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My Journey With Cartman the Grackle

Cartman is one of three baby birds given to me and my son Adam, who is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator,  on April 23, 2014.  All three birds had eyes closed and very minimal feathering.  These giant baby mouths needed to be fed every 45 minutes from sun up to sun down until they started standing up on their own in the nest.  Once that milestone achieved, they could be fed every hour to hour and a half.  Still very high maintenance babies!

We lost the first bird after to unknown causes the first week.  We lost the second bird the following week.  Wildlife rehabilitators are all too aware that there is a very high mortality rate when trying to rehab birds.  These birds come to us with the odds already stacked against them, not knowing how long they've been without nourishment and the necessary warmth of the parents, and whether they have already sustained any internal injuries.  I decided to consult with a highly regarded local expert bird rehabilitator.  As a result of this consultation, I began modifying the diet I was feeding, and continued to modify it as this last little fighter continued to grow.

The last remaining bird, named Cartman, did well.  As he grew, so did the enclosure he was kept in get larger and larger.  He was moved to the largest outside enclosure in the beginning of June.  There he had the ample room he needed to begin taking short flights between the branches that were provided. We began taking Cartman out of the cage and bringing him into the large screen enclosed gazebo to practice longer flight distances.  Even though he most enjoyed sitting on my lap, he did get the needed muscle exercise to strengthen his wings.

On July 10, 2014 we felt it was time, and we opened both of his cage doors.  He was now free to explore the world.  Was this to be goodbye forever?  Apparently not yet.  He immediately flew out the small side door and proceeded to hop around the grounds of the woods.  I went to the woods multiple times throughout the afternoon to check on him, and upon seeing me he came to me each time when called.  He was still looking for a food handout from me.  That afternoon he retreated back to the safety of his outdoor enclosure during a thunderstorm we had, a storm that subsequently spawned  a tornado at the oceanfront.  Later that day he followed me from the cage area out onto the lawn and hid between my feet under my long dress.  Upon getting him to follow me back to the cage area, he hopped into the cage.  As it was dusk by this time, I decided to close the cage doors and provide him a safe overnight in his cage, since I wasn't real impressed with his flying skills yet.

The following morning, I opened the door and he immediately followed me out onto the lawn, then followed me over to the deck steps.  He let me pick him up and bring him onto the deck where he stayed for a short time before retreating to the safety of the bushes right off the deck.  He spent the day exploring these bushes and the surrounding ground cover.  He'd come to me whenever he would hear me open the backdoor and walk outside.  I brought over the mealworm dish and he hungrily ate.  He took a long luxurious bath on the table with the remaining rainwater pooled on it.  After an exciting day of exploring freedom, I returned him to the safety of his cage to overnight again.

The next morning he was happy to see me and upon opening the large cage door, he proceeded to walk with me, duckling with mother duck style, to the deck steps.  He kept crossing directly in front of my feet, as if to try and stop me from walking.  He's still not nearly the expert flyer, as he flew from my hands once upon the deck and flew right into the couch.  He was fine, no injury.   After sitting with me on my lap for a while listening to the morning birds chirping in the yard, he headed back to his familiar bushes just off the deck.  He'd discovered an abandoned brown thrasher nest in the bush where he likes to sit.  At this point I'm still providing supplemental food and fresh water while he's learning to forage on his own.

On July 20th he spent his first night outside the cage all night.  He wouldn't let me catch him to bring him into safety the previous night, so I took it as a sign it was time to spend the night out.  The next morning I found him on top of his favorite bush.  He's spent three subsequent nights the same way, and spends his days mostly hopping around the deck waiting for me to come outside and sit with him.  He's always looking for a handout, but I've scaled back my hand feeding to almost nothing now.  I still had ocassionally put out some mealworms for him.  However, he has greeted me a few times with bugs in his mouth, almost as if to say' "look what I got mamma! I can find bugs on my own now!"  So, I am confident that he knows what to do and where to do it in order to find food on his own.

 Pictured here is Cartman at my backdoor looking into my house looking for me and calling for me.  The morning of July 23, three months to the day from when Cartman came into my care, was the last time Cartman came looking for me.  After his greeting me in the morning as usual, Adam and I left town for the day and night.  Upon arriving home the following afternoon, Cartman was no where to be found.  Wayne had not seen him either.  Fortunately, I could see no sign of foul play.  No blood anywhere nor any clumps of Cartman feathers.  I can only assume he found the strength in his wings to finally fly off and make bird friends.  Maybe not having me around so often for those 24 hours gave him the necessary incentive to go off and be a wild bird and not just the friend of the human who raised him.  I'd done my job as a rehabber.  I had raised him to the point of a healthy young bird capable of finding his own food, and it was therefore time for another joyfully tearful chapter to be closed. 

If you should encounter baby wildlife, please do not offer it food or water.  The wrong food can cause serious digestive problems and a hungry baby is more apt to cry for it's mother and she will be able to find it more easily.  Please call the organization which I am associated with for immediate advice:
Evelyn's Wildlife Refuge   (757) 430-2886

Thank you for taking the time to read about another of my successful rehabilitation and release stories. I welcome your comments!

Saving wildlife one tail at a time ~ Kim Johnson


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