Time once again to break out those knitting needles in the name of helping birds. Nope, the oiled penguins aren’t looking for more sweaters (that need has been met, apparently). Now it’s orphaned baby birds that need swaddling. This spring San Rafael, California wildlife hospital Wild Care Bay Area is collecting much-kneeded knitted nests—knests?—for its baby bird knursery.
Last year, the hospital fostered 934 birds, from House Finches to Scrub Jays to House Sparrows to starlings to pigeons, and the nests provide a cushy landing spot that mimics the feel of their original home, says spokeswoman Alison Hermance. Baby songbirds spend anywhere from one to four weeks at the hospital, depending on their age on arrival.
The older birds don’t stay put in the knest for long: “If you get a fledgling,” Hermance says, “generally you're going to find him standing on the edge, rather than sitting in the nest.” And the bigger babies, especially corvids like Crows and Ravens, don’t get knests at all, because volunteers fear their larger bodies could get caught in the yarn: “When you lift them out of the nest, you worry about breaking a toe,” says Hermance.
Wild Care Bay Area isn’t the first organization to use knitted nests; the hospital actually adopted the idea from Native Songbird Care and Conservation in nearby Sebastopol. One enthusiastic Wild Care volunteer even created three patterns for different sized nests.
An astonishing one thousand nests—300 from a single knitter—have been amassed at the hospital. That might seem like a lot, until you realize that the baby birds are fed—and therefore poop—every 45 minutes or so. The nests are washed and reused, says Hermance, but eventually get knasty, frayed, and need to be taken out of rotation. “Baby birds are like little kids everywhere,” she adds. “If they see something that could come loose, they'll peck at it.”
If you want to knit a knest, directions and information about other ways to help are available on Wild Care’s website. And if you’ve found an orphaned baby bird in the Northern California area, you can get in touch with Wild Care by calling 415-456-7283. Elsewhere, contact a nearby wildlife rehabber.