of beetles, spiders and caterpillars up to 18 times an hour. “The squirrels will get you if you don’t watch out!” they said as they left with another fecal sack as smelly as any diaper.

One of the furry monsters climbed within a few feet of the nest entrance but was met by Hootie’s mother. Perching above, her wings outstretched, she swayed slowly from side to side, mesmerizing the would-be baby eater until it woke with a start and fled.

Keeping Stellar’s jays away was more difficult. Hootie’s parents spread pine pitch around the edges of the entrance. None of the vain big birds would risk dirtying its feathers by poking its head in. The pitch kept out pesky ants too.

Finally, in late July, three weeks after hatching, the big day arrived. The children were dressed in garb nearly identical to their parents’. Each had a blue-gray jacket, pale red vest and flat black hat. Their white faces were marked with a black stripe through the eye.

Hootie’s parents laid down squirrel fur across the sticky doorsill and began encouraging their children with a new song, “Come on out, the weather’s fine. Flying is a wonderful thing. You’ll love it. And walking up and down tree trunks is a hoot.”

As Hootie tottered at the threshold of the bright new world, the rush of air triggered his genetic reminder to flap. He clumsily made it to the neighboring tree. Soon all his siblings were enjoying flying and finding insect treats hiding in tree bark, though their parents planned to feed them for two more weeks.

Two bicyclists were also enjoying the sunny day, following a narrow trail through the forest. But they didn’t look like any of the dangers Hootie’s mother had described. He never even saw what he hit.

On the ground stunned, he thought maybe there was something about using wings his parents had forgotten to mention. But he could still flap them. It was his leg that wouldn’t hold up. “Mommy!” he cried. “Daddy!” And then he was scooped up and put in a small dark place, just like his old nest.

Six weeks of recovery in a bird cage was like returning to the nest. Someone brought him turkey scratch and then mealworms every day and someone cleaned up after him. But there was also sunlight from the nearby window, a seed cup to sleep in, a water cup to bathe in and seeds to pull from a stick and hide.

Only there was no one to answer his “yank-yank” call except well-meaning people.

One day, near the end of his hospitalization, though he still had a limp, the bird cage was taken outside. The gust of air and the loud rustling noises alarmed him, but then he recognized the wind and aspen leaves.

Just as he settled down, real terror visited. A soft but wicked voice said, “What’s a tasty morsel like you doing out here all alone?” The blue jay stuck his long bill into the cage.

“You’ll never get me!” taunted Hootie from the far side, fluffed to his full four and a half inch height. “You’re too fat to fit between the bars!”

One evening three days later his foster parents returned him to the wider world, bringing him to a grove of big cottonwoods and elms—kinds of trees Hootie had never seen before but had heard his parents describe.

“Cheyenne, I must be in Cheyenne!” he thought. Then he heard “yank yank,” the call of another red-breasted nuthatch.

“It’s party time pardner!” it said. It was true. In the fall no one argued over mates or nesting territories.

“We’re hanging with some Wilson’s warblers just in from Canada. They’ll only be here for a day or two before heading for Mexico. Aren’t you glad we don’t have to migrate that far? We can just stay and catch bugs sleeping in tree bark and fill in our empty spots with seed.

“My folks want to stay in the mountains this winter. They think the pine and spruce cone crop will be good. Me, I prefer the easy life. Ah, so many seeds, so little time. You hardly have to hit the same feeder twice in one winter!”

And so, dear reader, should you notice a red-breasted nuthatch at your birdfeeder this winter that favors one leg, give him greetings from all his friends: the bicyclists, the vet, the bird rehabilitator, his foster parents and me.

Author’s note: This story is based on an actual rescue this summer and information from Birds of North America Online,

Rescuing baby birds not always necessary


Killdeer nest on the ground. The young are precocial (precocious) and are up and running around soon after hatching. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Aug. 8, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Rescuing baby birds not always necessary.”

2014 Update: Well-meaning people still have trouble understanding that grassland birds nest on the ground. They are soon out of the nest, but not in need of rescuing.

By Barb Gorges

Mid-July I got a call from a member of the staff at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic. Would I know where to find killdeer? Someone had brought in a chick and the staff wanted to release it near other killdeer in hopes they would foster it.

There was no information about where the chick had come from. Why was it brought in?

“They said it fell out of the nest,” replied the staffer. We had to laugh. Killdeer nest on the ground.

In fact, here in the grasslands, most birds nest on the ground, including the western meadowlark, and even hawks such as the northern harrier (formerly known as the marsh hawk) and ferruginous hawk.

Some grassland birds may nest in the few available bushes, but otherwise, it’s an entirely different group of birds adapted to building nests in trees in our yards, along riparian areas (streams and creeks) or in forests.

In other treeless habitats birds also nest on the ground. Think of all the shorebirds, penguins and seabirds.

Just yesterday I was reading one of Christopher (Robin) Milne’s autobiographical books in which he describes finding an owlet on the ground near his home in Dartmouth, England, and how he thought he needed to take it home and raise it himself.

Well-informed people in this country know that they need a permit to raise wildlife and besides, owlets walk around on the ground before they learn to fly as a normal part of their development. Burrowing owls even nest underground!

I think there is a default setting in our brains when the phrase “baby bird” is uttered. We automatically envision a tree with a cozy nest of tiny, featherless robins. Their parents take turns perching on the rim, stuffing worms and insects into their gaping mouths.

For many birds, this picture is accurate. When their eggs hatch, the young are helpless, naked and blind creatures that spend a week or two in the nest. They are classified as altricial young and are called nestlings.

Ground nesting birds tend to have precocial young called chicks. Shortly after hatching, the chicks, covered in downy feathers, are running around after their parents. Think about domestic ducklings and chickens. Though they can’t fly right away, falling out of the nest is not one of their problems.

When do baby birds need rescuing? My rule of thumb is when a life-threatening catastrophe is human caused, such as last summer’s incident when children tore down swallow nests on the Greenway. Or there are loose pets that may cause injury. I hope you’ve been too smart and soft-hearted to let your pets roam, especially during the May, June and July nesting season.

There will always be a baby robin that leaves its nest prematurely. Even if you put it back, whatever defect in the nest construction or in its baby brain that caused it to jump or fall the first time, will usually cause it to do it again.

It’s important to remember that for every year’s crop of young animals, a high percentage is meant to be food for other young. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can’t turn carnivores into herbivores. Just make sure the balance of nature isn’t upset because your Fluffy or Fido is pretending to be one of the native predators.

Even if people mistakenly rescue a bird, it’s still a good sign that they care about the welfare of wildlife. Perhaps they are ready to take other, less direct actions, on behalf of wildlife, such as using organic lawn care products, recycling and supporting organic farming, pollution control and native landscape reclamation.

Though this year’s nesting season is nearly finished, except for the goldfinches and a few birds trying to get a second brood in, it’s not too soon to make your own small contribution and work on turning your cat into a house pet.

If the part you dislike about house cats is the litter box, let me put in a plug for Arm and Hammer’s “Super Scoop,” clumping kitty litter. “Super Scoop” is more expensive per pound than regular clay, but it lasts longer and works better.

I take a minute a day to scoop tidy, nearly odor-free litter box lumps into an empty produce bag, bread bag or cereal box liner, and maybe add a little fresh litter to the box if the level is getting low. However, I only have to dump the entire litter box contents once or twice a year. A 14-pound box of litter lasts my two cats about three weeks.

Think of it, something as minor as fresh-smelling, easy to use cat litter could improve the chances of survival for birds in your neighborhood.

A couple days after the killdeer call I was at the clinic for my menagerie’s annual visit so I was able to meet the young women who had been on the hunt for a foster home for the chick.

They spent hours hiking over hill and dale before finding likely killdeer parents. Because the chick was not part of a study and banded or fitted with a radio transmitter, no one will ever know its fate.

In the natural world, sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone, to begin with.

Juveniles destroy swallow nests

Cliff Swallows

Cliff Swallows make their nests near water, by collecting daubs of mud in their beaks. The undersides of bridges are popular locations for nest building. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Published Aug. 9, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Donations sought for injured birds. Juveniles destroyed a dozen cliff swallow nests before throwing 50 hatchlings into Dry Creek.”

2014 Update: I haven’t heard of any more incidents like this. At many of Cheyenne’s busy street intersections, swallows swoop about, apparently preying on insects collected by cars.

By Barb Gorges

Donations of food and nesting materials or cash are being requested by Cheyenne bird rehabilitator Karin Skinner.

Last week, three juveniles destroyed about a dozen cliff swallow nests and threw the approximately 50 newly hatched young into Dry Creek where it crosses the Greenway at College Drive.

Thirty of the surviving young were brought to Skinner, an experienced bird rehabilitator who has state and federal permits to care for wild birds.

Fifteen swallows pulled through and are presently being cared for by volunteers at WildKind, a branch of the Humane Society in Fort Collins, Colo., because Skinner could not handle the every half hour feeding schedule and still care for her other bird patients.

Donations of nesting materials, such as a heating pad, toilet tissue and paper towels, and food, such as meal worms, wax worms, berries and vegetables, are needed to replenish Skinner’s stores depleted by the swallows, and to prepare for their return in a week or so, when their feeding schedule slows.

Skinner expects the swallows will be released towards the end of the month.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is considering how best to handle the case against the perpetrators of this wildlife crime.

Procrastinate for the sake of the birds

American Robin family

American Robin nestlings hatch naked and blind. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published June 14, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Putting off yard work helps wildlife. It’s best to delay some chores until young birds have time to hatch and leave the nest as fledglings.”

2014 Update: My robin saga continues in the column published June 28, 2001, in the post following this one.

By Barb Gorges

Procrastination can be a good thing. Spring snowstorms will melt off the driveway by midday if I don’t shovel, and fancy computers eventually are available at garage sales.

On the north side of my house is a deep, dark and quiet forest.

Sheltered by the next-door neighbor’s house, when the wind gets there it drops in speed – and drops litter.

The junipers probably were cute little shrubs when they were planted along the foundation 40 years ago. Today they are leviathans, reaching over my head, 8 to 10 feet high and as wide and deep.

I keep thinking I should cut a few branches at Christmas – especially ones shading the window by my computer. The evergreen smell would be nice. But then I forget, and it’s May or June before I dig out the pruning saw.

Why do I procrastinate gardening and yard work, which I enjoy?

Perhaps because my other obligations are less forgiving of missed deadlines. Other than the lawn, of which the boys have charge, things grow slowly enough around here there’s never a pruning crisis – especially since I cultivate the natural look.

Well, the stars finally lined up right last week, and I found the pruning saw and headed for the woods, intent on bagging a few branches.

Actually, the hunting euphemism doesn’t translate here. We don’t bag branches. We keep them for yard projects and firewood.

I sawed around the computer window and moved to the next window, but as I grabbed a branch, it squawked.

Mama Robin flew up out of her nest and chastised me from the edge of the neighbor’s roof as I hurriedly backed away.

Deep, dark woods may be the epitome of safe bird habitat, but this is the first time the robins have chosen it over the trees out front. In fact, the nest is not deep in the juniper branches, but sort of on top.

By pressing my forehead to the window from inside the house before Mama Robin settled back in, I could see at least three eggs. When she’s on the nest, she sits as stoically as an avian Buddha.

A few days later, I had a call from someone concerned because her family cat had slightly mauled a baby bird that fell out of its nest. What should she do?

Here are some suggestions in order of preference.

First, try putting the nestling back in the nest. Some young, however, will just fling themselves out of the nest again, or the nest may be too high for you to reach safely.

Or, if the baby is fairly well feathered and close to being able to fly, let the parents take care of it on the ground. Keep pets and children away.

Once, I tried making a nest out of a bucket, placing it where the parents would visit and feed the baby, but it evidently wasn’t cat-proof.

The next option is to buy worms where fish bait is sold and start feeding the baby yourself.

Kelly, who works at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic, said baby birds only need to be fed once a day.

If you are squeamish about worms, try foods from this list she recommends: brown rice (cooked), frozen corn, cooked pinto beans, crushed dog kibble, soaked millet, lean meat, white cheese, fruit (especially oranges), green vegetables, carrots or squash. For treats, try dabs of yogurt, cottage cheese or dried fruit like raisins—but no nuts.

Kelly also said technicians at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, located at the clinic, are happy to feed baby birds for you to get them ready for release.

Let me get on my soapbox here for two ideas.

First, nature doesn’t expect every seed to lead to a flower or every bird egg to lead to flight. Some progeny have to become food for others, whether it’s baby worms feeding robins or baby robins feeding hawks.

But on the other hand, bird blood on your cat’s paws is not part of the natural balance because domestic cats are not native to our area.

Letting your cat play with baby birds, besides doing damage to the individual birds and bird species in general, does nothing for the cat that you and a catnip mouse couldn’t do better indoors. And it’s safer for your cat, which won’t be exposed to bird-borne diseases and other outdoor hazards.

You could build a screened porch-type kennel like a friend of mine has for her cats. They still get to go outside, but everyone is safe. This is a great time of year to procrastinate over the right things.

Put off mowing the prairie, where killdeer and meadowlarks nest on the ground. Save the tree pruning and ditch clearing until the young have cleared their nests by June or July. Let the wild tangle at the back provide escape from predators.

According to Kenn Kaufman’s write-up on robins in “Lives of North American Birds,” I may have to wait 12 to 14 days for Mama Robin’s eggs to hatch and another 14-16 days for the young to fledge.

While I practice procrastinating pruning, if I open the window and let strains of Mozart float down to Mama Robin’s nest while the chicks are still in the shell, will they grow up smarter and survive better than other robins? Or will they emerge from the nest chirping the “Piano Sonata in B flat Major”?

When not to rescue wildlife


Fawns are left on their own while their mothers feed nearby. Rarely have they been abandoned. Unless you can verify the mother is not coming back, there is no need to rescue fawns. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published May 30, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “When not to rescue wildlife. The scenario: You’re hiking in the woods and discover a fawn lying under a shrub, no mother in sight. Does it need your help?”

2014 Update: The Nestling Nursemaid program continues this season.

By Barb Gorges

It happened to our family once. We’d walked off the trail to admire wildflowers and practically tripped over a deer fawn lying partially obscured under a shrub, no mother in sight.

The fawn’s instinct was to sit tight. Ours was to beat a hasty retreat, but apparently not all people have the same reaction.

Every spring deer and antelope fawns are needlessly “rescued” by well-meaning people who want the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to take care of them. They don’t realize the young are normally, and often, left alone while the mother is feeding out of sight.

“They may seem abandoned but chances are that handling will cause them to be abandoned,” or human scent will attract predators said Reg Rothwell of Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Biological Services Division. “Game and Fish has no facilities to care for abandoned wildlife.”

Rothwell said that the WGFD once again has an employee designated to answer questions brought about by the seasonal increase in interactions between people and wildlife.

Is a nest of rabbits or birds abandoned?

It takes hours of patient, non-disruptive observation to determine if parents are not returning.

What about the nest that blew out of the tree? Put the remains and young in a container back in the tree and the adults will be happy to continue caring for the nestlings. If you need additional nesting materials, use shredded newspaper or paper towel, not green plant material.

What about young birds on the ground, completely feathered but unable to fly? Put them up on a branch and keep them safe from dogs and cats. It will only take a couple more days for them to learn to fly, said Rothwell. If you have mallards nesting on your lawn, be patient. They’ll leave when the eggs hatch.

If there are no trees around, chances are you’ve discovered a grassland bird from a ground nest. Your only option is to put your dog on a leash and leave the bird to the care of its parents, members of a species that has been distracting would-be native predators for eons by faking a broken wing.

Even if a wild baby actually needs rescuing, you cannot legally take it home and take care of it yourself unless you are working directly under a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

What about injured wildlife? If it is a natural injury, caused by the natural environment or other wildlife, keep in mind that the misfortune of one animal is fortune, or dinner, for another and you needn’t do anything that changes the natural order.

But often the injury is human caused. While prevention is best (cats indoors, decals on windows, careful driving, little ramps out of window wells and stock tanks), we would not be human if we didn’t want to help.

The first rule is protect yourself during the rescue. Rothwell said rescuers are always at risk of being bitten or contracting diseases. Western grebes, he said, go for your eyes with their sharp beaks. Even the smallest songbird will nip or could carry interesting parasites.

For large birds and mammals it is best to call the experts for help. They will know the best way to safely transport the animal and where to take it.

For more advice on if or how to rescue wildlife:

The Cheyenne Pet Clinic has recruited 15 volunteer “Nestling Nursemaids” so far this season. Veterinarian Dr. Robert Farr is licensed to rehabilitate wildlife and his staff is very knowledgeable. Call them at 635-4121.

For various wildlife dilemmas, including nuisance wildlife, call the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 777-4600, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. For after-hours emergencies, city police, the sheriffs’ department and the Wyoming Highway Patrol can reach WGFD officials. In the Cheyenne area, WGFD Warden Mark Nelson can also take calls at 638-8354.

For more preventive advice, look online at WGFD’s Website,, and click on Wildlife. Under the heading Habitat Home Page, click on Extension Bulletins.

For more about when to rescue wildlife, an excellent tutorial is available from the Champaign (Ill.) County Humane Society. Go to Click on Resources, then CCHS Library, and then choose Wildlife.