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Branchers on the branches

2017-09-28

Branchers on the branches image

Babes have been coming in at a great rate to Bohollow and this red wattlebird chick was one of the first to arrive. He was found on the ground injured and was taken to one of our local veterinary clinics who immediately called us for help.

These large honeyeaters generally have two or three young and both parents share in the duties of their care. They make a fairly rough nest which can be difficult to spot, usually amongst the outer foliage of a dense tree or bush. These birds leave the nest just before they are able to fly properly, therefore are perfect examples of what we call ‘branchers’.

Some of our native Australian bird species leave the nest as branchers. This can cause some baby birds to be ‘rescued’ when they are at this precarious branching stage as they cannot yet fly properly and this often leads people to believe they are injured or orphaned. The only true way to distinguish whether a baby bird is a true brancher, as opposed to a babe who needs our assistance, is to observe closely before catching it. The parents of a brancher will not be far away and are generally watching their young intently and feeding them frequently. A brancher will be able to stand, hop, walk, run and flutter or fly short distances. They are also usually pretty good at climbing up and clinging to branches, hence the name brancher! If a baby bird cannot do any of these things, it needs to come into care. Leaving the nest for the first time is a dangerous time for all birds, particularly branchers, and they can often end up on the ground in harm’s-way. If a young bird is displaying all the signs of a brancher but cannot seem to get back up into a tree or shrub, sometimes all that is needed is a helping hand. If you place them back up as high as you can manage, you may have the pleasure of seeing them continue on their way. The key really is observation in these cases and these are the things you are looking for:

  • Does one or both parents return to the youngster to feed and protect it?
  • Does the youngster remain in the branches or just end up on the ground again?
  • Is there any obvious injury to the youngster; visual blood, broken wing or leg?
  • If you are able to keep an eye out until nightfall, does the young bird remain high enough and in enough cover to evade predators?

The answers to all these questions can help you decide whether a baby bird needs help and are also questions we may ask you when you call for help. Birds who are obviously too young to be out of nest must come into care, but branchers can sometimes be tricky for even us to determine if they need help, unless we observe what is going on.

If a brancher is in your garden, it can be a lot easier to keep an eye on things and in cases where a brancher cannot get back up to a safe place for the night, sometimes all it takes is to take it inside at dusk and return it immediately at dawn. Parent birds will accept their babes back willingly and continue to feed and look after them. It is a myth that birds will abandon young if a person has touched them due to the smell of humans. Birds, apart from some waterbird species and vultures, generally have a very rudimentary sense of smell; it is almost non-existent. Birds rely predominantly on their sense of sight and sound to recognise their young, unlike mammals which are highly sensitive to smell. If you collect a young bird at nightfall to keep it safe, do not attempt to feed it and be sure to return it immediately early in the morning so it can be fed by its parents. This is only a course of action if you have witnessed the parent birds tending to the young right up until dark. Sometimes, people will place a baby bird back out in a tree or shrub and wait, watching for a number of hours before deciding that the parents are not coming in to feed it, then will call for help. Many species of birds, particularly when they are young, require constant, frequent feeding and if left too long or overnight can be the difference between life and death. Getting too cold is also a killer for baby birds who have come out of the nest too early. Always call for help and advice.

Branchers usually only remain branchers for a day or two, sometimes a bit longer, all depending on the species, so this critical time is short, before they hit the air.

Some common species who leave the nest as branchers are magpies, ravens, whitewinged choughs, honeyeaters (including wattlebirds and noisy miners), tawny frogmouths and butcher birds.

This little fellow has grown a lot since these photos were taken about a week ago. Baby birds grow so quickly! He has also been joined by another wattlebird chick who is about a week behind him in age. They will continue to be raised together and be soft released together when they are ready to return to the big wide world for their second chance at life; which they would not have had unless kind people stopped to pick them up and seek help.

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