These orioles are safe at home Rescue: The wind blew, and down came the nest, babies and all. A suburban mom flew into action.

June 12, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Liz Judd had only an hour to save the family. Fierce winds had torn down their home the night before.

Judd had worked quickly. She took a plastic shovel from the kids' sandbox, scooped up what looked like "three little balls of ground beef" and returned them to their nest, a cozy hanging basket woven by their parents, a doting Baltimore oriole couple.

But the drama didn't end there. The nest couldn't stay on the ground. The babies would become prey for other creatures. And their parents, at this moment distraught and fluttering around Judd, would give up on them.

The bird rescue expert Judd had called gave her 60 minutes before the family fell apart.

"You just can't let these birds die," Judd says. "I really wanted to do everything I could to keep them there."

The Baltimore oriole drama took place just east of York Road in Timonium, where a wall of strip malls, rug marts and car dealerships has crammed dislocated wildlife onto the Judds' suburban street. There, kids ride their bikes and parents mow lawns, deer feed, wild bunnies procreate like, well, bunnies, foxes roam, and the cacophony of waking birds starts at 4: 30 a.m.

The Baltimore orioles, and their forebears, have made a home during the summer nesting season in the Judds' neighborhood for the past 10 years. They've grown accustomed to the tall, shady trees and the yummy apples and cherries that grow there. Liz, her husband, Jay T., and their young kids, Tyler and Danielle, love to watch the birds as they perform the annual task of building a pendant nest from plant fibers, bark and string.

After the babies hatch, the parents, brilliantly hued in tropical gold, ignite the dappled green landscape as they swoop to and fro bearing fresh bugs for their infants. Then there's the birds' pretty, flute-like call and the impressive way Dad is as involved in the rearing ritual as Mom.

What's more, as Judd realized, the Baltimore oriole is the Maryland state bird, designated by the General Assembly in 1947. The subspecies was named after early Maryland colonizer Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, whose family shield was black and gold. In 1698, "Baltemore Birds" were among "Beasts of Curriosity" ordered sent from Maryland to the British royal gardens, according to the Archives of Maryland.

Orioles migrate in droves through Maryland each spring, coming from eastern Mexico and Central America. Some choose to stay; others range as far north as Nova Scotia before returning to the tropics in September. Although their population has remained stable in Maryland, Baltimore orioles may be hard to find in areas where new housing developments, malls and roads have obliterated their shady habitat.

After Judd returned the baby birds to their nest, she cut the thin limb it was attached to from the larger limb that had been ripped from a spindly locust tree in her neighbor's yard. Judd carefully staple-gunned the skinny limb to a nearby rain spout, keeping the nest upright.

But the parents didn't return to the grounded nest. Judd didn't want to fail, though the bird rescuer she'd called, Gerda Deterer of Wild Bird Rescue in Dundalk, had said she'd take the babies if the parents rejected them. (In the meantime, Deterer had warned, don't try to feed them with a dropper. Baby orioles take insects, only.)

Judd had to think fast. She knew she had an ally in her next-door neighbor, Amy DiPietro, a mom-to-be. "She's pregnant. I knew I had it made with her."

Together, they agreed the nest had to be returned to the DiPietros' locust tree.

Less than an hour later, Jay T. Judd arrived home. With the help of his friend Brian Lauer, he propped a 12-foot ladder against the locust and gingerly carried the limb and the nest up with him. Using dry-wall nails, Judd reattached the limb, about 20 feet below where it originally hung.

As he worked, the parents alighted in nearby trees and kept an eye on him. Liz Judd wasn't sure whether they would remain "or move on and accept the loss." Judd came down the ladder. They waited and watched in suspense

The oriole parents returned to their nest.

On a recent sunny morning, the three baby orioles chirped noisily and wiggled in their nest while awaiting their bug breakfast. The limb that holds the nest looks fragile, as if it couldn't take another storm, and the leaves are wilted. "It looks ridiculous," Jay T. Judd says. "But it worked. Anything to save the O's."

When this period of nesting is over, and the babies are trying out their wings, their parents, as is their habit, will stop singing. Soon after that, the family will return to their winter home, thousands of miles away.

Any day now, Liz Judd says she expects Mom and Dad to "to peck on my door and say thank you."

The bird rescuers

If you find injured birds or would like information on wild birds, contact the Wild Bird Rescue at 410-288-4546 anytime.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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