Spring Has Sprung, and Baby Bird Season is Here in Full Force!

You Found a Baby Bird… Now What?

So you’re out for a leisurely walk at your neighborhood park and you see a precious little songbird on the ground, alone and looking abandoned – but is he really abandoned or an orphan? How can you tell? What do you do? What are the signs to look for so you know? These are questions we hear almost daily now from well-meaning and kind-hearted individuals who have found baby birds. We’re here to help you figure out what to do that’s best for the young bird. It can be challenging trying to figure out the best course of action, so here are some guidelines to follow that will make it a little less difficult.

First of all, it’s important to determine if the bird is a nestling or a fledgling. Nestlings can be pink and have no feathers at all, or have downy, wispy, fluffy feathers, or have pin feathers that look like quills and have not come out of the sheath yet, or have feathers that are not fully grown out so they’re not able to fly yet. Nestlings still live in the nest. They also usually are not yet able to grip onto your finger or a perch and cling on strongly. Here are some examples of nestlings.

    Fledglings are usually found hopping on the ground and making short flights into low bushes or shrubs, have feathers that are more developed, longer tail feathers, and look like smaller versions of the adults they will become. Fledglings are learning how to fly and are supposed to be out of the nest and exploring their surroundings. They have not been abandoned by their parents, although it may seem like they have been because you may not see the parents right away, but rest assured the parents (at least one of them) is watching their young one from a distance and usually will still fly down to feed them while they’re learning how to fly. They usually are strong enough to perch on a branch. If they are uninjured and there are no dangers such as predators in the area or are not next to a busy street, they usually do not need to be picked up or caught and brought in for rehab!

The fledging process is a normal part of a young bird growing up, leaving the nest, learning how to fly and become independent. Some songbirds, such as Carolina wrens, typically fledge in one to two days, while other species take a week or two. Yes, this can be a vulnerable time for them, but it’s a stage they all must go through.

Here are some examples of fledglings.


Now that you know the difference between a nestling and a fledgling you have a better idea what to do. If you’ve found a nestling, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does it look injured? Are the wings drooping unevenly? Is it weak or shivering? Does it look like it’s been attacked by a predator, such as a cat or a dog? Do you see any blood or protruding bones? If so, call a licensed/permitted wildlife rehabilitator such as Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We will provide skilled and appropriate care and take the bird to an avian veterinarian if it’s needed.
  1. If the bird has been found on the ground with no nesting material around it, it’s likely it fell or has been displaced from the nest. If it looks healthy and not injured, then you can place it back in its nest if you can locate it. Look above and in the area where you found the bird and see if you can locate a nest. Remember that some birds nest in small spaces such as vent openings, wreaths on doors, and other atypical places besides trees or bushes. If you can locate the nest and access it safely, you can return the baby to the nest. It is not true that if a human has touched a baby bird the parents will reject it! They will gladly accept their baby back! When placing the bird back in the nest, make sure the other baby birds in the nest look like the same species as the one you are renesting. Securely tuck it in the nest next to its siblings in an upright position.
  1. Now that you’ve renested the baby bird, you’ll have to monitor it from a distance to ensure the parent(s) are returning to the nest to care for it. Monitor for 45 minutes to an hour from a distance so the parents will feel it is safe for them to return.
  1. If you’re not able to locate the original nest, are unable to reach the nest, or the parents don’t return to the nest within an hour, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice and assistance.
  1. If you have found a portion of a nest or a whole nest on the ground or in a place where a nest has fallen, you can place the intact original nest or a portion of the nest in a substitute nest and place it back in the nest tree or a tree close to the nest tree. Follow these steps to do so:
  • Use a round plastic container like a margarine tub and poke holes in the bottom to allow for drainage, or you can use a berry basket. Pack the original nest or whatever nesting material you found into the bottom of the container, making the sides higher and the middle lower, to create a nest bowl. If you don’t have any nesting material, use dry grass to create a new nest.
  • Use wire or long tie wraps and thread them through one hole and out the other in the bottom of the container to secure the substitute nest in the original location where the nest used to be, or as nearby as possible. Make sure the nest is not in direct sunlight and is at least partially sheltered from rain, such as under the canopy of a tree.
  • Now that you’ve placed the substitute nest, you’ll have to monitor it from a distance to ensure the parent(s) are returning to the nest to care for the nestlings. Monitor for 45 minutes to an hour from a distance so the parents will feel it is safe for them to return. If they do not return within this time, call a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.

**Note**

Please keep the nestling(s) warm while you are trying to locate the nest or while you’re placing a substitute nest. You can place it in a small cardboard box with air holes and lined with a t-shirt or small towel and place half of the box on a heating pad set to warm or low. Nestlings cannot regulate their own body temperature and need to be kept warm.


If you’ve found a fledgling, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does it look injured? Are the wings drooping unevenly? Is it weak or shivering? Does it look like it’s been attacked by a predator, such as a cat or a dog? Do you see any blood or protruding bones? If so, call a licensed/permitted wildlife rehabilitator such as Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We will provide skilled and appropriate care and take the bird to an avian veterinarian if it’s needed.
  1. If the bird looks healthy, is it in danger from predators, such as cats, dogs, crows, hawks, et cetera? Is it near a hazard, such as a busy street or construction site?  If so and it’s in immediate danger, you can catch the bird and place it in a cardboard box with air holes, lined with a t-shirt or small towel. Close the lid and tape it shut with small cracks to allow for some air flow. You can also place an upside-down cardboard box or other container with air holes over the bird and keep it safe that way. Then call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for further advice.
  1. Do you see the parents coming down to feed it? Is it near bushes or low trees so it can hop or fly into them to retreat to safety? If so, this is normal behavior and the bird is just doing what it normally does during the fledging process. If the bird is not in a bush or low tree, you can gently pick up the bird and place him in one. The bird is fine, leave the area and let the parents care for it.

Remember, normal behavior for a fledgling is for them to be on the ground walking and hopping around, and making short flights into bushes or low trees.

 WHY IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA TO RAISE A  BABY BIRD YOURSELF

  1. While we understand that most people have good intentions when they decide to raise a baby bird they’ve found themselves, know that it is illegal to keep and raise a wild baby bird. Almost all wild birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treat Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations. You can go here to see the list of protected species:
    http://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php
  1. Different species of baby birds require different and very specific diets. If baby birds are not fed the appropriate diet, in other words, the correct ratio of protein to carbohydrates via the appropriate foods, such as insects and fruit, etc., they can develop a debilitating condition known as metabolic bone disease, which makes their bones brittle and easy to fracture.
  1. Baby birds need to learn natural behavior from their parents. Being raised in captivity by a person without the proper training and expertise will most likely leave a bird imprinted or habituated on humans, robbing the bird of a normal life in the wild, as it will not know how to act like the species it is, having never learned from another of their own kind. It will be vulnerable to predation, as it has not learned alerting behavior from their parents.
  1. Young birds need to learn social skills of their species by being with others of their kind. Being raised in captivity alone by an unqualified person deprives them of this. Wildlife rehabilitators usually have other species of the same kind, which provides a social setting for the youngsters.
  1. Federal and state-licensed wildlife rehabilitators have thousands of hours of training on how to specifically care for and raise baby birds of all kinds. Getting a baby bird to a wildlife rehabber is the best way to ensure the bird will be raised in a healthy manner, fed the proper diet, be given the proper socialization and survival skills necessary for life in the wild, and to ensure the bird will be released in a safe and appropriate habitat.

Some Basic Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Don’t give baby birds water!  Baby birds get all the moisture and hydration they need from the food they eat, such as moist, juicy bugs or berries that their parents feed them. They haven’t developed the coordination to swallow thin liquids and can aspirate easily if given water. Most times aspiration leads to death.
  1. Don’t feed baby birds bread or milk! Birds are not mammals and do not require milk. Also, bread is not a part of their diet. Think about what they eat in the wild. They never eat bread or drink milk! It’s best not to give a baby bird any liquid or food until it’s in the hands of a wildlife rehabilitator.
  1. Don’t excessively handle baby birds. Chances are they are frightened and stressed if they’ve fallen from their nest, been attacked by a predator, or separated from their parents, and handling them more than necessary before they get to a wildlife rehabilitator puts undue stress on them.
  1. If you’re in doubt about what to do if you find a baby bird, please call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice and assistance!

If you find any sick, injured, or suspected orphaned wildlife we would like to remind you to give us or another permitted rehabilitator a call. We also ask that you consider making a donation to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife so that we may continue our work to conserve and protect wildlife in the Tampa Bay Area.

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And make sure to follow our blog to stay up to date on our cases! You can also now follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and now Periscope (@OwlsNestRehab)! And subscribe to our new YouTube Channel.

Article by Kim Begay!

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