What started out as a typical day for some U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) employees turned into a crucial rescue mission.
As they worked on the Sacramento River East Levee project, Roberto Navarez noticed two baby birds on the levee. He waited, hoping their parents would return, but as the bulldozer in their path got closer, he intervened.
First, he reached out to wildlife biologist Pete Morris. With Pete’s help, the birds were placed in a cardboard box and taken to a USACE trailer.
The cool air immediately helped the larger bird recover, but the smaller one was quiet, remaining in the box. That’s when they contacted Lee Roork. Although his job isn’t related to animal rescues, Lee is an avid birder who often uses his breaks to bird-watch with his binoculars.
According to Lee, they needed to return the birds to their nest and hope their parents would reappear. Although the larger bird immediately left the nest when they arrived, the weaker one remained. Hours passed… and their parents never came.
“I was certain the little bird wouldn’t survive another 24 hours unless someone helped it,” Lee said. “It was in pretty bad shape, so I decided to try to help it, rather than leave it to die.”
Before taking on the responsibility, Lee texted his wife, Susan Roork, a telecommuting USACE employee. His message was simple: “Want to raise a baby scrub jay?”
Her response? “Definitely!”
Susan dove headfirst into researching everything they would need to know to take care of the baby scrub jay, whom they named Blu Blu. But one thing remained a mystery: Was the little one a boy or a girl?
“Their coloring and markings look extraordinarily similar,” Susan said. “So, we just went with ‘her’ most of the time.”
The first 24 hours were the hardest. They tried feeding her, but Blu wouldn’t eat… until the next day when everything changed.
“She started wholeheartedly interacting with us, eagerly taking water through a little hypodermic dispenser, gobbling down healthy portions of food, acting alert, responsive and curious — she was making her way,” Susan said.
Susan, Lee, and their teen daughter Jillian loved Blu, but they decided from the start that their goal was to get Blu healthy enough to be released.
To prepare her, they provided Blu with challenges similar to those she would face on her own in the wild, like finding food. Thankfully, the smart bird quickly learned to fend for herself.
That’s not to say that Blu was a loner. In fact, she and Susan bonded while Susan was working from home!
Sometimes Blu would peck at her keyboard or steal a sticky note, but it was all worth it when she would snuggle up to Susan and fall asleep on her wrist or against her neck.
“Blu had become a great companion,” Susan said, “and I knew I would miss her dearly when we released her.”
Although they briefly considered turning their chicken coop into Blu’s permanent home, they knew it wouldn’t be fair to her. As the once-feeble bird grew stronger and stronger, the day to set her free eventually arrived.
They had a plan: place Blu in a crate outside, sit with her, and once they felt ready to do so, open the door. But Blu had other ideas.
While a neighbor visited, their front door was left ajar. In an instant, Blu bolted outside and into some nearby trees, where she joined a flock of scrub jays.
“Even though the plan was always to release her, we were both heartbroken,” Susan said. “But only because we were disappointed we didn’t get to make it an official goodbye.”
As if she knew her humans needed a little closure, Blu returned soon after. She had a “conversation” with Susan, jumping from branch to branch as they walked down the street.
“This has been a unique experience to say the least,” Lee said. “I would never have brought this baby bird home unless I truly believed it was not going to make it. I had no idea how demanding these little guys could be and how much care they need. But I do believe we have done what we could to help her survive in the wild.”
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