Having successfully raised two baby Cassin’s finch, we realized the time would come when they must be released to the wild. We double-checked the Release Check List provided by the Kragdahls. Release should be done at 6 to 8 weeks. The time was approaching in mid August, and the birds were still insisting that I feed them.
I knew they had to be self-feeding for two weeks, so I steeled myself and left their food, which now consisted of insects, seeds and crumbs along with their gruel of Gerber’s baby beef and cereal, hard boiled egg, and banana.
I had quit using the cue tips to poke goodies down their pockets some time before. Now I gave them nothing by hand—just put their mash out on the wood pile below their home in the hanging airplane plants.
At last they passed all the tests for release: they were healthy and vigorous, eating a variety of food, had lots of flying practice and could land well, and were reasonably shy of us humans and the dog. They even had the “thin membrane over their stools,” which were, fortunately, mostly fertilizing the airplane plants.
I made plans for the release. When the weather report was good for three days, I would put them in the Hen House pen, enclosed by a hanging sheet for three days. There they would be relatively safe and have access to food after release.
As prescribed, I gradually cut their feedings down to one. I didn’t sleep well the night before the planned release Aug. 18. I planned to get up early, before they awoke, and grab one in each hand. What if I lost hold on them halfway down the hill? What if I couldn’t get a good hold on them in the first place?
Over and over again I pictured how I would secure the two finches without startling them. I would go into the living room before they left their roost in the hanging airplane plane. Somehow—in the dark—I had to get each hand around a different bird so I could carry them outside.
I had visions of missing the bird destined for my left hand. It would startle awake at my clumsy touch and flutter off to the curtain rod. Then there would be a long chase back and forth across the living room, and the poor thing would be panicked before I could catch it again. And worse—faith would be broken between me and these wild birds that had grown up trusting me.
I kept waking up in pitch black, but at last a faint light shown through the bedroom window. I had to do it now. The checklist for releasing wild birds was satisfied. My orphans were ready to be introduced to the outside world.
I threw back the covers and tiptoed into the living room. It was now or never. I could let them go, to live the life they were meant to live, or I could keep them safe here in the living room, relatively free, well fed, a joy to watch pecking at the potted plants and the wood pile on the hearth.
My notes tell the tale. “Picked up birds from airplane plant and put them outside in organdy cloth aviary. They didn’t like being enclosed, but they settled down to eat, then dropped their mush pan off the feeder. I put a seed bowl up there.”
Two days passed, and the birds seemed active and well, so I opened up their cloth tent and watched. They soared straight up to the top of the nearby ponderosa trees. I will never know if they survived, but I like to think they did, because during all the years we lived there, lots of Cassin’s finches came to our bird feeders.