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Crackle the Grackle

Crackle the Grackle
I will preface our story with, most baby birds cared for by inexperienced humans die. If you find a baby bird and have access to a wildlife center seek help. Read to the end to see how to identify if a baby bird is one in need of help!

We Found a Baby Bird

One Monday, I happened upon a baby bird.  My infant son and I were out for a walk when I looked down and noticed the little bird right next to a tree near the sidewalk.  I could not see a nest anywhere, so putting it back was not an option.

 At the time I decided to leave it and come check on it later.

After our walk, it was still there.

I could hear mom calling from a tree in the yard, but I never saw her come down. Again I left thinking maybe it would still be taken care of.

When I found him Monday. (~8 days old)
When I went back with my camera, who could resist the opportunity to get pictures, things got interesting.

I made a clicking sound to try to get it to turn its head towards me. It did; mouth open.

The poor thing was hungry.


Well, me being me couldn't let it starve. I knew most baby birds die, but I thought I should do something.

How We Fed the Baby Bird

After some research, I found a baby bird food recipe:

  • 60% moistened kitten food
  • 20% hard boiled egg (with the shell ground up for calcium)
  • 20% meal worms.
On hand, I had hairball control, light cat food and egg, so I prepared a mix of hard boiled egg and moistened cat food in my magic bullet, found a pair of the girls plastic, toy tweezers, and went out to feed the bird.

He ate surprisingly well; I think he really was hungry. I didn't want to bring him in just in case mama bird decided to feed him, but I couldn't leave him next to the sidewalk where people walk their dogs.

I found a shoe box and made a little nest from paper towels. I placed him in it, and placed it under the tree mama bird was in.

Since birds have a poor sense of smell, the idea that he would be rejected after being handled wasn't really an issue. That just doesn't happen with birds.

I went out again just after dark, but at that time he wasn't hungry. It was at this point I realized birds don't eat at night. Awesome! I was worried I would be up every hour at night!

He has food all over his beak; feeding him was not really a clean process.
The next morning he was still in his box, and he was hungry!

I fed him every hour making that same clicking noise to get him to open his mouth. I never saw mama bird come to him at all.

More research over the next week was needed to figure out what kind he was and how old he was.  As his feathers unfurled I could see they were all black, so at first, I figured he was a black bird.

Well he was a black bird if you were just describing color, but most blackbird babies have brown feathers.

Further research revealed he was a Common Grackle, those sleek black birds with the shiny greenish heads.

As far as age it was only a guess at this point. I knew he was still a nestling as he did not have all his feathers and could not walk or hop.  I was guessing around 8 days old based on other images I found online. This proved to be fairly close based on when he started hopping and flying.

Tuesday Morning. (~9 days old)

Wednesday Morning. (~10 days old)
 You can see his feathers unfurling a bit.

I continued feeding him under that tree every hour during daylight until Thursday. I'm not sure how no one had picked him up between Monday and Thursday, but he was still there.

The Baby Bird Comes in the House

I went out around 5:30 am Thursday morning, and it was starting to sprinkle. He had no protection from the weather in his box, so I brought him in and stuck him and his box in a cat carrier.

Thursday Morning. (~11 days old)

My kids had been oblivious to him until that evening. They were excited when they saw him. They even started carrying around their own babies that had fallen out of a nest. The oldest had a blue jay and the younger a pegasus (it has wings at least).

Thursday evening when the girls found him.

Friday he went to work with me and was perfectly content to sit in the cat carrier on my desk.  Sure, everyone, there may have thought I was a bit crazy, but I am pretty sure they already knew that.

And I couldn't just not feed him an entire day! You do what you have to.

Friday Morning. (~12 days old) Standing a little more upright.

Saturday started to get interesting.

He was certainly beginning to look like a bird as well as act like a bird. He started trying to get away when I would feed him.

That evening he started hopping a bit, so I decided it was time for a new cage. We took 2 laundry baskets and put them one on top of the other. We secured it with pipe cleaners and added branches for perches.  I added a small nest, but at that point he really wasn't staying in it.

Start of a new cage.
My older daughter even wrapped a stick around pipe cleaners to make him a "comfy branch."

Finished cage with perches.

In the new nest, but not for long.

Eating on a perch. (~13 days old)

We have a Fledgling

Sunday morning there was no doubt, we had a fledgling.

I woke up to him on the highest perch in his cage, and when I opened it he just held on and rotated his whole body to stay on that perch.

Sunday morning on a perch. (~14 days old)

I placed the open laundry basket outside, and my husband put up chicken wire to try and keep track of him.

He kept trying to hop and fly away!

Sunday morning trying to fly away.

He wasn't eating on his own, so he had to stay put a while longer.  Much to our dismay, he did climb the chicken wire a few times that day.

We were also able to find a couple worms for him to eat. I do have to say that tweezers are not good for holding wiggly worms and trying to shove them down a baby bird. He wanted to eat them, but they just kept squirming away.

In the end, my husband had to give him worm pieces.

Nathan's chicken wire fence.
Monday he went back to work with me. After trying to fly away in the office he got stuck in a cage (luckily, we have those at a vet clinic).

I gave him some perches, and he seemed content to hop around in there for the day.  I figured at this point it may also be safe to name him (I hadn't wanted to if he was just going to die like so many baby birds).

So I called him Crackle.

Monday morning; really looking like a bird. (~15 days old)

Tuesday he was back outside, but it was pretty hot for him in the sun. He kept escaping the pen for the shade of the lilies along the garage. So I put the girls little umbrella up for him.

Surprisingly he was content to stay right in the shade of the umbrella. As the shade moved so did he.

He was starting to peck a bit at water, so I was hoping he would be eating on his own soon.

I did end up buying him some meal worms Tuesday evening because I thought they may be easier to get down him then earthworms.
Spoiled bird with an umbrella.

Tuesday afternoon in the shade of the umbrella. (~16 days old)
Wednesday he had the umbrella again. Each time he left the pen he seemed to go further, but he always answered when I called to him.

He was only taking food from me every other hour or so, and he seemed to be eating some of what I had left in his pen.

Wednesday morning pecking at some food. (~17 days old)

Wednesday evening I couldn't find him.  I went out three times a walked around our yard and the yards on either side clicking at him.

Finally, I found him sitting on our neighbor's truck tire.

He made the mistake of jumping on Eli. I grabbed him just in time!

The Beginning of the End of our Bird Raising

Thursday morning I went to feed him around 6 am, and he wasn't too hungry.  So I opened his laundry basket.

Thursday Morning. (~18 days old)

See his short tail; definitely a fledgling.

 I came back around 7 am to him stuck in a tree by the garage.

In a tree.
I called to him, and he called back, but he kept moving higher.

And heading higher.

He finally moved more to the center of the tree where I thought I could reach him, so up I went. I was able to get him down this time.

Every time I went out he was someplace new.  I could always find him though.  He was eating more on his own and flying a lot more.

I went out Thursday evening around 6 pm to feed him before dinner. He didn't eat much at all, and then the next time I went out he was gone.

I figured he was hiding for the night, and although I tried to find him I couldn't.

The next morning his food had been pecked at, but he was nowhere to be found.

Halfway through the day, there was no more food.

We added more, and it too disappeared.

I would walk around clicking for him, and I could hear him but never see him.  It always sounded like he was way up in our neighbor's tree.

Fully Fledged and on His Own

By Sunday he wasn't pecking at his food anymore, but sometimes I can still get him to call back to me.

I just have to assume he is doing fine on his own, and it was time for him to leave. Having never raised a bird I really wasn't sure what would happen.

We put up a bird feeder out in hope that he would come down to it.

Our Bird Feeder. Grackles like to feed from the ground, but all the other
birds seem to throw enough seed down there to keep them happy.
They change so quickly, that I doubt I could ever recognize him.

Adult Common Grackle
I am pleased with this outcome even if I don't see him again.

What to do if You Find a Baby Bird

With wildlife, the goal should always be to return them to the wild.  If you come across a baby bird, I do not recommend attempting to feed it.

Most baby birds you see are fledglings anyhow and the mother is still caring for them.  If it is well feathered and hopping around it is a fledgling.

Fledglings do not go back to the nest once they leave. The mother simply follows them around and feeds them on the ground until they can fly. We were actually able to watch this with a fledgling robin in our yard. Mom just found worms and followed it around giving it worms.

Fledgling Robin on a gate.
Notice the short tail characteristic of a fledgling.

If it does not have all its feathers, cannot hop, or even doesn't have its eyes open it is a nestling and really should be returned to the nest if possible.

If it is not possible it should be taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center (if you have one nearby) as it takes a lot of diligence to even have a chance at keeping one of these little guys alive.  I think Crackle and I were both lucky things worked out so well for us.

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