Spring is a delightful time, with warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and both year-round and migratory birds settling in for a new breeding season.
That means that they will be building nests, laying eggs, and taking care of their newly-hatched babies.
Sometimes you may find one of these baby birds on the ground, and not know if it’s supposed to be out of its nest. Here’s a handy guide to what to do if you find a baby bird.
1. Keep Your Pets Away From The Baby Bird
The first thing you absolutely need to do is get your cats and dogs out of the way.
Keep them in the house or on a leash at a distance while you investigate. You don’t want the baby bird to get stressed.
2. Assess The Situation: What’s The Baby Bird’s Condition?
Next, quietly approach the baby bird so that you can see what sort of shape it’s in.
Does the bird appear to be sick or injured?
Is it bleeding, unable to move its wings, or shivering? This is a more serious situation, and there are definite do’s and don’ts that we’ll look at further down.
Let’s assume that the baby bird that you’ve found on the ground appears to be healthy. Start by determining how old it is; we’ll go into more detail about that in the following sections.
3. Hatchling Or Nestling: Put It Back
Hatchlings are baby birds that are just a day or two past breaking out of their shells. They will be featherless, and their eyes will probably still be closed.
Nestlings are the next stage of a baby bird’s life. They may have a few feathers, and their eyes will be open, but they won’t be able to fly.
At both of these stages, the birds are completely helpless and easy prey for predators- which is how they may have ended up on the ground to begin with.
They may be the only survivor of an attack on their nest, or they simply could have fallen out.
Look around for the nest; they won’t have been able to get very far from it. If the nest is intact, gently pick up the baby bird and put it back.
You don’t have to worry about your scent on the baby leading the parents to reject the nestling, as they don’t have a strong sense of smell.
Just make sure that you’re putting the baby back in the right nest! If there are other nestlings there that look the same, that’s a good sign.
If you can’t find the right nest or it’s been damaged by a predator, you can rig up a temporary nest to give the baby somewhere safe to wait for its parents to return.
Even a plastic berry basket will serve as a temporary home. Just make sure that it has holes so that if it rains, water will not pool and drown the baby.
Line the “nest” with paper towels or something soft and tuck it securely into a tree or tall shrub near where you found the bird.
4. Fledgling: Leave It Alone
If the baby bird you found is older, with some real feathers, and is hopping about freely, it’s a fledgling.
Fledglings are moving towards independence, but they’re not ready to fly on their own quite yet.
However, they do spend some time moving around on their own as they learn how to take care of themselves. They may have outgrown their nest, but their parents are still keeping a watchful eye on them.
The rule for dealing with fledglings is simple: leave them alone! They don’t need your help, and in fact, the “kidnapping” of fledglings is illegal.
Just make sure that there are no predators keeping an eye on them too.
5. Keep An Eye Out For Parents
Whether you’ve set a hatchling or nestling back in its nest, or have determined that a fledgling is not in distress and doesn’t need your help, don’t just walk away.
These baby birds still need their parents to survive, so if you’ve got the time, settle in to watch for the return of mom and dad.
Give them an hour or two, and if the parents do reappear, you’re off the hook. However, if no one turns up, you’ve got an orphan bird on your hands.
It’s time to move on to the next stage of the rescue operation.
6. Don’t Feed Baby Birds
Your immediate instinct may be to feed this tiny bird. Don’t.
Baby birds need a very specific diet, which is usually insects regurgitated by their parents, and whatever you can provide them with can harm them, even if they could eat it.
Don’t give them water, either.
Instead, put on gloves, and place the baby bird in a cardboard box lined with something soft. Punch holes in the lid for air, and place it in a warm, dark place.
Setting it on a heating pad or putting a hot water bottle in the box will provide the warmth it needs.
This will slow down its metabolism and decrease its need for food and water until the experts can take over.
7. Call For Help
As soon as you’ve determined that mom and dad aren’t coming back, or that the baby bird is sick or injured, call for help.
If you don’t already know who to call, just type “wildlife rescue near me” into Google or your favorite search engine to find an organization that can take this orphan off your hands.
Don’t just drive over with the baby bird; call first. They may come to you or have instructions for you until you can get the bird there.
8. Don’t Try To Raise The Baby Bird Yourself: It’s Against The Law!
What you absolutely cannot do is take care of that bird yourself. Even if you think you know what to do, it’s against the law.
Specifically, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916, in which both Canada and Mexico, as well as the United States, are signatories.
Unless you have a permit, it is illegal to keep wildlife.