By Carleen Phillips, Songbird Coordinator
You’re beginning to think your yard looks like something from Stranger Things; nothing but leggy specimens of unknown origins. You yearn for spring, for the nice, controlled green spaces. In your mind’s eye, you have everything planned out from where the new lawn furniture will go, to where the kiddie pool will NOT go. It will be a yard for the neighbors to envy. But first, you must do something about those leggy specimens. You have clippers and shears, hedge trimmers and even a chainsaw for the unsightly tree out back. You put on eye protection and tug at your hat. You’re ready.
I get it. But hold your horses before you do anything drastic.
New growth is exciting to see and can rapidly grow out of control. There are many websites which go into great length about the proper pruning methods, and pruning times. These times are fall, and winter. It is healthy for the tree. It is also healthy for other, leggy specimens.
Birds, to be specific. And you’ve just found a nest, right in the shrub you were about to take out.
Yes, all that new leggy growth hides other new, leggy growths. These leggy growths are naked, helpless, innocent, and want nothing more than food (and more food, and more food.) They didn’t mean to appear in the shrubs that you swore you were going to trim back three months ago. It just happened. And yes, that WAS a mother Mockingbird who just dive-bombed you.
What is one to do?
The main thing, if you happen to be late to trimming or pruning you yard, is to forgive yourself for your oversight. No sense in beating yourself up. We all procrastinate.
But in addition, think of those helpless, adorable leggy growths.
At the Alabama Wildlife Center, located in Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, we take from 1300 to 2000 birds a year. The majority come during the spring and summer and are misplaced nestlings. I will never forget the young girl, probably all of ninety pounds, who walked in carrying a heavy log from a tree that was being cut down in her yard. The log was buzzing, and I stepped back, waiting for bees to come blazing out. But inside were six baby grey dinosaurs – Northern Flickers, our state bird. Six baby Yellowhammers.
What about that awful tree in your backyard? Since reassembling a tree isn’t possible, the next best option is to wait until the winter to cut them down.
I’ve been handed partially torn nests with eggs still in them. “We didn’t know it was there. What do we do?”
Well, go put it back. Now. And leave the bush alone. Let them grow and fledge. It doesn’t take long.
Our birds are under federal protection. It is illegal to move or disturb nests or anything associated with them.
So, if you do find a nest, stop immediately. Do not disturb the nest or try and relocate the nest. The parent chose that spot for a reason. Even if it is a wren who decided to nest in the mud-covered shoe you left on your back porch. Take the time to enjoy what is unfolding before you. Set up a nest cam. Keep a journal.
If you do find a baby bird who needs help, don’t panic. Give us a call at the center, and we will talk you through it, or ask you to bring the bird in.
The Alabama Wildlife Center is open seven days a week. You can find out more about our work at alabamawildlifecenter.org