2014-07-05 by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Knitters-answer-WildCare-s-call-for-nests-to-save-5600816.php]:
Noam Mendelson tends to rescued songbird nestlings. The knitted nests help regulate the baby birds' body temperature and simulate the soft protection of a nest in the wild. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
It may seem like a natural fit, but until now one would have been hard-pressed to find a real-life scenario that combined the interests of knitters and baby birds.
Both are adorable, no question, but it was a case of never the twain shall meet until this year when a wildlife conservation group in Marin County figured out how yarn-wielding sweater weavers could help chirping downy-feathered avian offspring.
The solution was simple: knitted nests.
WildCare, the San Rafael nonprofit that treats almost 4,000 wild animals a year, made a request in April for local knitters to weave bird nests for the hundreds of orphaned chicks the organization cares for every year. The knitters of the Bay Area went wild, donating 529 nests to an organization that last year rehabilitated 540 chicks, most of which had fallen out of or were somehow dislodged from their nests during the spring nesting season.
"We use these nests primarily for the songbirds," said Alison Hermance, WildCare's communications manager, as she gestured toward a blue knitted nest carrying baby finches and a gray and white nest full of tiny and eager chestnut-backed chickadees, their beaks wide open in anticipation of a feeding.
"These nests provide good temperature control and they give the birds the soft feeling of a natural nest," she said.
Noticing problems -
The Baby Bird Nest campaign got its start two years ago when WildCare staff noticed that some of the chicks were bruising or developing other problems from the hard surfaces in the bowls that were being used as makeshift nests, Hermance said.
It wasn't the first time bird caretakers had noticed the problem. A worker at Sebastopol's Native Songbird Care & Conservation program was apparently the first to knit a nest. The pattern was published on the organization's website, creating a blueprint for the WildCare knitted nest program.
Dinka Velcich, 89, of Novato, was one of the first knitters to respond to WildCare's request. She has knitted 53 nests for the organization.
"It's my hobby," said Velcich, who was born on a farm on the Adriatic island of Cres, in Croatia, where she used to knit socks while herding sheep. "I love animals, and I love birds. I can't work in the yard anymore because I have arthritis, but I can do this."
Teri Rockas, a 57-year-old health care worker from San Rafael, has knitted 37 nests.
"My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about 5 years old and she loved birds," Rockas said recently as she worked on number 38. "Right before she passed, she told me to think of her every time I saw a baby bird. So this is a wonderful way for me to remember her."
Developing an enterprise -
The knitting fiesta has been a bonanza for California wildlife hospitals and bird rescue centers, which have received 250 of the nests donated to WildCare.
"We are now a knitted nest provider," Hermance said. "We've turned it into an enterprise."
It is important, Hermance said, because bird nests are often disturbed at this time of year. A prime example occurred in May when tree trimmers knocked down baby night heron nests outside an Oakland post office, creating a furor among neighbors and bird lovers.
Hermance said most bird mothers cannot pick up their chicks and put them back in the nest once they fall out. A chick that has downy fluff instead of feathers is not old enough to control its body temperature or feed itself and must be fed every 45 minutes in a warm, cozy place or it will die.
Hermance said it is a myth that mother birds will not take care of chicks that are handled by humans. The problem, she said, is that most people who find chicks on the ground cannot find the nest or the nest has been destroyed.
The baby birds are generally kept in the knitted nests at WildCare for two weeks where they are fed 15 times a day before they can move to a larger cage with a perch. Hermance said the birds are generally released where they were found within about two months.
The knitted nests "are like towels. You are always replacing them," Hermance said. "You just can't have too many of them. This program shows how much people really want to do things to help wildlife."
Knitted nests for baby birds -
The website for the campaign can be found at [www.babybirdnest.org].
The instructions for making a knitted nest can be found at [http://nativesongbirdcare.org/uploads/How_to_Make_Knit_Nests_.pdf]