Plant waste creates a natural habitat for infected birds

Plant waste creates a natural habitat for infected birds

A team of gardeners at the Cuba Mountain Center waded through a meadow of tall native grasses on a mid-November morning. As they wandered through the space collecting piles of yellow plants, Velcro-like seeds from other meadow plants adorned their clothes.

“What we’re doing today is managing yellow Indian grass,” said Joshua Dunham, a senior gardener at the Botanical Garden in Hoxene, Delaware.

Josie Marsh, a horticulturist at the Cuba Mountain Center, collects yellow Indian grass from the center’s meadow that can be given to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research for use in habitat construction. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

Along the way, gardeners stooped to cutting off seed-filled stems to control these fast-growing weeds. Some of the plant waste will be composted. But the other piles, along with their seeds, will be sent to Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, about 10 miles away in Newark, Delaware.

Bird Rescue uses donated plant waste to create natural habitats for local birds recovering from oil spills, window blowouts, cat attacks, fishing line entanglements, and lead poisoning. The organizations say the partnership underscores the importance of local wildlife.

“We are preserving the value of these native plants,” Dunham said. “This is food. This is the habitat for these birds. And why not give (plants) a second purpose?”

Read more

Bird rescue volunteer Marian Quinn came up with the idea in 2018 when the Cuban Mountain posted on Facebook that it needed to destroy the egg casings of the Chinese praying mantis, which is invasive and preys on native insects. Quinn asked the park to donate it to bird rescue instead.

“I wrote to them and said, ‘No, don’t burn them. Give them to Tri-State because we can hatch them. There’s food there,'” she said.

Soon Cuba Mountain began donating dead and diseased plants, from branches to herbs, as well as seeds. Bird Rescue uses plant materials to design temporary homes for birds while they recover. Quinn drives to Cuba Mountain year-round to fill her Mazda with piles of plants.

A woman looks at what looks like a small tree with dead leaves.

Marian Quinn is a volunteer at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research where she uses donated garden elements to create a realistic habitat for recovering patients in Tri-State. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

Dunham said the partnership made his job more worthwhile.

“It makes me want to get up and come to work and just help support another organization that is doing work for another living being,” he said.

Donations save bird rescuers time and energy, because they don’t have to search for native plants themselves. In the summer months, there may be 250 birds to find their plants.

Clumps of brown Indian grass in burlap bags inside a building

Volunteers at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research use donated garden elements, such as yellow Indian grass from Cuba Mountain Center, to create a realistic habitat for Tri-State’s recovering patients. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

The enclosures mimic the birds’ natural habitats, which helps reduce stress and the amount of time doctors need to handle them, said Andrea Howe Newcomb, director of the Tri-State Clinic.

“Most of these animals are prey species of some animal in the wild,” Howie Newcomb said. “So, having an environment where they can feel comfortable will make them feel safe. Once they feel safe, they will start self-feeding (which will reduce) their time in captivity.

Inside one of the outdoor pens, Quinn and his colleague arranged yellow Cuban mountain grass along a wooden floor and gathered branches to mimic trees for the bird to perch on. These habitats can take several hours to design and create, she said.

“It’s an art and a science,” Quinn said. “You have to understand your species and their behaviors.”

For example, birds have different foot structures, and require different types and sizes of branches to perch on.

The types of plants they eat, sleep on, and hide in also vary. A shorebird’s enclosure may include sand and dune grass, while a forest bird’s enclosure may include branches and leaves.

Three man-made tree-like structures are housed in pots inside the aviary.

Volunteers at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research use donated garden elements to create realistic habitats for recovering patients in Tri-State. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

“That’s exactly what they need in the wild, and that’s what they get here in rehabilitation — whether it’s a tundra swan or a swamp sparrow,” Quinn said.

Habitats encourage birds to move and participate, which aids in their recovery. The plants themselves also provide a food source for birds.

Quinn lights up when she recalls a time her supervisor caught a glimpse of an injured marsh sparrow eating donated pea pods that she had installed in his coop. The bird, which was injured as a result of its collision with the window, fully recovered.

“She could hear this injured little bird in the bag, happily chewing, opening these little pods and pulling the seeds out,” Quinn said. “It brought tears to my eyes as if he never left the wilderness.”

Quinn said it’s emotionally exhausting to witness the types of injuries the birds in her care endure. However, she said it is beneficial for birds to use the habitat to recover.

“Get a bird… it might be bleeding or… it’s hanging from the fishing line,” she said, “or the garbage is tangled on them.” To get to a point where that bird is in an enclosure with habitat materials that reflect its natural environment… and it’s eating and drinking water. And no one bothers him. They’re just that bird. It’s beautiful.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply