Finding baby birds is very common at our house. Sometimes the birds are very young, others are fledglings. Fledgling Kestrels are very fearless so they are easy to catch and return to their nests unless their feathers are mature and they can fly away.
One day my husband kept hearing a bird and told my daughter it was in our window well. She climbed down and found it. The bird was very cold and dehydrated. It was about the size and color of a small white baby chicken so we brought it in the house, and gave it some water and some watered down chicken food. The bird opened its beak hungrily but when I put the food on its tongue it just kept its mouth open and wouldn't swallow.
Next we tried some raw hamburger which it took gladly and begged for more. Fearing the hamburger was too fatty, I went to the freezer and found a small piece of liver and warmed it in warm water.
The bird gobbled it down. We turned on a light for brooding baby chickens to keep the bird warm and went to bed.
The next morning the bird was still alive but seemed even more dehydrated. Its eyes were dull and it was lethargic.
Noting the long wings and hooked bill, I did an internet search and decided that we had either a baby owl or a kestrel. Both live on insects and rodents so I bought a frozen rat from the pet store to feed it.
My daughter climbed a ladder above the window well searching for the nest. As she was coming down she saw another bird in the window well. It was the same kind. It was neither cold nor dehydrated.
It was good to have it to compare. It weighed 2 oz and the first bird was only about 1.2 oz. I decided our first bird was not up to eating rat, it needed fluid so I fed it liver soaked in diluted Gatorade with a little salt substitute added for potassium.
I also kept the light off except to warm the birds right after feeding. I put a heating pad under the box instead, and covered the box with a towel.
By the next day I could tell that the first bird was getting better. But the second bird was crawling around like a bat, on all fours and dragging its right leg.
I felt it all over and could not find any breaks or swelling so I moved the leg into a natural position and set the bird in a frosting bowl to hold the leg in place.
Between feedings, with scissors and tweezers acting as parents, I kept a watch for the real parents and discovered a pair of kestrels watching my house from the tops of telephone poles.
My husband climbed up two more times searching for the nest. I finally had to sit out in the car for 2 hours, with the mirrors adjusted so I could see the telephone poles behind me.
At last my efforts were rewarded. I saw a beautiful female kestrel carrying a mouse, fly into our roof several logs higher than we had searched. Then she flew out two logs lower. I decided the nest must be between the two openings.
I grabbed a black sock that had served as my birds' surrogate mother, and put the birds in a basket.
I climbed the 20 feet up to the nest and carefully picked up one bird with the sock over my hand so the bird would not be alarmed or bite me.
I pushed it into the hole backwards because I had noticed that baby kestrels lean back by instinct and this way it was helping me instead of fighting me.
After the second bird was in place, we kept everyone out of the front yard for 2 days. I could hear the birds from my bedroom window and I checked the window well several times a day.
Two weeks later, I was in my room listening to the morning feeding ritual when I saw a beautiful fully feathered male kestrel fall into our rose bush.
I ran out and got the dogs and brought them into the house. The parent kestrels were screaming warnings as I went back for the dogs' water bowl. As I stood up, the little male spread his wings and flew to a nearby tree. It was an awesome sight!
From inside the house, we watched as the parents flew to the roof and then to a tree carrying a mouse trying to coax the other little fledgelings out for their first hunting lesson. By the evening of the next day all had flown.
I have since learned that I need a permit to take care of kestrels even if they never leave my yard until they fly. This was not my first experience with them, nor will it be my last, so I am working on obtaining a raptor rehabilitation permit.