Biology student rescues wild bird

RIC biology student Clifford Pickett engages in wildlife rescue.

RIC biology student Clifford Pickett engages in wildlife rescue.
RIC is known as a haven for wildlife, ranging from fox and deer to hawks, ravens and turkeys.

On a July afternoon, Clifford Pickett, a RIC biology major and president of the Biology Club, was leaving his worksite at the campus greenhouse, when he happened upon an empty bird’s nest on the ground near Donovan Dining Center.

“Being the curious biology major, I felt compelled to stop and poke around,” he said. “What I found was gruesome – five dead baby sparrows.”

The sparrow was first discovered by Pickett on July 29, 2011.
He was about to leave, when from beneath the dead popped a live chick with very little life left in its eyes. Pickett would discover a week later, by the yellow markings on either side of the beak, that “it” was female.

He hurried with the chick back to the greenhouse. In a tray of warm water, he cleaned her with a damp cloth. He made a makeshift nest out of a small basket, blanketed the bottom of the nest with a cloth, then sped off to buy jarred baby food.

“I knew baby birds eat a lot of animal protein – primarily worms – so I bought the vegetable and chicken variety of baby food,” Pickett said.

Beaker is fed baby food.
To spoon-feed the chick, he cut the tip of a straw at an angle (beak-shaped) and held it between her beak. She took to the baby food and to her foster parent at once. Pickett decided to name her Beaker.

Feeding is a constant for bird parents. Beaker eats every 20 to 30 minutes, takes a nap and awakens chirping for more food. To stay on top of her feeding schedule, Pickett takes her with him everywhere he goes.

“I take her to the biology lab, the greenhouse, and I keep her in my car when I go to class, though I have had to explain why I was running out of lecture every 20 minutes,” he said.

Beaker’s makeshift nest.
In two weeks’ time, Beaker has gone from lifeless eyes to bright beads of black and a mass of brown and black feathers. She’s even begun to fly.

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo happened upon the pair while walking across campus. Pickett whistled and the sparrow flew up on his shoulder. Surprised, Carriuolo stopped to talk to him.

RIC President Nancy Carrioulo holds Beaker.
Growing up on a farm, Carriuolo had raised many wild abandoned animals and witnessed them care for their young.

“When I was a child, a robin built a nest on the windowsill of my bedroom window,” she said. “I used to watch the mother fly to the nest and regurgitate what looked like partially digested worms into the mouths of the chicks.

“I also watched her teach them to fly. She seemed not to notice that just a thin pane of glass separated me from the nest. I had a front row seat to her childrearing,” she said.

Carriuolo gifted Pickett with a large bag of birdseed and suggested he introduce Beaker to the feeder at the President’s House.

“All the other birds on campus seem to know about it,” she said.

When Beaker is not in her basket, Pickett cups her in his hands and holds her against his heart.

He said he hopes she’ll eventually be able to live on her own and learn bird behavior, which is largely instinctual. But for now, Beaker seems content to stay close to home.