Spring has sprung, and for birds, that means one thing — it’s baby season! The babies of most species of wild birds will hatch in the coming months, and these adorable critters will be on their way to learning the ways of the world. But just like humans, baby birds can face some serious obstacles on their path to adulthood. Injuries, human encroachment and abandonment are all potential consequences for these helpless creatures. It’s tempting, then, when coming across a seemingly abandoned or injured baby bird, to want to help it in any way possible.
So what steps should you take if you find a baby bird? Read on for tips on what to do, and what not to do.
Figure Out How Mature the Bird is.
How far is the bird in its development? You don’t need a Ph.D. in ornithology to figure that out, and the answer has a huge impact on what actions you should take.
Hatchling or Nestling: These birds were born very, very recently, and are entirely dependent on their parents to fulfill their basic needs. They might have a light down of feathers, or no feathers at all. If you see a nestling on the ground, it probably isn’t capable of walking or hopping, and almost certainly isn’t capable of flying.
Fledgling (pictured above): A fledgling, on the other hand, usually has almost all of its feathers. They can walk and hop on their own, and might be able to fly, though they aren’t very good at it yet. The bird pictured above is a fledgling.
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Determine if the Bird is Injured.
This may seem obvious, but, just because you see a baby bird alone, it doesn’t mean something is necessarily wrong with it. See the next page for how to help a healthy baby bird, but read below for how to help an injured one.
Observe it For a Few Minutes. Make sure that the bird is actually injured, and isn’t just waiting for its mother. Take notes on injuries and behaviors. If you are unsure about what type of bird it is, take notes on its characteristics.
Locate and Call a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Do this before you take any action. There’s a huge directory of centers in the United States here. Give as many details as you can to the center and follow their instructions. This is important — some birds need to be handled differently than others.
If You Can’t Find a Center to Take the Bird to: The best thing you can do is punch some air holes and place some soft cloth in a covered box. Carefully, with gloves and perhaps eye protection, place the injured bird in the box and cover it. Place the bird’s box in a quiet and warm place for 1-2 hours. After that time, take the bird, still in its box, to a large, open area (away from windows) and lift the lid. If the bird flies away, no further action is necessary. If it doesn’t leave the box, all you can do is try your best to find a center to take the bird to.
While an Injured Bird is In Your Care: Do NOT try to feed the bird or give it water, do not attempt first aid, and do not lift the lid of the box to check on it. It should go without saying, but do not try to keep the bird as a pet. Ever.
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Helping Out a Healthy Bird.
If you don’t see any injuries on the bird, but are worried that it has been abandoned follow these steps based on how mature the bird is.
Nestlings: If you find a nestling away from the nest, the best thing you can do is try to return it to its nest. That thing about mama birds abandoning their young because they have the scent of humans on them? Totally untrue. If you can’t find or reach the nest — sometimes they are very well hidden — place the bird in a strawberry box (or any type of small box) that has been lined with tissue. Suspend the box from a branch close to where you think the nest is. Next, and this is very important, leave the area. The bird’s parents are very wary of disturbances, and it might take hours for them to come back and retrieve their young. The longer you linger, the longer this will take.
Fledglings: If you find a fledgling on its own, it is usually best to not do anything at all. The bird may seem helpless and abandoned, but that is almost never the case (unless, of course, the fledgling has been injured). The most you should do is try to keep people and other animals away from the fledgling — placing it back in its nest won’t be much help.
The Bottom Line: The vast majority of baby birds don’t need your help. Removing a healthy, growing bird from the wild is far more dangerous than letting it stay outside — the baby may not be able to learn the vital skills it needs to survive. When in doubt, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.