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Busy season at St. Francis Wildlife Sanctuary
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The beginning of the summer season was busy at the St. Francis Wildlife Sanctuary. While launching our new Web site (www.letthembefree.org) and completing a host of other projects, it is clearly our busiest time of year — a time when we receive many sick, injured and displaced wild birds.

At the time, an interesting call came in from Natalie Warman, administrator of Honnen Equipment Co. in Durango. Honnen primarily sells John Deere construction equipment, but also handles Grove cranes.

According to Natalie, in late May, Honnen employee Rick Winberg found a bird nest containing four small eggs, in the boom of one of their cranes. He carefully removed the nest, placed it in a small box for protection and set it on the side of a truck. Of course, the adult birds became rather agitated when Rick moved the nest, but grew even more so as workers eventually removed the crane from the yard.

Based on Natalie’s description and a couple of photos she ultimately e-mailed, I determined the birds were likely house finches. While distinguishing between house, purple and Cassin’s finches is often difficult, the bright red on the forehead and chest of the male seemed to indicate the former.

Fortunately, after workers moved the crane, the feathered parents soon discovered their misplaced nest, which, by then, held four newly-hatched babies. Shortly after, though, a Wednesday storm drenched the tiny birds, suggesting their nest location was less than ideal. At that point, Natalie felt compelled to call St. Francis and ask for help.

In the course of our conversation, I asked Natalie if the Honnen property had any trees. She described the only one on-site and we collectively decided the nest and its precious contents should be placed there.

With the boxed bundle positioned among a few stout branches, the adult birds again became confused and quite upset. But, as nature ran its course, they eventually returned to the “nestbox” and continued caring for their young.

The following day, I went to the Durango Animal Hospital to pick up a baby sparrow delivered there by the La Plata County Humane Society. Beforehand, I called Natalie and asked if I could stop by to see what arrangements they’d made for the finches.

Upon arrival, I was pleased to see where they’d relocated the nest, but suggested they secure the box somehow, in order that it better withstand strong winds. By applying a little twine or wire and fashioning a “lip” on the box entrance, the nest itself might stay put.

After, with sufficient modifications in place, the nestbox, adult finches and babies all appeared fine. In fact, the chicks have now apparently fledged and begun new lives.

Due to the extraordinary efforts of those caring and concerned employees of Honnen Equipment Co., one family of house finches will surely survive. For that, the St. Francis Wildlife Sanctuary thanks you.