If you call Heather DeLong the “crazy bird lady” she won’t be insulted.
In fact, she will wear it as a badge of honour.
Self-described as exactly that, DeLong got the nickname years ago when she had an aviary set up in her home.
“I made so many trips to the pet store for feed for the birds that a woman who worked there used to say, ‘here comes the crazy bird lady,’” DeLong said with a laugh.
She said her connection to birds go back through her family bloodline.
“I got a picture of my grandfather DeLong when he was young with four crows sitting on him,” she said. “My father was a pilot so he was as much a bird as you can be. I guess when Dad was young he had all kinds of critters.”
She thinks it was this connection that brought Sammy the sapsucker to her yard two weeks ago.
She found the young bird, a member of the woodpecker family, lying near a chicken coop, wet, thin and barely alive.
“I was going down to close up the chickens one night and I almost stepped on him. Here was this beautiful red head on the ground,” she said. “He was in pretty rough shape. I think he was probably grabbed by a cat. “
She rushed inside her Scotch Hill home with him, Googled his breed and grabbed her bird book to find the best way to treat his injuries.
“I looked it up and gave him a little bit of birch syrup mixed with maple syrup and he took it right away and he kept taking it. It must be getting on to 14 days now,” DeLong said. “He is recovering. He still can’t fly. Usually bones in birds only take a couple of weeks to heal.”
She keeps him in a cage outside her front door that has a piece of wood with freshly drilled holes, fruit and tree branches. DeLong continues to feed him syrup and blueberries every day by hand, but his clear favourite spot is in the cage.
“He is funny, he will get up on me and start tapping. He will put his little crest up,” she said.
She is considering putting him in a larger cage so he will have a better opportunity to fly and if he doesn't show major improvement with his broken wing in the next few weeks, she may take him to a wildlife rescue centre in Hilden.
“If I don’t think he will get a whole lot better I might have to look into that. The whole point is for them to migrate and they are quite specific to what they want to eat. They eat bugs and sap and I only have so much syrup. He tells me what he likes and if he doesn’t like it he just shreds it and throws it at me,” she said.
DeLong said she has nursed other domestic and wild birds back to good health in the past so she is confident she knows she is doing right by Sammy.
When she worked at a pet store, she often took home birds with injuries, she used to breed canaries and a special hummingbird once brought her peace during a difficult time in her life.
“Years ago, when I worked at the veterans unit in Pictou, we had a hummingbird hit the window and it was a day that one of my favourite residents died,” she said. “He had just died and I went out and picked up this little tiny, tiny thing and put it in a bag, because that is what you do if you find an injured bird. About an hour later, I could hear him starting to buzz. I took him out of the bag and showed him to the residents and when I let him go, another hummingbird came down. They went together (beak to beak) and made a kissing noise and then went away together. I was later told by someone that the birds are the souls of the dead so someone came to collect (this resident).”
She said she also feels a bond with the 80 chickens that roam her yard, as pets only, her one duck and the three new goslings that trail behind her whenever she moves.
She took the goslings home for company for a female duck that just lost its longtime partner to a fox, but DeLong said the duck can’t be bothered with them.
“She wants nothing to do with them,” she said with a laugh. “She doesn’t understand why they are being friendly to people. Every night I have to cuddle them before they go to bed and it doesn’t matter what I am doing they follow me everywhere.”
In addition to her love for feathered friends, DeLong has three horses, a dog named Ellie and two cats. Ellie patrols the farm on a regular basis throughout the day to keep an eye out for foxes that would love to get a taste of her livestock.
“I don’t like foxes,” she said when asked if there was one animal she doesn’t favour.
DeLong said her days are filled by caring for her animals and they bring her much joy so her days are pretty stress free.
“I would go insane without them, honestly,” she said.