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Monday, June 13, 2011

Tragedy on West Eleventh...

Dedicated to the Flickers of West 11th & Hemlock...
Beautiful Mrs. Flicker feeds her nestlings dutifully.
     In an attempt to keep this Flicker Report as accurate and true as possible, I will install each day of this past weekend as it unfolded, and as an individual posting instead of trying to tell it all on one page, in one sitting. So, without further explanation and with a total broken heart, I have to tell you that a devastating tragedy has befallen our dear Flicker family and extreme measures had to be taken in order to save the babies.
Mrs. Flicker keeps the nest clean after feeding her nestlings.
Here are the events.
Friday June 10 6:45AM
     Eliza and I woke up and the first thing Eliza saw through a crack in the curtain, while still lying in bed with our dogs & cats, was Mrs. Flicker feeding on the suet paddle on our back porch. She fed for a while before filling her gullet and flying across the street to the Birch cavity that housed her nestlings. I watched her feed  a few eager gaping beaks before getting up and dressed and heading out with my dog for my morning cuppa coffee.
There is a little white knob on either side of the lower beak.
     When I came back, Mrs. Flicker was on Jill's suet paddle pecking away. I came into the house and got my camera ready. I saw her make another trip to the nest and go inside. she made a few trips to clean out the mess the babies had made in the night.
     The suet paddles were getting low and I was planning on a trip to the bird store to replenish her paddles. I mentioned to Eliza that we hadn't seen Mr. Flicker since the 6th or at the latest 7th of June. We weren't sure if he had another family, or what became of him these last few days but we weren't totally worried - just wondering when/if we'd see him again.
     It was now 8:30 AM and I was waiting to get my morning photos, so I was pretty glued on the nest, expecting her to come back at any moment.  An hour passed.  Two hours passed.
     Two and a half hours passed and the babies had now been up to the hole a few times and their shouts for mama continued to go unanswered. I have rescued quite a few baby animals and I  grew up an a small farm so I know that babies need constant care, feeding & warmth. Especially the little ones that can't feed themselves, like naked baby woodpeckers in a tree cavity. I asked Eliza to keep an eye on the nest while I walked to the store with Sparrow & Hawksley to get the suet.
     We walked up an alley and looked for Mrs. or Mr. Flicker. No sign of them. Silence. We got back home and Eli said she was worried too, that there was still no sign of her. We decided to go looking for her. Maybe she got caught somewhere, she couldn't be far. We walked around each of the four blocks that we know they travel and hunt for food. We checked the back alleys and listened. Nothing.
The babies were now leaning out of the hole with regularity, squawking for their mama to bring food. I started to feel really uneasy. This was not good. She should be here for sure by now. Eliza stayed by the nest, watching. The babies had attracted the attention of the crows. Even they were aware the babies were left alone too long.
     Eliza and I walked around the back and saw 5 or 6 crows sitting on Jill's porch. Motionless. Sombre. It was eerie. I chased them off gently and took Sparrow with me for another look. This time I did what I do when I really need to find something or someone. I walked a block from the house in no particular direction. I tried to clear my mind from worry, from guessing. I need to find her, I rolled those words across my brain to clear it from my thoughts of what ifs... I need to find her so I know what to do. I need to find her so I know the right thing to do for the babies.
     I am telling you the honest to goodness truth when I tell you that then next thing that happened was I  heard a Flicker's call. PEER! My heart started to pound... okay, call again, I heard you-... PEER! PEER! PEER! Sparrow and I trotted south towards the call and turned down the back alley... listening... listening... nothing. We waited. Nothing. We continued in the direction we had come to be facing and ended up in the alley that runs off of my parking lot. I was across the street and looked down my own alley.
     My heart sunk in my chest without me even knowing why yet. Heart pounding walking, Sparrow  beside me tucked up, squinting at me, worried and not trotting ahead with his tail all pompous. We crossed Hemlock street and I could clearly see 2 wings jutting up from the ground at an impossible angle. The word no caught in my throat, and Sparrow's tail tucked under him. He looked up at me and then his nose scented the air with great concern. He stayed close beside me, monitoring my reaction.
     I got up to whatever it was that I was reacting to and my brain tried to make sense of the muddle I was looking at. My eyes scanned the little slip of feathers and body tangled in a little arc. under one wing, tucked I finally saw her beautiful head and black beak. It was odd. No blood, not messy, just entirely ironed out into nothing but feathers.
I came into the house and told Eliza that we had an emergency. I told her I found her and that she was gone. I couldn't say the word dead about that bird. I grabbed my gloves and gathered Mrs. Flicker's little empty body as best I could. By the look of the scene, she had been busy focused on an ant hill next to the curb in the alley and some careless driver ran her over. Then the next person, and the next person for probably the whole three hours we had searched for her. This is not a small bird. This was careless, thoughtless driving.
Hungry babies call for mama Northern Flicker.
When I get into these situations, which seem to be a reoccurring theme in my life oddly, I go into auto pilot. Once I had her gathered, I went for her babies.
Ladder. Box to put them in. Suet to try to lure them up to the hole. The first ladder I was going to climb was about a hundred years old. Wooden. Eliza made me get down off of it before I was even half way up. There was a huge aluminum ladder in the other basement, pain in the ass but I got it out with Eli's help. I climbed up but the babies were naturally scared and deep into the cavity. My hand could fit in, but with a bird in it I doubted I could pull it back out. Eliza climbed up. Her arm went in deep, but not deep enough to catch anyone. We tried a little suet, and she caught the first baby. I climbed up behind her and took him and gently placed him into a dark box. We tried for about half an hour to get another one of the four babies we knew were in there but no one else came close enough to grab.
Eliza up the ladder reaching in for the nestling Flickers.
    It wasn't working, and we didn't have time to wait. I also didn't want to try a whole bunch of things that would upset them and compromise the stressed little ones any more than they were. We made the hard decision to put the baby we had, back into the nest so he would at least be with his brothers and sisters. I ran down to the fire station. Eliza called her good friend and fellow animal advocate, Alisen, who would rush right over after walking her pup.
     The fire truck at Fire Station number 4 on West 10th Avenue a block from my house was out at the moment. The fire fighter who answered the door when I rang heard me and told me I could ask the Captain, but he couldn't say either way whether or not they could help. Could I come back in half an hour, of course. I went to the landlord of the building that actually housed the Birch tree and the cavity of babies. I rang him up and explained the dire situation. He thought about it and asked for more details. I took him out to the tree and showed him what I planned to make happen. The fire department will do it if I have his permission I told him... he agreed if I was sure this was the only way to save the babies.
     I walked home and turned the corner to see firetruck #4 parked down on the corner in front of Rangoli, a great restaurant for lunch. I waited until I saw the guys around the truck and I ran down. I explained that there was a nest - that they were woodpeckers and they were rare birds and they were going to die if they didn't help us. I also completely understand if they can't help us. It's not their duty to risk their lives for birds. They run into buildings,when everyone else is running out. They are important members of our community and to ask this of them was a lot, if anything happened to them or if it all went terribly wrong their intervening could be really awful fro them.
Where? They asked... I ran to the tree a hundred yards away. You want to do this? the Captain asked his crew? They were already suiting up and cracking out the chainsaw. A small crowd gathered.
Ladder up to the tree. Secured. One guy climbs it and makes sure it's safe.
Eliza passed up my old undershirt and he crams it into the cavity to act like a plug to keep the babies low, block out some of the horrific noise, and keep it dark.
He climbs down. Suited up firefighter climbs up with chainsaw and slices the top off of the limb like butter. He climbs down with saw. First guy scoots back up the ladder and straddles himself over the branch and looks in. He pulls out my undershirt and drops it to his guy below. Ready? Here we go.
Fireman that helped rescue the Northern Flicker Nestlings.
He reaches in, One.
Four. We're going to need a bigger box.
Seven. There is some concern about seven and eight. EIGHT!?
     They passed Eliza the empty Hepa filter box full of 8 baby Flickers. Took down the ladder. Put away the chainsaw. Smiled and let us thank them briefly, and left. These big strong wonderful firemen were pleased to help us do something that was in their minds, a happy thing. They saved a bunch of rare birds!  How great is that? They asked us to let them know how they were doing, I promised I would. And will.
     So now we had a little hot box of birdies. Alisen had been on the phone the entire hour she was here, investigating and researching where we could take this precious cargo, and had all the answers. We jumped into her car and drove only a few blocks to the Night Owl Bird Hospital on West Broadway. They were waiting for us and took us right in to an exam room. The most wonderful calm angel walked quietly into the room and asked us what we had brought her. 8 baby Flickers we said, Dr. Anne Macdonald dropped her jeweler's magnifying goggles down and peered into the little box. She immediately told us to stay there and she took the nestlings into the back exam room.
    She came back a 10 minutes later and asked me for the whole story. (Read my previous posts for the back story I told this superb human being.) She asked us what our involvement was going to be. I explained that I was here to see this through and do what ever had to be done to rescue, raise and rehabilitate these guys, that after all the joy I got from their moms & dad, it was the very least I could do. She knew of a place that had successfully raised Flickers before, but it was quite a ways away, could we drive them? We could borrow Jill's car, and take them across to the sunshine coast tomorrow morning- first thing!
    We got home and not fifteen minutes later the phone rang. The Gibson's Wildlife Rehab Centre was calling. Irene was on the phone, with a sage Scottish lilt. I have that loyalty coursing through my veins as well, the familiarity was comforting. She described their setting and gave me directions. I would see her tomorrow at half past noon, and deliver a passel of baby Northern Flickers for her to nurture back to nature.
     Eliza & I went to bed knowing that things would most likely be okay after a really sad, tragic day. I looked out at the lopped off  Birch and it looked exactly as empty and quiet as I felt. Amputated. Death sucks so badly for those of us left living to feel it's sting. In my mind, I recited the things that Dr. Anne MacDonald told me.
     She explained that Mrs. Flicker was doing a good job, but clearly struggling over the loss of Mr. Flicker who had disappeared 3 days before. Six of the babies were pretty clean and fed, but two might not make it though the night. These two were the least developed, and probably couldn't make it up to the hole for feeding like the rest, so they would only got fed when mama could get past the others to get to the bottom of the cavity.
     The doctor told us that the other six would for sure thrive in the care of a rehab centre and instead of all perishing in the city because of everyone running them over in cars, poisoning them with crap to make flowers grow, weeds die and grass greener they have a better chance of surviving to full maturity in Gibson's, than in downtown Vancouver. She said that because they were brought in relatively healthy, the care giver would have less to deal with. These were all good things. Eliza set the alarm clock for 6AM, we passed out, exhausted...                  to be continued.
The empty cavity the nestlings were taken from...

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