Wildlife rehabilitators are a multi-tasking lot. Not only do we take care of zillions of injured and orphaned birds/mammals/reptiles/whatever, we also have to deal with and educate the public.

The baffling, mind-boggling public.

Luckily for rehabbers there’s FaceBook, where we can bitch and moan and vent and swap can-you-top-this stories with other rehabbers. Maureen Eiger started this particular thread when she finally snapped after she’d had almost 24 hours with no sleep and someone brought her a nestling songbird they’d been feeding ham.


“THEY’VE BEEN FEEDING HIM LOW-SALT HAM,” she wrote, all in caps, then added some choice commentary which I can’t seem to locate right now, but which inspired all her rehabber friends to add their two cents.

“A woman showed up unannounced just as I was leaving for vacation with two hatchling Mourning Doves,” wrote Linda Hufford. “Instead of bringing them to another rehabber, like I told her, she kept them and fed them spaghetti – because noodles look like worms. We ended up naming them ‘Ragu’ and ‘Prego.’”

Erin Smithies-Baker’s colleague Lisa Kelly took in two box turtles a woman had kept for years, feeding them nothing but spaghetti and meatballs. “That’s what we called them,” wrote Erin. “‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Meatball’.”


“Macaroni and Cheese,” added Deborah Donelson, who did not elaborate (but we can fill in the blanks).

Noodles/worms: you can follow the connection, if you try. But then there are the ones that defy any kind of explanation.

“People brought me Eastern Bluebirds they’d been feeding boiled Coca Cola,” wrote Sandi Lancaster Leonard. “They survived, but it took a long time for their feathers to recover.”

“I still have two House Finches from last year,” wrote Beth McMaster. “The finders fed them nothing for two weeks but non-dairy protein powder and salmon oil.”

“I took in a baby Rock Dove they’d been feeding crab,” wrote Donna Nespoli. “Salami for an American Kestrel, salted popcorn for a baby squirrel,” wrote Sigrid Warren.

“I took in a Flying Squirrel they’d been feeding chocolate covered coffee beans,” wrote Letitia Labbie, to which Sandi Lancaster Leonard replied, “OMG! Like they aren’t crazy enough?”

“I had to detox it,” replied Letitia. “Poor thing shook for days, then slept for days.”

“People brought us a Brewer’s Blackbird nestling they’d fed hot dogs and spaghetti,” wrote Veronica Bowers. “He lived to tell about it, but the nestling Northern Mockingbird fed strawberries and tomato soup wasn’t so lucky.”

“One year a woman brought me a Cedar Waxwing she’d fed nothing but cottage cheese,” wrote both Jules Ilikeanani and Laura Westlake.

“I had a fledgling hummingbird on Vancouver Island – it was either a Rufous or an Anna’s – they fed chicken noodle soup because it was sick,” wrote Tracy Anderson.

“A girl kidnapped one poor Blue Jay from her elderly great-aunt because the woman was feeding him nothing but rice and bologna,” wrote Vonda Lee Morton. “Then there’s the woman who didn’t feed a hatchling AT ALL for 24 hours because she “read online you’re not supposed to feed them.’”

“Remember the “eaglet” we took in which turned out to be a Cooper’s hawk?” wrote Lisa Acton. “They fed him melon and ham.”

“Like our Red-tailed hawk,” wrote Kim Hoover. “They fed him melon and pizza.”

Western Scrub Jays,” wrote Debbie Souza-Pappas, “fed canned pineapple, cottage cheese, and gravy.”

“I had a call about a ground hog who sat at the table and ate chicken salad with sweet tea,” wrote Becky Marlin.

“I want a picture of that dinner table,” cracked Hilary Entley.

Mourning Doves fed cheerios, raptors fed hot dogs, infant squirrels fed watered down peanut butter because squirrels eat peanuts at the feeder, right?” wrote Maryjane Angelo.

“Nestling songbirds fed hamburger and cat food,” wrote Sean O’Brien.

“And scrambled eggs,” added Hilary Lewis.

“I had a finder bring me a bird he’d correctly ID’d as a Merlin – a not-too-common falcon – but when he brought him in, I could see he’d been trying to feed it BIRD SEED!” wrote Louise Shimmel. “I mean, how could he know it was a merlin, but not know it didn’t eat bird seed?”

“Kidnapped American Robin fledgling an elderly woman kept for a month on canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup ‘because they like berries,’” wrote Kathryn Dudeck. “Poor thing was hyperglycemic.”

“How many hawks have we taken in who have been fed bacon?” asked LouAnn Partington. “Probably because people see so many Red-tails taking down pigs.”


“At least bacon is meat,” added Letitia Labbie. “We had a Barred Owl they were feeding Doritos.”

“We have a resident Eastern Screech Owl who was fed dry oats for ten days BY A VETERINARIAN!” wrote Johanna Walton, who punctuated her post with a baffled-looking emoticon.

“A nestling Eastern Screech Owl they fed nothing but fish,” wrote Eileen Hagerman. “Not funny … they kept him for months, and he was blind from nutritional deficiencies.”

“I took in nestling grey squirrels that had been fed tomatoes,” said Alix Parks. “If she hadn’t told me, I would have thought they were bleeding out.”

“Nestling Mockingbird fed nothing but applesauce,” wrote Maureen Eiger.

Since rehabbers are so grateful when people go out of their way to bring us an injured wild creature, we develop what is called a “box face.” People walk in and hand you a box, which you know will contain the wildlife and some bizarre food item. You don’t want to put them off by opening the box and shouting, “Are you effing kidding me?” so instead you force your face into an expression of polite concern.

“You open the box and there are big chunks of white bread next to a nestling,” wrote Maureen Eiger, “and the person says ‘I’m surprised it didn’t eat any of the bread that I put in there for it.’”

“I got a box with a robin and a muffin once,” said Donna Nespoli.

“Adult Mourning Dove in a box with a hunk of Kentucky Fried Chicken,” wrote Mikal Deese. “I swear!”

“I got a Great Horned Owl that was sitting on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” wrote Kathy Hare Hershey. “They had even cut the crust off for him.”

“A woman brought me a young cottontail years ago,” wrote Tissi Smith. “I opened the box, and there was a bowl of raw hamburger meat in there for him to eat.” (Perhaps she had been watching Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.)

“I had a really sweet, kind officer drop off an unconscious adult red-phase Screech Owl in a cardboard box,” wrote Erin Smithies-Baker. “He found her on the roadside, and on the way to me he stopped at Shop Rite to get her some food. I opened the box and there was an unconscious little owl laying on her back, next to an opened package of raw chicken breast larger than the bird itself. It was kind of shocking but so sweet at the same time. He had a big heart!”


Baby birds/wildlife and milk is another entire blog, there are so many. (“It’s a baby, isn’t it?” “Don’t cowbirds milk cows?”) “We got a phone call once years ago about someone that had a pregnant bird in their yard – the homeowner knew it was pregnant because they saw the nipples,” wrote Eileen Hagerman. And human breast milk – no, don’t get me started.

“Fledgling Eastern Screech owls fed lemon meringue pie,” wrote Katherine Dolan. And Heather Merritt gets the grand finale: “People trying to feed wood chips to nestling woodpeckers because ‘that’s what they’re doing up there, isn’t it?’”

Bottom line: so many of these well-meaning people picked up their information from the internet, from pet supply companies, or from – cringe – even certain veterinarians. The only source of good information is a well-established wildlife rehabilitator or center.

Banner photo by Maureen Eiger

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.