She was a young Northern Flicker, just a fledgling. (A fledgling is a baby bird that has recently left the nest.) Because she was so young and alone, we decided to pair her with another we’d received at about the same time. They roomed together and for a while acted like brother and sister, but the male began pecking at her and two days later she was covered in scratches from his bullying. We separated them and continued to hand feed each of them.
As you likely know, a wound that is healing eventually begins to itch. It’s the same for animals and birds, and the young female flicker began to scratch at her wounds as they healed. We gave her pain medications and anti-itching to control the itching, but she continued to scratch. This created a new wound and we were beginning to lose hope that she could be stopped from doing herself in as she had broken key feathers before she arrived and that made it easy to break more, especially the new ones trying to regrow.
But Kellian, one of our 2015 college interns, had no plans to give up on her. In order to keep a careful eye on her, she took the bird home each night and brought her back to the center each morning. This was necessary as the stress from the scratching and the healing-related itching, combined with being around other birds she didn’t know and still reeling from being picked on, had made her one anxious young bird.
Missing her feathers, the flicker earned the nickname “Butterball” in honor of the Butterball turkeys she now looked like. That resemblance, thankfully, would be short-lived.
Kelli took care of the flicker, feeding her by hand and protecting her from hurting herself more, all the while making sure she remained wild and not habituated. (To be habituated means to be too trusting of humans, which is often to the animal’s detriment). Her commitment to the bird paid off, and the flicker who still had a ways to go before she’d be fully able to function in the wild, was put in a larger cage to stretch her wings and grow in the rest of her adult feathers.
Soon she was moved to the aviary outside where she could enjoy having flight time and improve her endurance. These birds make a living flying from tree-to-tree killing insects. She improved and became releasable. Considerable effort was made to carefully return her to the best area close to where she was originally picked up by the public.
“Butterball’s” time with us has not prevented her from finding a home of her own or a possible mate. Kellian said that caring for the flicker was her “first real taste of the real reason people do wildlife rehabilitation.” This practice combines the best of humane animal care, veterinary medicine, and conservation biology. Successful releases depend on all three of these best practices coming together and working for the benefit of the animal(s). And that is our job here at South Sound Critter Care.