Maybe someone can come up with a screen combined with a solar-powered fan. Sailplane pilots have been putting them on glider trailers for years. Bless those brave guys for rescuing the birds! What can I do to be sure these screens are being added to the vault toilets in my region southern Arizona?
Hi Maria, I recommend contacting the organizations that manage natural areas near you for instance local branches of the NPS, USFWS, and state parks and checking to see if they have heard of and implemented this solution. Thank you for volunteering to do more! They have been here on this mysterious land for ever and have as much right to be here as we humans do. Lets protect them anyway we can , remember they can,t defend themselves from a man with a gun.
Perhaps looking for some means of escape? Anyway, now I will think of birds every single time I visit an outhouse which is fairly often. Thanks for the story! Sheesh, if the opening was large enough for air to circulate around it, they could just put a big rock on the screen and it would probably hold the screen in place for years.
Just a suggestion from a handygirl! I really hope you helped clean up the poor little owl, he looks so sad.
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So wonderful that we have caring wildlife personnel willing to carry out such an unpleasant task! I am grateful for their help in saving these beautiful birds! Thank you! Charlene Kuwatch. I sincerely hope that ALL public toilets are inspected and made safe for any birds. Put yourself in a situation like the birds that cannot understand the danger. I plan to check at any park I visit to check this out and make the call if necessary. Well worth the trouble to inquire.
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What a shame for these poor birds. We need one for our stove pipe as a merganser nested in the stove last year. Our caretaker wanted to just build a fire killing the adult and the babies. We let them be and they got out somehow. What a wonderful preventive program that I only hope will expand to state and other non-federal outhouses with large vent pipes.
By the way, I have experienced other birds getting into cottages in Michigan and Ontario via fireplace chimneys, such as merganzers and flickers. Here in Florida, we had a Great Crested flycatcher show up, safely, at the bottom of our fireplace, fortunately not being used at that time. Not all birds end up surviving as few of them are able to find their way back up except swifts. A sad end for otherwise healthy birds.
Not to mention, more humane. I hope there is also a program to provide natural and artificial nesting sites for these birds, that the can get into and out of safely. We had a duck fall down our fireplace chimney. By the time he came off the shelf the fire was going pretty well and we had flaming duck in the fireplace.
We put a screen on the chimney after that and now after remodeling, no longer even have a fireplace, but, we do have birds hit our picture window on occasion so far, all have survived — although a little shaken since you can see through to the other side of the house.
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Perhaps the company that makes the outhouses should think of screening all the stacks when they make the outhouse. They could buy them from the company that created them.
That would keep everybody in business — and the birds a little safer. Weird feeling as you see his eyes at night watching you drive out of the driveway. These little creatures are so adorable. Good work on the toilet brigade!
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Every owl is worth whatever the cost. The owls must be desperate to find a nesting place. Habitats for Wildlife paralleling Habitat for Humanity. We should be planting fruit and nut trees wherever we can to replace the well balanced diets they have had in the past. I never looked at the vents on any of the outhouses I have used over the years but this need to be changed. I think it was a cactus wren.
I could hear the scratching on the inside of the pipe. Thank you so much for this work! Poor dears! Florida Scrub-Jay. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates. Take Action. Get Audubon in Your Inbox Let us send you the latest in bird and conservation news. Find Audubon Near You Visit your local Audubon center, join a chapter, or help save birds with your state program. Explore the Network. Spread the word. Still, what are the consequences of skewing the odds in favor of the small subset of species inclined to eat at feeders?
Three or four times a day, my heart thrilled at his arrival, announced with a polite, question-like cheep. The idea traces to the mids when the wildlife ecologist Stanley Temple and his then-student Margaret Brittingham color-banded several hundred black-capped chickadees in the Wisconsin woods, mounted two specially designed feeders, then laboriously counted the sunflower seeds each bird ate. Only in especially severe weather did feeders appear to undoubtedly help: chickadees with access to one had nearly double the chance of surviving the harsh Wisconsin winter—the difference coming down to a few frigid days.
B efore long , our resident male brought home a dull brown female to whom, at dawn, he sang an ebullient warbling tune that pierced the pillows over our heads. One morning, after a particularly passionate serenade, Jeff noticed the female tweeting up a storm in the feeder as she tilted her head and shimmied her wings. He called me over in time to see the male respond by leaning down to touch her beak and regurgitate down her throat.
I had never seen something more beautiful. Jeff seemed to think this was a little much. But he was growing attached to the finches too, and now the prospect of babies loomed. Studies suggest that birds receiving supplemental food may have a better shot at reproductive success, laying more eggs, for example, earlier in the year. Sure enough, one sunny April afternoon, incessant squawking interrupted my work. When the source of this ruckus clambered into the feeder, I found myself staring back at a bewildered fledgling with downy white pinfeathers sticking up from its head.
It was an appalling vision of parenthood—and one that bore repeating in a matter of weeks. Since house finches lay up to seven eggs in a clutch, and raise several broods a season, flocks may congregate by the hundreds. Soon, birds lined up on our ledge like patrons outside a hot new restaurant. Word spread through the finch population of Manhattan. By midsummer, the line zigzagged across the eastern face of our building. The raucous crowd attracted a few curious hangers-on: a dark-eyed junco, the Darth Vader of sparrows, his eyes obscured in an all-black helmet of a head; a mourning dove I called Lola, who monopolized the feeder for hours on end, vacuuming seed into an esophageal pouch called a crop for later digestion; and one warm summer evening, as twilight fell over the city, something large and fluffy that perched in silhouette against the darkening sky.
Jeff swore it was a chicken. I feared it was a hawk. Such clustering around feeders can accelerate the spread of disease. On closer inspection, I saw that his eyes were pink and swollen, encrusted with dried ooze. More than two decades since conjunctivitis first began showing up in house finches, the disease continues to afflict the species, rendering the eastern population less than half its former size.
To protect the flock, I knew I was supposed to shoo away the sick bird, though he could starve on his own. I stood watching the finch peck lethargically at the seed. Then, tears in my eyes, I began to bang on the plexiglass until he stumbled dizzily out onto the ledge. Following recommended protocol, I removed the feeder, cleaned it with bleach, and closed up shop for two weeks to disperse the colony, lowering the shades against the throng at the window whose plaintive chirping I did my best to ignore.
To my surprise, however, when the quarantine expired, the birds were there, awaiting the grand reopening. I ordered a tiny space heater designed for pet parrots and got Jeff to wire it into the feeder. A few weeks later, on a snowy Saturday, I sat watching with satisfaction as a berry-red finch, puffed up against the cold, stood basking in the electric warmth, inhaling his breakfast. No sooner had I turned my head to bite into my own bagel then a sudden thud and flurry of flapping propelled me from my chair.
I raced over to the feeder, where all that remained was a sad swirl of downy brown feathers, red only at the tips—and a single hawk quill. Predators in the apartment seemed like a turning point. I had to acknowledge that the feeder had become a major distraction. In lieu of actual food, our cupboards were stuffed with pound bags of birdseed that we lugged up from the mail room all too frequently.
At least every other week, I had to remove the feeder to scrub it with bleach and scrape off our ledges caked solid with bird poop. From the street below, it was nearly impossible to figure out what was attracting the finches to the building. I wanted to take down the feeder myself but felt responsible for the finches. Over the coming decades, the future of many wild animals will depend on their ability to adapt to an increasingly urbanized world.
At the library, I searched out a book called Avian Urban Ecology , which said that little is known about the impact of feeding most birds in cities. There is, however, one stunning exception. In this region, house finches are relative newcomers, invaders from two separate fronts: those from the East, introduced via New York in the middle of the last century, and Western natives, which have undertaken a dramatic and unexplained dispersal within roughly the same time frame.
Though the reasons for this continent-wide colonization remain mysterious, its well-documented and recent nature—knowing who derives from whom and when—presents a rare opportunity to watch the stages of evolution in the wild and observe how past adaptations affect future ones. If Darwin saw his theory of natural selection illuminated in the finches of the Galapagos, Badyaev is looking deep into the house finch to resolve a question he feels Darwin never answered: How does life maintain evolvability, the facility to change and adapt to the future?
In the Southwest, for example, where Badyaev is a professor at the University of Arizona, house finches live on their native turf and nest on the cholla cactus, females shielding eggs against temperatures hot enough to hard-boil them.