Help me flip this bird!
August 15, 2011 10:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I help out this nearly adult mourning dove?

I've checked other mourning dove posts but they generally seem to deal with nests and eggs. This bird is a little older.

Yesterday I came back to my NYC apartment to find a bewildered and bedraggled young mourning dove on the stoop. What with all the rain, it looked as though he'd been separated from his family. He was still there when I went out a couple of hours later, just pacing back and forth. Had this been in the country I would not have interfered, but I was concerned that a dog might get him or something. So, I brought him into my apartment, thinking he could dry off on a towel in a box. Instead, he promptly proved he could fly, at least to the top of the bookcase. There he remained, and as he dried off and worked on his feathers, it became apparent that he is nearly adult-sized. This morning he looks good - doesn't seem traumatized or injured. He’ll fly from the bookcase to the mantle and back, but is not freaking out and bashing at the windows or anything.

I know that mourning doves generally spend two weeks in the nest and then two weeks on the ground with their parents still taking care of them. It seems like this little guy is somewhere toward the end of that second two weeks. When this weather improves - hopefully tomorrow - I was thinking I could just leave the window open and let him go on his way. But what to feed him tonight? I understand that the very young ones need "pigeon milk" but I'm hoping he's past that stage, as I don’t think he’s going to cooperate with an eye dropper even if I tried to find a substitute. I've looked this issue up online, and some people have reported making a bread and water mash to some effect. I tried this, but the bird doesn't seem interested in it.

Any advice on how to feed him and then gently get him to leave will be much appreciated!
posted by Wylie Kyoto to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would make sure he can leave your apartment when he wants to. He might be ready to go.
posted by sully75 at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2011

At this time of year I see mourning doves eating mulberries. They hang out in the tree all day and chow down. If there is a tree with fruit nearby I bet you could collect some and the little guy would like it.
posted by beau jackson at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2011

You can contact the Wild Bird Fund. They have some PDFs on their website that might be useful, and also work with some animal hospitals in Manhattan.
posted by kimdog at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2011

Since he's fledged, he should be able to feed himself. Maybe try putting out some bird seed and a little bowl of water. Keep the room dark because that will keep him more calm. In order to get him out of the house, you're going to have to stress him out and catch him. If you can keep the lights down it'll be better but still not great.

I'm sorry to say but the odds for him don't look particularly good. But you can comfort yourself that it isn't really anything you did. Most natural mortality of birds happens in the first year.

That said, it is likely* that his parents were out there looking after him. When you took him in, they would have looked around for a bit and then given up. So when you let him go again, they're probably not going to be around. If you release him in a park, he'll have more protection from predators and sources of food but his parents won't be there to feed him.

Good luck. Next time though, maybe don't take in a bird. It's okay (I admit, it's hard and seems unfair) when they die.

*he may have been old enough they weren't around in which case putting him under a bush in a park right away would have been the best thing to do
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:15 AM on August 15, 2011

When you want to catch him to take him out, find an old towel and gently throw it over him. Most birds go quiet if they are in the dark and it is a lot less stressful than trying to chase him out or catch him with bare hands. Take him outside, gently place him on the ground and give him a second or 2 and he should just fly away. I have done wild bird rescuing in Australia and found that the easiest way to deal with bird catching.

I don't know much about US birds, but I'd suggest seeds as that's what most doves/pigeons eat. Corn, wheat, some sunflower seeds, basic bird feeder mix that sort of thing. I'd avoid fruit as it can give animals the runs if they are not used to it. Make sure it has water and it should be fine over night you will probably stress it more trying to make it eat. Be careful as wild birds can carry mites and worms so try and keep it away from food prep areas.

It would probably feel safer if you caught it and kept it in a box instead of flying loose, you can keep it in darker conditions and monitor what its eating more. A box with a towel over the top should be enough to keep it quiet. I don't think you've done any major damage, if the bird can fly it can probably work out how to find food, as suggested before releasing it in a park or where other birds of the same species it can copy are would help, as long as this is not a territorial type bird.
posted by wwax at 11:50 AM on August 15, 2011

Fledglings are old enough to eat "real food", birdseed or cracked corn plus a water dish should be fine for overnight. I wouldn't try to eye dropper him any fluids, he's old enough to do it himself and it's possible to botch it and cause some real problems. Good luck! Fledglings can be awkward, but don't be tempted to keep him in any longer than it takes to wait out the storm. Wild birds can get a little wonky if they're kept in human environments for too long.
posted by troublewithwolves at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all! From your answers I figured: feed him seeds and socialize him. So when I came home from work I opened the window wide and put a big pan of bird food on the fire escape. The expected gang of sparrows, pigeons and mourning doves soon showed up. I caught my little guy in a towel, he flew out of the window like a pro when I aimed him in the right direction, and hung out with the seed eaters. He flew off with them when they left. My apartment is always nice and dark during the day, so maybe he just needed time to mellow out and dry off!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 4:03 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Um. Actually you shouldn't have to stress him out.

Open up the door onto the stoop. Draw back any curtains that might confuse him as to the edges of the doorway. Scatter/pile some normal (aka millet, sunflower, safflower - just about any bird seed mix you can find at a store) bird seed on a shallow surface. Try a plate. Put this plate near the doorway, along with a small dish of water.

He may not need it, but as you put the bird seed on the plate, draw his attention. Make sure he hears the sound of it hitting the plate. Put a shallow bowl of water next to it, dip your fingers in the water, and let them drip for a minute. Go to the other side of the room and let him find it.

If need be, you can always shoo him out the door when he visits the plate, if he doesn't seem to "get it".

If you traumatize him, that will just make him use the energy he needs to find his next source of food. An exhausted frightened bird is a prey, and pretty much dead, bird.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:08 PM on August 15, 2011

Oh, I was too late. Good job though!
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:09 PM on August 15, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I guess I'll have to save that "How do you get bird poop out of a couch?" for next week!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 4:37 PM on August 15, 2011

« Older I need something new to geek out about.   |   How to disappear completely. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.