What Not To Do When Finding a Baby Bird – Caged Lark Sparrow

/, Birds, Davis County, Lark Sparrows, Nesting Birds, Utah, Wildlife Ethics/What Not To Do When Finding a Baby Bird – Caged Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow on Antelope Island during the breeding seasonLark Sparrow on Antelope Island during the breeding season – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this post about an imprisoned Lark Sparrow I heard about on a Facebook group that is about identifying birds but after mulling it over I decided I’d tell the story.

A woman in central Texas posted two images of the same bird in two separate posts to the group, one was the photo of a young chick earlier this spring and the other was taken several months later of the older bird in question was in a cage.  The woman posted this with the photo of the young chick:

This is the precious baby bird we hand raised after rescuing her from a chihuahua. We live in central Texas. She is the light of our family! She had just bathed in this picture. What is she? We have thought sparrow but I’m not 100% sure.

I won’t post the photos because I believe in copyrights, the photos of the bird belong to her and only she has the right to decide where they are posted or shared.

So between the two images I was certain of the ID, it was a Lark Sparrow, a species of bird that is protected by the MBTA (Migratory Bird Treaty Act).

I replied to the woman’s query something to the effect of “Unless you are a licensed rehabber it is illegal to keep this bird” and my comment opened a can of worms for some of the people commenting on the post.

The woman’s reply to me:

We already talked to the game warden about it and we are fine. But thank you for your concern

Should I have just let the dog eat her? We spent hours around the clock feeding her and making sure she was getting everything she needed.

It was great of the woman to rescue the chick from the dog, it really was and that should be commended but after that the best thing for the bird would have been to make sure the dog was confined and to release the sparrow where it was found because the adults were probably nearby.

Then some guy named Mick told the original poster to “Ignor Mia. She is obviously an angry women.”, that guy also got testy with some of the other people commenting that she needed to get the bird to a rehabber. I was just the first person to comment that it was illegal to keep the Lark Sparrow in captivity, other people talked about the MBTA, that it was best for the bird but this woman was having none of that.

She has been with us for almost 5 months. The game warden said most rehabber don’t do baby sparrows or grackles etc, because they are such a pain to raise.

If the game warden did say that they may need to look into that misinformation more carefully. Sometimes though game wardens know far more about the species that are hunted than those who are not.

She is our baby. She loves us so much and sings so happily. She loves to ride our shoulders. And peck our teeth. We always say she wants to be a dentist Thank you.

Despite pleas from others to take the bird to a rehabber, the woman doubled down.

If you would like to turn me in to the game warden be my guest. I have his info. Would you like it?

Then someone named Chrissy called me an idiot and got banned by one of the admins later.

One of the other knowledgeable people commenting stated that it was probably too late, the bird was imprinted, lacked fear of humans and wouldn’t be releasable. She of course was correct, it was too late.

The woman that had the captive Lark Sparrow simply stated:

She isn’t going anywhere. Not going to happen.

So that Lark Sparrow will not fly free, it will not breed, will not forage for its own food, it will not be with its own kind. It may well live out the rest of its life as a “pet” that should never have been caged.

It is so easy with the internet now days to simply type “I found a baby bird” into a search engine and find tons of helpful information. Just that step alone could have helped this woman decide what to do ethically and legally, there are even handy charts that can help people make informed decisions on what to do after finding a baby bird. I wish the woman who has imprisoned the Lark Sparrow would have seen that chart because the outcome of this story could have been, or may have been, happier and so much better for the bird.

Maybe someone finding a baby (I dislike calling them babies) bird will find this post in years to come and will make the right choices for the good of the bird they find.

My thanks go to the other people involved who tried to get the woman to take the bird to a rehabber.


PS, that post was deleted by the admins of the Facebook group, I can’t point you to it. The woman who has the sparrow blocked me on Facebook and I am really okay with that.


  1. Pepe Forte November 4, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Very interesting exchange with a lot of good information. Too bad it came to verbal blows. Good intentions not withstanding, rules is rules…and the MBTA makes the rules. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  2. Mia McPherson November 1, 2017 at 6:49 am

    I wanted to thank everyone for your well thought out comments on this touchy subject. If I can reach one person next “baby bird” season and help them make the right choice when they find a “baby bird” I will be happy.

  3. MareBear October 31, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    We should teach all little kids in school about wildlife, what does “wild’ mean? How do baby animals grow and learn? This woman knew it was right to rescue the bird. She, and the law officer, clearly need education. It doesn’t sound like it was a game warden, as they all get training on wildlife, and know to call experts when they don’t have an answer.

  4. Elephants Child October 31, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    HIss and spit.

  5. Mikal Deese October 31, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Since I’m an active, state and federally permitted, IWRC certified, wild bird rehabilitator, this story makes my skin itch. No doubt, the “game warden” is a state employee, an uninformed state employee. Our wild birds are protected by federal (actually international) laws. No one may keep any native wild bird in captivity longer than it takes to get it to a rehabilitator. I would point the law enforcement arm of USFWS toward her. They should pay her a call and confiscate the bird, then get it to a rehabilitator. The damage she has done is not just to this individual bird but to all who know her, all who assume they can do the same. I get many birds that have been “saved” by will intentioned people who do not know what they are doing. I get them when they are malnourished and dying. There are good reasons for the laws.

  6. Patty Chadwick October 31, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I feel so strongly about “saving/rescuing” baby birds, that I forgot to say how much I liked today’s photo image of the lark…they are such beautiful little birds and that’s such a great pictiure of one…like the rock, too.
    Ps. Thanks for standing up for birds,…hopefully, even the most die-hard know-it-alls and many, many others, will learn something valuable oday…and pass it on. So continue to take your lumps and keep on speaking the truth….know that you probably saved more than one one litttle, but meaningful, life today!!! Tha’t’s BIG!!!

  7. Patty Chadwick October 31, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I wondered about that warden, too…It’s not easy raising a truly orphaned animal, especially a bird. Paticular birds need very specific diets and have to be fed frequently. It can be a real pain! When People brought me “orphaned” animals, I accepted them with a heavy heart, AFTER being sure there was no other way. I knew what both the bird and I were in for. Often birds, ex. Robins, will adopt a young bird of the same species. They do a FAR better job of raising a young bird than we can. When an adoptive mother can’t be found, it’s better to minimize the sight and contact of humans, if possible….they can, and eventually usually do, get in all kinds of trouble interacting with humans. Once fledged, they should NOT be caged. Caging should just be for protection, not incarceration, and if they can fly they should be released. At least this was my experience with more birds and other critters than I like to think about. “SAVING” them often dooms them!!!

    • Patty Chadwick October 31, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      One of the greatest “gifts” I ever received, was to learn that a new vet, IN A NEARBY TOWN, was a wildlife rehabilitator. She gets any and all birds and other animals that I used to get and she, her vet tech and receptionist have become my friends. I treasure them all! The game warden that brought me birds and other critters has long since retired…

  8. sallie reynolds October 31, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Mia, an imprinted bird will most likely not breed even if it is released. It may also have other developmental issues. Occasionally a kindly but ignorant rescuer screws up a bird’s life, yes, but I’ve learned not to argue with those people. In point of fact, if rehabilitators do not play the songs of the local birds, including the species rescued, to the chick, that bird will probably not be able to attract a mate. Kroudma’s book, The Singing Life of Birds, is an eye- and ear-opener. Also for a migratory species, Empson’s work in the 50s and 60s pretty well proved that unless the chicks are exposed to the night sky, even a partial sky, they don’t seem able to migrate properly, but mill about and die. Raising chicks is more difficult than one expects, with angles most of us just don’t know enough about to anticipate. That being so, I often think that people who rescue a chick learn to respect birds from a personal angle, and so it is perhaps not all a bad scene.

  9. Laura Culley October 31, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Some of the things that really chap me are humans who will not listen to anything that goes against what they THINK they are doing. There is a severe lack of intelligence paired with the “me first” perspective. This woman has no real care about what is best for the BIRD and that it is NOT about her!! It’s about the BIRD dummy!
    I can’t tell you how many times I dealt with this as a moderator for the Cornell Hawk Nest Cam. When you bring up the topic of the MBTA and how their actions are illegal, the string of “yeah-buts” begins (and continues to justify their illegal actions). I could almost write that woman’s responses for her I’ve heard it so many times! It’s one of the reasons I’ve come to really dislike the vast majority of humans on this spinning rock.
    And you’re right. At this point, the bird is not releasable. It’s doomed to a life as a pet, which is beyond sad. DARGH!

  10. Heather October 31, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for this insight Mia.
    I can’t imagine locking up a wild bird or any bird for that matter.
    On the west coast here in Canada this year I saw my first lark sparrow. It stopped for a few days on its migration south and it was the first look at one for most of us here as they are extremely rare. Even though it was coming out of breeding plumage it was lovely. I’m so glad it got the chance to fly south and join others of its kind.
    Your information makes me thing and I appreciate that.

  11. Carroll A Tarvin October 31, 2017 at 8:19 am

    If I had not been receiving Mia’s wonderful blogs, I would not have known better. I am not an “ignorant” (as used in a previous comment) person. I would like to think that I would have done what Mia suggested – use the internet to find information. This lady did seek information on the internet (Facebook) but, it was way too late for the young bird. I’m sorry about that. But, more good information has been provided by Mia to those of us who are interested and we can help spread the word when appropriate. Thank you, Mia.

  12. Ed October 31, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Good article Mia, I think most people are unaware of the MBTA and how widespread it applies.

    Too bad the Game Warden did not setup things right from the get go. Let the woman know that the bird must be released ASAP.

    The Internet has really provided a platform for people to lash out at others. Our society is losing the ability to have real discourse.

    Perhaps in the old days a dialog along the lines of:

    1. “You may not realize this, however the MBTA is there for a reason and you should really let the bird go as soon as it is possible”
    2. “Oh, I did not know that,…, I will follow the law and let the bird go…”
    3. “Great, and thank you for spending the time to rescue the bird!”
    4. End of story…

    Today, instead too many people get tripped up on step 2… “how dare you call me out on something…”. Perhaps it is because they are now in full public view on the Internet. I rarely see people admit online, “I am wrong, I made a mistake, …, “. Instead we have this stupid new social norm of “doubling down”. Somehow it is seen to be better (??) to be stubborn, “strong”, and stupid these days. In reality real strength is being able to admit ones mistakes and learn from them.

    We observe so much about human behavior these days from these types of interactions. Logic and reasoning are becoming endangered themselves…

  13. Liz Cormack October 31, 2017 at 7:38 am

    I agree with Corine that there is nothing to be done with ignorant people who “rescue wildlife”. The number of “abandoned fawns” that are “rescued” every year is staggering. The comments from the woman make me wonder about the game warden.

  14. Corine October 31, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Hi Mia,
    There is really nothing to be done with ignorant people who have no business “rescuing wildlife.” Nothing is better than letting or helping wildlife spend their lives in the wild where they belong.
    Ignorant and stupid people will use any excuse to do what they want. It’s their way or else. And they think it’s cute and okay!
    Yes, it pisses me off also and if there’s another life for them, “may they spend it in a cage!”

    • Patty Chadwick October 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Amen, Corine!!!

  15. Kim October 31, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Great info regarding rescuing protocol!

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