“Look Mom!” Ryan practically shouted as he pushed open the sliding door with his forearm, cupping something small in his hands. The urgent panic in his voice triggered me to jump from my seat at the sewing machine and rush to his side.
“What is it?” I asked, even before reaching him.
“It was in the water,” he explained.
It was a tiny baby bird — wet, very cold to the touch, and limp. I didn’t recognize it was one of our chicks with it’s feathers plastered to it’s little body. There have been a few baby birds found around the yard this spring, one alive and a couple dead, so I thought this might be another.
“It’s one of the chicks,” Ryan said.
He found the baby floating in the little red water container I had partially filled with water for the larger chickens. I didn’t think a baby could get up into it. I was wrong.
“Is it alive?” I asked.
“Yes, barely,” he said. The little chick, only a week or two old, was cold to the touch. Ryan breathed some hot breath on it as he had been doing. It moved it’s mouth without a sound.
“We have to get it warm,” I said. I knew just the thing. We took the baby into my bedroom where I keep a heating pad near my bed. Plugging it in we set the chick on a cloth on the pad and wrapped it like a taco.
“That cloth is in the way, the chick is not getting warm,” Ryan noticed after a few minutes. We took the cloth away, risking some poop on the heating pad cover. That worked much better. The bedraggled little yellow and black baby gradually began making tiny little noises, little whistling peeps barely audible, though it’s body was still limp.
The seconds and minutes slowly ticked away and the chick was not showing much improvement, so I got out the blow dryer and, on the gentle warm setting, began blowing the pitiful little thing with warm breezes, keeping my hand on the chick to make sure the heat was never too much, but also knowing that a mother hen has a higher temperature than we humans do (about 104-107 degrees), so I knew the baby chick would be fine with that level of heat.
The warm air was working much better than the heating pad alone. I kept the chick on the pad, taco style, while at the same time blowing the gentle warm breeze on him (him, her, who knows?). Eventually one eye peeked open and shut again as the tiny whistling cheeps faintly continued.
I’m not sure how long the blow drying took all together, but the chick gradually began to get some control over his body. First, flopping around, trying to get some balance. That led to him sitting on his haunches. Then after more time, sitting on his feet. When the breeze was on his face he would open his mouth and move his head around a little, sometimes shaking it. When the breeze caressed his back he would rest, eyes shut, and take in the warmth. Made me feel good just watching the weak little thing enjoy the warm air massage.
The little fluff feathers were beginning to puff up, especially on the head and back, but underneath the feathers were still damp. I tried to move him to dry his belly, and he started flopping around, trying to get control of himself. Finally, while the heating pad taco helped support him, he was able to stand on his feet, which gave me a much better angle in which to reach the under side fluff from either front or back. His eyes were open more now. His little cheeping sounds were amazingly steady though not loud.
It took awhile for his belly fluff to dry out, and for him to feel warm to the touch finally! After awhile I wondered if he would be strong enough to go back with his mother and three siblings for the night, or if we should keep him in the house a little longer, under a heat lamp. He was completely dry now, and standing on his own . . . even trying to walk around a little bit. I continued drying and warming him as I thought. It was getting late. The hens would be roosting soon. The weather was windy and chilly. As I pondered the possibilities for his night time care he let out the unmistakable chirp of a baby chick who has lost track of his mother! “CHIRP!” It was LOUD! Then some more, “CHIRP . . . CHIRP . . . CHIRP!”
These cries were very different from the previous weak whistling chatter he was making. These cries were strong and demanding.
I had Ryan take the chick back outside and put him with his mother, hoping for the best. Ryan watched for awhile, making sure the baby was being cared for, then came in. Momma hen had settled down in her favorite spot for the night. Her three other babies were around her. Ryan was not sure if the traumatized baby was with her or not, but didn’t see that chick anywhere else. We hoped the tired little one was snuggled up against his mother’s warm belly. Soon the other chicks went under their mother for the chilly, windy night.
The next day, momma hen and her four babies were up and about as usual; scratching at the leaves and debris, pecking at little bugs, and moving as a group here and there. I could not have told you which one we nursed back from the brink of death if I had tried. He is doing very well still.