Spring and early summer are the time of year to look out for baby birds falling out of nests and learning to fly. Our first instinct is to “rescue” these birds, when often it is best to let nature take its course and, if at all possible, allow the parent birds to continue raising their young. Of course, if there is imminent danger to the bird, you must remove the risk or the bird from the situation immediately.
Nestlings are unfeathered or partially feathered baby birds that still require their parents’ warmth and feeding. The best thing to do with them is to return them to their nests. If an entire nest has fallen, try replacing it as near to its original location as possible (use wire to re-attach if necessary). Contrary to popular belief, parent birds do not abandon babies that have been touched by humans. However, they may abandon a nest if frequent or prolonged activity around the nest keeps them from caring for the eggs or babies as needed. If you cannot return the baby bird to its nest, call a bird rehabilitator at once (see information at end of article). In the meantime, confine it in a small cage or box, in a safe, quiet location. Place a heating pad on low setting covered with a folded towel on the bottom of the box. Never stick a baby bird’s beak into water or anything else, do not try to feed it until you have received qualified instructions, and never give milk to any bird!
Fledglings are young birds learning to fly. Sometimes they can’t fly at all, or they just don’t fly well yet and are easy prey for cats, dogs and hawks. Just because they are on the ground doesn’t mean the parents are not still feeding and teaching their young to survive as a bird. Again, if not in any danger from predators, cars or children, leave it alone and let mom and dad do their thing. In a few days it should be able to get back to its nest and fly well enough to avoid danger.
However, if the bird is in an unsafe place, try moving it to a safer area of the yard where other birds feed and bathe, away from the dogs and cats. Being around other birds helps a lot! Another solution is to remove the threat by keeping dogs and cats inside (if they are yours) until the young bird has “found its wings.” If you have feral cats in the area, put the bird in a cage at night with a shallow dish of water and seeds. Birds of this age can usually drink and eat on their own. You might have to show them the water by dipping just the tip of their beak in. A newly rescued bird may be dehydrated and drink a lot at first. I cover all but the front of the cage so they feel secure. In the morning, I let them back out when I feed the other birds. Usually in a day or two they manage to fly to a safe height, find their parents or bond with some other birds.
Some people are afraid of trying to catch birds for one reason or another. Generally, baby birds are not going to hurt you and you are not going to catch any diseases from them. But if you are still skittish, experts recommend placing an upside down laundry basket over them so at least they can breath and you can keep tabs on them until you get help.
Nestlings require special feeding and care, and different birds require different types of foods, as well as different methods of feeding, so if you are not specifically trained in this area, do not attempt to raise a baby bird. First, even if you are successful in feeding it, if not raised with other birds and taught survival techniques, you will have a wild bird dependent upon humans as a source of food – not a good thing! There is much more to know than confining it in a cage and giving it seeds and water.
Therefore, if it is not a situation in which you can let nature take its own course, you should call one of the groups listed on our Resource Page for experienced and qualified help. They have volunteer rehabilitators who are specially trained to take care of wild birds and they will refer you to the nearest one. You will have to take the bird there, but at least you will be saving its life! Because they operate on strictly a volunteer basis and are very busy this time of year, it may take a little while to get advice and a referral, but most have recorded information with tips on what to do in the meantime, depending on what kind of bird you have found.
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More to come . . .