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On June 11, California Wildlife Center received a nestling blue-gray gnatcatcher that had been grabbed by a dog in Agoura Hills. This is an unusual species for CWC. Thankfully, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles’ Ornithological Collections Manager, Kimball Garrett, was able to assist with the species identification.
The patient was tiny when she arrived, weighing only 4 ½ grams, less than a nickel. She was also mildly dehydrated. Gnatcatchers are born blind and without feathers and require parental care until they are ready to leave the nest. This bird is being rehabilitated in our Orphan Care Unit and is fed every 30 minutes to mimic feeding by the parents.
The gnatcatcher has done well in care. She now has most of her adult feathers and is starting to fly. She should be ready to move to an outdoor aviary in about a week, where she will strengthen her flight muscles. The bird will likely be prepared to return to the wild in three weeks.
Blue-gray gnatcatchers are year-round visitors to coastal Southern California. Their breeding range includes most of the United States, wintering in Mexico and Central America. Scientists have discovered that the gnatcatchers are moving north as the climate warms.
These gnatcatchers are most likely to be found in woodlands and chaparral, flitting among the trees hunting insects, spiders and other invertebrates.
Despite their name, gnats only make up a small percentage of this species’ diet. They will often flick their tail from side to side, their white peripheral tail feathers scaring insects into the open. Their coloration and habit of borrowing other birds' songs has earned them the nickname “little mockingbird.”
As with most nesting birds, pets can pose a serious threat. You can help protect nestlings and fledglings by steering dogs away from active nests and keeping cats indoors.
If you think a nestling or fledgling bird needs help, contact your local licensed rehabilitator (CWC 310-458-9453) for advice. Often, healthy birds can be returned to the nest or left alone if they are still being cared for by their parents. Baby birds probably need to be brought to a rehabilitator if:
The parents are known to be dead
The bird is newly hatched and the nest and nest mates are out of reach
They have an injury
A pet or a child has brought them in from places unknown
If you are advised to bring the bird to a rehabber, get a box with air holes and line it with crumpled paper on the bottom. Pick up the baby songbird by the body and place it in the box. Do not offer any food or water. Seal the box and place it in a quiet, dark location (for example, a bathroom) until you reach hospital staff. Place a heating pad set to medium under the box.
California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured and orphaned native California animals every year. To donate, click here.