1993 / 7月
Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Phil Newell
If the wind suddenly blows a bird's nest down from a tree near your house and you see a little baby bird struggling helplessly, do you know what you should do? Do you know that there is a "bird hospital"?
"Little friends, what do you see that's different about the eyes of this collared Scops owl from the eyes of ordinary birds?" asks veterinarian Lin Shih-hsien of more than 240 primary school students. "That's right. Birds' eyes are normally on two different planes, but the eyes of this owl are like yours--on a single plane...."A chance for an education:
One month ago, a certain Mister Huang, a resident of Changhua City, went to the local Kuaikuan Primary School to get in some exercises. He saw a small child playing with a collared Scops nest that had fallen to the ground. One of the little birds in the nest was already dead, but he was able to get the other to Dr. Lin Shih-hsien, a veterinarian and member of the Changhua Wild Bird Society. When the bird first arrived it had still not fully developed feathers, and it was very weak. Dr. Lin fed it with vitamins designed specially for birds and also fed it all kinds of meat.
After a month of nursing, this little fledgling of only three months became the "pet" of the Society. Everyone who saw it loved it, and it even had a name: "Chirp." Upon hearing the calls of his bird-loving friends, it would turn his head around 360 degrees and look at them with an innocent expression.
On this day, the sun is very intense. The students of the Kuaikuan Primary School have collected at the outskirts of the bamboo grove on the campus, to watch the release of the owl. To one side stands Lin Shih-hsien and the teachers and pupils of the school, watching the ruffled, wide-eyed little avian hooting away like any other bird.
"Don't make a sound for five minutes," an adult says.
Though the children try to muffle their voices, they can't help but get excited at being this close, until the principal finally commands, "This owl is our neighbor. Children should not disturb it anymore. When it goes back to nature then we can celebrate, but don't move at it aggressively." The owl had been standing in the bamboo wood for less than five minutes when a heavy downpour suddenly hit, and the principal moved quickly to get the students back into the school building, and the bird had to be taken back to the shelter. Perhaps because there were too many people around, or because the owl is a nocturnal animal, the first release was not very successful. At 9:00 p.m., Dr. Lin quietly returned to try again to release the bird. The owl finally flew away. "Let's just consider it the fulfillment of a wish," says the vet with a sigh of relief.Bird talk:
At the beginning of June, when the summer rains had just begun, veteran bird watchers Lin Wen-hung and Chiang Ming-liang had already been watching a hawk's nest on Kuanyin Mountain in Taipei County for more than a month. After several days of continuous rain, they again went up the mountain and discovered that the hawks were no longer at the nest, and that there were four eggs on the ground. Of these two had already broken open. They immediately carried the other two down and turned them over to doctor Chi Wei-lien for artificial incubation. The result was the successful birth of two little Taiwan lesser sparrow hawks.
Because in this period after birth the little birds assume that "whoever feeds me must be Mom," birdlovers don't want the creatures to become overly dependent on people so that they can adapt better to the wilderness when they are released in the future. So not long thereafter the two hawks were sent to a national park.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in bird-watching activities on Taiwan, with consistent growth in the bird-watching population. The Wild Bird Society, which takes protecting wild birds as its chief aim, has done bird surveys as well as bird banding. They often find birds felled by injury or illness. Many enthusiasts have sent these birds to the Society to handle. Records show that injured birds have been sent to Taipei from Hsinchu, Ilan, and Alishan.
Because of human development, the space left for nature is decreasing. Wild animals have suddenly become a "disadvantaged group." Many members of the Wild Bird Society feel that they should lend a helping hand to injured birds. They hope that veterinarians in the association who are experienced in caring for birds will undertake effective rescue procedures so that the birds can return to their natural environment. Thus last year both the Taipei and Changhua associations established bird rescue stations. As this channel is becoming known to bird lovers, people who find a winged friend by the road or near their home now know which direction to go in.Fear of being too "successful":
At present the two stations are headed up by Dr. Chi in Taipei and Dr. Lin in Changhua. The two happen to be old classmates from the Pingtung Veterinary College. Both have devoted themselves to rescue work because of their fondness for bird observation. Currently the two men's offices are used as the medical stations for the bird rescue operations. After treatment, the birds are then turned over to bird enthusiasts or zoos for rehabilitation and care.
Unexpectedly, besides having received a dazzling variety of birds, the most surprising thing has been the reasons for the birds' injuries.
Thus far the Taipei Wild Bird Treatment Center has had 188 recorded cases in less than half a year.
When you analyze the reasons why, 39 percent are because of human action leading to injuries of the birds. These include cases of trapping, being hit by cars, BB gun wounds, and feeding of inappropriate foods.
March and April is the reproductive season for resident birds, and it is also the high season for migratory birds to pass through. Birds working hard to produce the next generation are at their weakest at his time, and many bird hunters and peddlers take this chance to put out their nets to capture wild birds.
In the records of the Taipei center, many different types of birds have been injured in traps. But even if trapped birds are sent to the hospital, there is little chance they can be saved.
What most worries the rescue centers are that many people will see the bird singing competitions in public parks, or see someone with a bird of prey perched on their shoulder and think that it looks cool, and then rush out and copy these things. Several years ago, before the passage of the "Wildlife Conservation Law," many people bought hawks to raise in captivity. But they found that raising a bird is very difficult, and not as much fun as they thought, so many of the birds were just thrown out wracked with illness or suffering multiple injuries.
Many people just get into it as a matter of curiosity, and have no real intention to devote themselves to caring for the birds. "If they can't raise it well they just throw it into the garbage," says an agitated Wan Chi-hsin, a former director of the Wild Bird Society, who promoted the rescue center idea.
Some people buy, some people sell, creating a market in birds. Bird lovers feel in quite a dilemma when they see the bird peddlers. If they buy the birds they are worried that the sellers will be convinced the market is good and work even harder to trap the creatures. If they take no heed, they fear the peddlers will mistreat or inappropriately raise the animals. The Taipei Rescue Center recently accepted a chick purchased by a bird lover who saw a peddler selling it and couldn't stand it, so bought it and turned it over to the center.Natural and unnatural enemies:
Sparrows, bulbuls, and Japanese white-eyes have become known as the "three treasures of the city." If these three can still be found around, it means the city is still a suitable living environment for people. But with human development, amidst the manmade forests of concrete and steel, birds often have the problem of not knowing where to go next. Human environments are built for people to inhabit, but some birds can't see or think clearly enough, and are killed or injured because of structures. Is this the birds' problem? Or a human failing?
One case at the center was of a yellow-browed warbler that crashed into the glass pane at a primary school and died of severe injuries. One broadcasting station in Tamshui fried the legs on a little fellow that had not been careful enough and touched an electrical wire when the station was doing high frequency broadcasting.
As for cases of birds flying into glass, Dr. Chi feels there is an easy solution: He suggests that schools paste cutouts of hawks on windows, so that smaller birds will keep a respectful distance.
Injuries to wild birds are not all caused by man. There are other reasons, such as injuries caused by the birds' natural enemies like cats and dogs, or birds that are hurt because of poor nutrition from a static diet. These account for 16% of the cases at the rescue center. Further, incidents of bird nests with chicks falling due to heavy rains or typhoons take up 9.5%. Many successful cases at the rescue centers are because people extended helping hands; only then was it possible to save the fledglings.
On the same day as they were preparing to release the owl at the Kuaikuan Primary School, a Japanese white-eye nest only about as big as a fist happened to fall out of a tree; the nest was picked up by a student and sent to the health center. Dr. Lin had a look at it. Though one of the little fellows had breathed his last, the other two were sticking their necks upwards looking for something to eat; they were first fed with insects.
The call of the Japanese white-eye was heard by the side of the tree. It turns out that the parents were both out looking for their offspring. Dr. Lin took out a stepladder and replaced the nest in the tree, and instructed the students and teachers to observe it for several days to make sure it was up there stably.Starting from ignorance:
Because there were no case histories kept for reference, the death rate among the creatures treated at the Taipei rescue station is as high as 47%. What's more, there are more than 400 different varieties of birds if you add up all the resident and migratory types in Taiwan. It requires much more manpower to accumulate data, which is the biggest problem faced by the rescue stations.
Little bits of information are constantly being collected on clinical treatment, including things like "you cannot feed birds watermelon, only papaya" (because, like people, birds get diarrhea) and "don't wrap the injured claw of a bird of prey in cloth" (because the bird will chew the cloth; the correct method is to apply the medication to the perch) ....
After a year, both the Taipei and Changhua stations are facing problems accepting birds. The Taipei Bird Association has its own shelters in the mountains near Hsintien and in Wulai; the Changhua station can only rely on word of mouth and its own people.
Virtually all the birds currently in the Taipei shelter are unable to survive in the wild. One avian resident of Taroko National Park which was injured in the wing by a hunter will perhaps never see the verdant hills where it lived again.
"For birds that are unable to fly, life is painful. Is it really charitable to keep them in a little cage?" wonders Dr. Chang Chung-fu, who often helps treat birds of prey at the rescue station. When they see the little creatures die, the workers at the center can only be saddened at the limits to man's powers. "For a while I was very depressed, and even began to doubt my own abilities," says Lin Shih-hsien.To save or not to save:
Today, when knowledge about birds is far less than perfect, actions to save birds can actually inflict a second in jury. Injured birds have already been startled, and are anxious and nervous. Add to this the journey from the great outdoors to the confines of a cage, and if feeding and care are not done exactly right, this could hasten the bird's death. Even if the bird can be restored to normal health, it is still necessary to train it to find food and survive in the wild, or even how to hide from people. For example, some birdlovers fear that the owl that Dr. Lin recently released has not been retrained, and may unwittingly walk right into a bird trapper's hands because it sees people as benefactors.
Whatever the reasons for injuries, the Wild Bird Society is fully aware that its medical care is a "limited, flawed participation in rescuing nature." Wang Chi-hsin sees this as a bit of compensation for all the damage done to the environment.
Surveys have discovered that birds could be seen as indicators of changes in the natural environment. Each time a particular kind of bird disappears, at the same time ninety different types of insects, 35 types of plants, and two or three species of fish disappear. And for every two birds that go extinct, one mammal disappears.
"If urbanites do not buy or raise birds, and if there is no destruction of the wild, this will eliminate the first source of harm to birds, and will be of help to nature as a whole." This is the greatest hope of ornithologists and ornithophiles.
At the beginning of last month, a Changhua truck driver working in the Changpin Industrial Park rescued five little terns and more than ten Kentish plover eggs, and sent them to Dr. Lin's hospital. Lin recalls that when the driver called him up, he especially pleaded, "Don't call the cops on me!"
After the Changhua County government learned that there were incubating eggs in the industrial zone, it hoped the construction unit would temporarily halt work. "In fact we don't want, and wouldn't ask, that construction be stopped," explains Changhua-born-and-bred Lin Shih-hsien, but couldn't people leave some space for the birds for a reproductive zone out of the more than 2000 hectares of the industrial area? "This is at least a sign of respect for living things" he says.Reach for the sky:
"Of course we interfere with natural events as little as possible, and hope that birds will not fall into people's hands. But if they are unlucky enough to do so, we must do all we can to keep them alive," is Dr. Chi's view. Save them if they can be saved, but if they cannot--provide them for research. This is the best way to gain residual value.
Perhaps the term "residual value" sounds a bit harsh, but at present treatment is still in a trial-and error stage. "If those who come first are not successful, perhaps we will learn enough to save the birds that come later," says Wang. This is the reason the work of rescuing and treating the birds must go on.
The number of cases at the Taipei center has continually showed a "significant increase in business." But this is not what bird rescuers are hoping for. The hope in the hearts of all those at the stations is that there are no birds that need be saved, and what belongs to the sky remains in the sky.
"Little friends, the owl is our neighbor, so don't disturb it." When Dr. Lin Shih- hsien was preparing to release it, he brought it back to the place it was originally found to give the children a learning experience.
(left) "I'm a little bird--I fly when I feel like flying, and sing when I feel like singing." Shouldn't birds naturally be entitled to this kind of freedom?
This Taiwan sparrow hawk was born only seven days previously. It was necessary to feed it with a specimen of a mother hawk, or it would assume that a human was Mom.
For chicks who spend a few days at the shelter, Dr. Chi's routine tasks are to weigh them and measure their beaks and body lengths.
The Swinhoe's blue pheasant, a species unique to Taiwan, is spread throughout middle-to low-altitude forests; today the numbers are dwindling. (photo by Liu Yen-ming)
Birds sent to the emergency rescue station have a high death rate if their injuries are serious or they have been badly frightened. These birds often become scientific specimens.
The practice of setting up nets to trap birds has been made illegal; nets will be removed by the police. (photo by Kuo Chih-yung)
Injured birds accepted at the Taipei shelter will perhaps never again be able to survive in the wild blue yonder. (photo by Ni Shu-yun)
According to nature's design, people and birds should be able to peacefully coexist. (photo by Kuo Chih-yung)