Is the bird injured?
A baby bird has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother. Before intervening, we want to make sure the bird really needs our help. Keep in mind that young birds found on the ground may be completely healthy. Young birds leave the nest before they can fly. Birds are not taught to fly, rather they are simply pushed out of the nest and expected to work it out on their own, letting instinct take over. They are not orphans and in most cases their parents are feeding them and watching close by.
A baby bird needs to be rescued for the following reasons:
- The young bird is in immediate danger.
- You see blood or other signs of injury.
- It is cold, weak, or shivering.
- It has been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
Still unsure if the bird you found needs assistance? The next step is to determine the age of the bird to see if intervention is needed.
Found a fledgling?
A fully feathered baby bird found on the ground, seemingly unable to fly, is probably just fledging – a natural state of development in the bird’s life. A fledgling bird may be hopping around and appear to be injured (for example, flying up shakily and falling back down to the ground again), but chances are its parents are still taking care of it. Within one or two days, a fledgling bird will be flying with little trouble. It’s best to let fledgling birds work it out on their own and to leave them undisturbed. Make sure to observe baby birds from a distance. If they are fledgling birds (learning to fly), their mother should come back and check on them soon.
Found a nestling?
If the young bird does not have feathers (like the one shown to the left), it is a nestling. Nestlings cannot survive outside of the nest and will most likely die if they are not re-nested or brought in for care.
- It is best thing for the nestling to be reunited with its mother. In order to do this, the baby must be warm. Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap the sock in a soft towel and place it next to the baby bird to warm it up.
- If you can reach the nest the baby fell from, simply place the warm baby back into the nest and observe from a distance to see if the parents come back.
- If you cannot reach the original nest, you can make the baby a substitute nest. Poke holes in the bottom of a margarine tub or use a wicker basket to allow water to drain. Line the substitute nest with dry grass, pieces of the original nest, or pine needles and hang it from the original tree or a nearby tree. Observe from a distance to see if the parents come to the new nest to feed the baby.
- If the parents do not return to the baby, call a wildlife rehabilitator. Do not attempt to give the baby bird any food or water.
NOTE: Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival. It is best not to feed a wild animal any food or water as this can cause more harm than good. Baby birds can die if they are fed incorrectly. Raising a wild animal in captivity without the proper training is never recommended.