So you found a baby bird and want to help.
First, let me commend you on having a big and generous heart. 🙂 I know it’s sad to find a helpless creature, and you just want to do what’s best for it.
Today, you are going to learn EXACTLY what to do with a baby bird!
But before we begin, let’s review the different stages that a baby bird goes through.
DO NOT SKIP THIS SECTION.
This information is VERY important to review and understand, so you can best help.
These are birds that were just born and are completely helpless. They shouldn’t have any feathers on them and may not even be able to open their eyes.
These baby birds are at least a few days old. They typically have some feathers or fluffy down on them and are fairly active, but they don’t leave the nest and can’t take care of themselves.
These are baby birds that have left the nest on their own. They typically look somewhat awkward (like most teenagers!) and have most of their feathers. They can usually fly just a bit or can at least hop on the ground. Many fledglings even stay around their parents for another week or two AFTER leaving the nest to receive additional care and support.
Ok, so now that you know the different stages a baby bird goes through, what should you do next?
#1. Leave the baby bird alone!
Yes, I know that you want to try and help. But in most instances, the BEST thing you can do is NOT to do anything. 🙂
Let me be clear that this strategy ONLY applies to FLEDGLING birds.
Remember, fledglings are baby birds that have already left the nest on their own. They can hop around and may even be able to fly for short periods. They have a lot of feathers, but overall they still look very young.
In fact, seeing a fledgling out of the nest is EXACTLY what nature has intended.
A fledgling Mourning Dove. Leave them alone!
For example, every summer, we have Mourning Doves that nest all around our yard. The hatchlings grow fast and leave the nest after only about two weeks. But…
These fledgling Mourning Doves definitely don’t look like adults! In fact, they actually still rely on their parents to feed them for another week or two, except that it happens on the ground instead of in the nest. The immature birds hide in bushes and brush, waiting for Mom or Dad to come back with food.
If you were to catch one of these fledgling birds, then it would be going directly against what is natural for Mourning Doves! You would actually be putting them in severe danger. Unfortunately, many people end up harming fledglings, even though they were only trying to “help.”
I know that every instinct in your body wants to help.
But the BEST thing you can do for fledglings is to leave them alone!
And also, keep your dogs, cats, and kids out of the yard as much as possible for a few days.
Now, if you found a helpless hatchling or nestling, please keep reading. 🙂
#2. Put the baby bird back in its nest!
So far, we have learned that you should leave FLEDGLINGS alone.
Now, let’s talk about what to do if you find a HATCHLING or NESTLING.
Remember, these are baby birds that should not have left their nest yet. Typically, they are helpless and most likely can’t even move on their own. They are either naked or mostly covered in fluffy down (you may see a few flight feathers).
The BEST thing you can do to help a baby bird is to find the nest it fell from.
Gently pick it up and place it back inside. Make sure to look for other hatchlings or nestlings that look the same. You don’t want to put the baby bird in the wrong nest!
Since baby birds can’t travel very far, the nest should be close. Make sure you don’t ONLY look in tree branches since different species have different nest preferences. Shrubs and enclosed cavities (like bird houses) are very popular spots. And believe it or not, some birds even nest directly on the ground, such as in thick grass.
At this point, you may be thinking about some information that you received as a kid, and it goes something like this:
“Never touch a baby bird because the mother will be able to smell you, and then she will abandon the nest.”
Believe it or not, this advice is absolutely FALSE!
Most birds have no sense of smell in the first place. My guess is someone started this rumor to prevent kids from messing with bird nests.
So you have nothing to fear when you pick up a baby bird. But they are fragile creatures, so be gentle.
Remember, this strategy is ONLY for HATCHLINGS and NESTLINGS!
If the bird you found is a FLEDGLING, then you shouldn’t try to put it back in the nest, as it left on its own. Also, a fledgling can hop around and sort of fly, which means the bird may be quite a distance away from the original nest.
But what if the entire nest blew out of the tree?
It’s not entirely uncommon to find an entire nest of baby birds that were blown to the ground after a big storm. This presents a unique problem because obviously, you can’t just put a baby bird back into the nest if it’s not there anymore!
If you find yourself in this situation, then you can try one of two things:
- If possible, gently pick up the nest and try to put it back where it came from. You may be able to see pieces of the nest still stuck in a tree or bush. If not, then find a secure spot where the nest can have support and safety.
- You can try to create a new nest for the baby birds! For more information on how to do this, check out the video below:
As you can see above, try finding a hanging pot, filling it with different types of grasses, mulch, or even an old t-shirt, and then placing the baby birds inside. If it’s available, put the original nest on top.
This strategy can also be used if you CAN’T find the original nest.
You may find yourself in the terrible position of finding a nestling or hatchling on the ground, and you are unable to locate the original nest. It’s probably a long shot, but you can try making your own nest for the baby bird and hanging it in a nearby tree. If you’re lucky, the parents will find it and start to take care of it again.
#3. Call an animal rehabber to help the baby bird!
If you are convinced that the bird is not going to survive because it’s injured, its parents are dead, or you can’t find the original nest, then you should call a local wildlife rehabilitator. These people will be trained on what to do and can hopefully give you advice on the next steps.
So how do you find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator?
Use Google by typing “Wildlife rehabilitator near … “
I can’t stress enough that you should only call a rehabilitator if you feel strongly that it needs additional care. Please don’t try to raise a baby bird either, as they have complex dietary needs. In most cases, your good intentions will just lead to premature death.
Lastly, it’s illegal to raise any wild animal in captivity without a permit.
“Nature, red in tooth and claw“
It can be heart-wrenching to find a baby bird, especially if it’s a young nestling and you can’t locate the original nest.
Unfortunately, the odds of it surviving are not very good. These young birds need specialized care from their mothers.
I know this can be tough to hear, but it’s the truth. Baby birds have EXTREMELY high mortality rates.
In fact, birds have evolved to produce way more young than can ever hope to survive.
For example, in warmer climates, Mourning Doves have as many as SIX broods of babies every year. Since they have 2 eggs per brood, that means that each pair can produce 12 new Mourning Doves in that breeding season. If all of these young birds survived, then soon, the whole continent would be taken over by Mourning Doves.
I hope this last section isn’t too depressing and that you can save the baby bird that you found by getting it back into a nest or with a local wildlife rehabber.
What would you do if you found a baby bird?
Did I miss anything?
If so, please share below!