Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Small Bird Unhappiness.

I was walking home around eight-o-clock when I passed a small bird on the pavement, a baby sparrow I think. It was hopping around awkwardly. So I was concerned about this, but not sure what to do.

There didn't seem to be any trees around, or gardens, I wasn't sure where it could have come from. It was cowering on the pavement, looking unhappy.

I didn't want to pick it up, for two reasons. One, I had an idea that picking up a young bird is not a good thing to do, for the health of the bird. Two, I was nervous it might peck me and give me some incurable bird disease.

So after a few minutes dithering I phoned up the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) but this wasn't so easy because I had to call directory enquiries and then I knew I didn't have much credit on my phone. I got through to the RSPCA helpline, but this again was quite complicated. It was all 'press button one for this, and button two for that, and button three…' Finally there was an option for wild animals in distress and the automated helpline said if you found a young bird you should leave it alone, because it was probably a fledgling which had hopped out the nest, and it's parents were still looking after it. It would be able to fly in a day or two.

I wasn't very convinced about this - I could't see any sort of place it might have come from so I wasn't sure how its parents would find it. But I wandered home anyway, feeling quite gloomy about the bird, and thinking I should have been able to do something better. (This is all in the context that I am a hopelessly disorganised and inefficient person at everything.)

Once home I looked at the RSPCA website, which again told me that fledgling birds should be left alone. But it did also say that they might need help if they were injured. And if they were in an exposed position, like not in a garden, for instance, they might need put up on a ledge, out of the way of cats.

Well, by now I was confused. This bird did seem like a fledgling, fresh out the nest, but it had also seemed a bit injured. Or maybe it wasn't injured, maybe it was just distressed because it was on the pavement. I had no idea, really.

The advice line was just an endless stream of number options, giving pre-recorded advice. So I decided to phone the other line, which is the animal cruelty line (Though this didn't seem quite right, as I wasn't actually reporting any cruelty). This line gave more options, which included a message saying that they get many calls about young birds that have left their nests but are fine really. So I was a bit put off, and thought I'd probably be wasting everyone's time with my phone call. But I persevered anyway, because by now I was feeling very gloomy about the little bird on the pavement.

Finally I got to a place on the phone where I could report a wild animal in distress, and the RSPCA will send out an inspector to look. But among the myriad of phone options, it tells you that you can't report this unless you can actually see the distressed animal at that moment. Because, said the phone line automated service, they waste lots of time sending inspectors to check on distressed wild animals that turn out not to be there any more.

Well, I can understand this. The RSPCA is a charity, they don't have endless resources, in fact I imagine they are hard-pressed to do their job at all.

So I could only report this bird in trouble if I could actually see it. I took a note of the number, ate a biscuit because I was hungry, and walked back up the road, thinking that if I saw the bird again, I could phone the RSPCA back and report it.

However, when I arrived there, which was about half an hour since I'd first been there, the little bird was gone. I had a good look round but there was no sign of it.

There was a wooden fence above where the bird had been, and above that a sort of concealed hedge, from the garden beyond. I wondered if the parent birds might have rescued the fledgling. But I didn't see how, I don't think parent birds could pick up one of their offspring when it's grown that much. There were also some gaps in the fence I hadn't noticed before. Maybe it had gone through one of them, and was safe in a garden.

Hmm. I sort of doubt it. I think it's more likely a cat ate it, or maybe one of the many urban foxes there are around here.

So I walked home feeling very gloomy about all this, and am still quite depressed. Had I been more organised, and not for instance the sort of person who is worried about catching diseases from wild animals - and in fact is quite nervous about animals when it comes right down to it - I'm sure I could have done more. I could have picked the bird up, and looked after it till I took it to a vet or something. So I'm feeling rather a failure about all this at the moment.


  1. steve3:32 pm

    i had something similar - found a little bird that had fallen from a nest very high up to the concrete outside my house. i gave it a dish of water and rang rspca who said that they couldnt do anything . in the end i carried it across the road (i lived opposite epping forest) so it would be away from cats and put it in a grassy patch where it might get bugs or worms. i never went back to see if it was ok as i honestly didnt think it would be . on the bright side though, we had 6 baby robins nest and hatch out safely in our shed this year. put up a nest box martin !

  2. I would have done the same thing and also be sad and frustrated. Then, I'm sure, I would have named it so I'd know how to greet it when it flew in my window the next morning, all happy and healthy. Optimist? Me?

  3. Clare OJ4:24 pm

    We rescued a what we think was a baby blue tit from the horrid cat that lives next door- My husband was terribly concerned about it and the poor thing was rigid and cold..we were certain that it would die. Anyway we put it in a shoebox on the rayburn and congratulated ourselves on what good, animal loving folks we are. Few hours later said bird flew out of shoebox and began swooping and chirping around the house, resulting in much arm flapping, general attempts at catching it and apportioning of blame. My point is, had you acted differently, perhaps you would now be writing about your house being covered in bird sh*t as they are resiliant little blighters and not easily put down!

  4. I work for the RSPCA ( not the helpline, in a shop), and find it just as confusing. I think just calling someone was doing the right thing, so don't feel bad if it went wrong. We're often called in the shop about this sort of thing, and end up ringing the helpline as well - all the button pressing is really off-putting. I'm sure some people give up at that stage, so sticking with it shows you care. I do wonder how many animals end up in trouble just because the helpline is so complicated.

  5. That the bird was hopping (even awkwardly) is a very good sign. I called the SPCA (USA) to pick up a mostly dead cat. When they got here the cat had crawled over a fence and left! I've seen raccoons recover amazingly on their own as well. Animals are very resilient. Take heart and move on. I love Steve's idea though which I have interpreted to be: do what you can, let the rest go.

    You have done an excellent work in heightening people's awareness about the challenges of the RSPCA hotline. Maybe someone will think of a way to improve it!

  6. Martin I feel very sad that you are worrying so much; what a nice person and also, loads of people are a bit scared of birds; I think your reaction to the sad little scenario you happened upon sets you apart, as so many people would have done a titchy worry-gesture and moved swiftly on. That feeling of helplessness is horrible and I'm sorry you had such a difficult time with the RSPCA. For anyone in London who should happen to find themselves in this situation, the Blue Cross in Victoria are brilliant if you can manage to take the bird in, or actually any vet emergency line will give advice and most take small birds for no cost, and assess them, hopefully resulting in a release. What Clare and Rosie said is so true, they are unbelievably resilient.
    Please don't worry, your little bird is probably sound asleep now and raring to go in the morning.
    What nice blog repliers you have btw. xx

  7. Thanks for your nice replies, everyone, they made me feel better.

  8. Anonymous12:42 am

    I found a little red cardinal in the street. It may have been a fledgling but the eye was really bloody so I thought it definitely needed to go to the vet. I dropped it off at the vet that I know does wildlife rescue and then about 2 weeks later I got a generic form letter about fledgling birds needing to be left where they were. But the bird was hurt or the eye wouldn't have been red so I don't feel bad about taking up their time and have been annoyed they sent me a form letter. Hmph.