To be fair, I was able to cheat a little bit. I have been volunteering at Liberty Wildlife for nearly half my life, so I already knew that there was someplace I could take it. But the stress was still there. The fear was still there. A wounded animal, or an orphaned animal, is a stress giver. You don’t want anything to happen to it. You feel responsible for it. Even knowing about Liberty, I still had that sense of concern. So what do you do? The first thing I did was scoop him up and put him someplace safe, in this case, a well ventilated shoe box. Diurnal birds have almost no ability to see in the dark, and placing a stressed bird in a dark environment is an effective way to calm them down by essentially convincing them that it’s nighttime and time to stay still. I had nothing to feed him, but before closing the lid I gave him some time with a water dish. Any Orphan Care volunteer could tell you that baby quail, because of their sometimes unstable mobility, are at risk of drowning even in a shallow dish, so I added a few pebbles to reduce the water’s surface area, effectively making it drinkable without being drownable. The most important thing I did was look for his parents. It’s widely believed that adult birds won’t return to the nest or acknowledge a baby if it’s been handled by a human, but that’s simply not true. The best-case scenario for any orphaned bird is to be returned to its parents, if that’s an option. In my case, it wasn’t. There were plenty of pairs of quail to be seen that morning, but none of them were nearby and none showed any kind of distress as if missing a wayward child. My bird and I were on our own.
I knew that Liberty Wildlife raises and releases thousands of orphaned birds every year. I also was aware that Liberty has a rescue and transport hotline with volunteers that can arrange pickup for an injured bird in the event that a trip to the facility isn’t an option. In my case, though, I decided to take it in myself. I went to Liberty, handed him off to the day’s shift, filled out the same paperwork that everyone else does when they drop off a bird, and went on my way. That’s where my story ended, but his kept right on going.
Many of the orphans we get are simply that: orphans. They aren’t necessarily injured; they just need care and supervision until they’re old enough to fend for themselves. In my quail’s case, he would have been assessed for injuries by the current Medical Services shift, prescribed any kind of treatment if needed, and assuming everything was okay, he would have been transferred to Orphan Care to live with other quail his own age. Eventually, he would be moved to an outside aviary along with his fellow orphans once they were big enough to be truly self-sufficient, and once old enough, they’d all be released. If my tone sounds speculative, it’s because I don’t know what happened to him. We’re commonly asked by members of the public if it’s possible for them to keep track of the birds they bring in. The answer we give is that it is unfortunately not possible, simply because we care for so many birds at any given time that giving out regular updates on one out of a thousand isn’t practical. That’s true, and I haven’t tried to keep track of my baby for the same reason, to allow Liberty’s volunteers the chance to focus on what they need to do, rather than digging through piles of paperwork. My baby quail is one of dozens of quail at Liberty right now, out of hundreds or even thousands of injured birds that will pass through our facility during just these few spring and summer months. Like any other member of the public, the best I could do for my unexpected house guest was to give him the greatest chance I could, and without finding his parents, that meant bringing him to the best surrogates that I know of: Liberty Wildlife.