What to do if you find a baby bird? There’s a huge difference between nestlings and fledglings. Some necessitate human intervention, others don’t. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) notes that if someone finds a baby bird, they should generally leave it alone. Odds are, it’s a fledgling. These are juvenile birds that are on the cusp of learning how to fly. If a fledgling’s on the ground, its mother likely pushed it out of the nest to encourage it to fly. In the meantime, it’ll stop by to feed it and check on its progress.
Matters change if someone finds a blind baby bird that can’t see and doesn’t have feathers. In that instance, one should attempt to place the bird back in its nest. IF they can’t, they should contact a local wildlife rescue.
Hatchlings and Nestlings and Fledglings, Oh My!
Birds don’t go from being babies to being adults. They go through a few stages before reaching adulthood. These phrases include:
- Hatchlings. These are baby birds who have just hatched from an egg. They can’t see, and they don’t have feathers. A hatchling might not move much, and it might not even chirp.
- Nestlings. These are baby birds that are too young to leave the nest but can see and have some feathers. They respond to stimuli and generally chirp non-stop.
- Fledglings. Fledglings are like teenage birds. They’re not yet adults, but they’re about to leave the nest. These are the birds that many people find on the ground. They don’t need help; they’re just getting ready to take flight.
If You Find a Baby Bird, Leave It
Experts have an important message for those who find baby birds: they usually don’t need saving. In fact, according to Melanie Furr, the education director at Atlanta Audubon: “Eighty percent of baby birds that come in have basically just been kidnapped…They need to be taken back.”
Mother birds are great parents. They know when their babies have fallen out of the nest, and they continue to provide nourishment throughout their growth. The biggest threat babies face on the ground are predators, cars, and––more than anything––humans.
Unless it’s hatchling, as they are very vulnerable. They’re defenseless, and they completely rely on their parents. This is why some organizations note that if someone finds a hatchling, they should put it back in its nest.
Birds’ nests are generally hidden well, making them hard to find. They’re usually in trees or on the sides of buildings. If someone can’t find a bird’s nest, still, they should let the mother tend to it.
Misconceptions About Baby Birds
Mothers Will Abandon Babies if Handled by Humans
A popular misconception is that if someone touches a baby bird, its mother will abandon it because of its unfamiliar smell. This means handlers can safely put birds back in their nests without having to wear gloves.
Mothers Take Care of Their Babies Unconditionally
As noted, a mother bird won’t abandon a baby because a human touched it. Yet, it might push a baby bird out of the nest if it’s sick, weak, or deformed. In this instance, there’s very little someone can do to save it. While they could take the baby to a wildlife rescue or rehab, mothers are keen on which babies will survive and which ones won’t. Nature will take its course no matter what.
Baby Birds Don’t Carry Diseases
Every animal, undomesticated or otherwise, has the potential to carry diseases. Baby birds, in particular, can carry salmonella, a bacterial disease that can cause vomiting, fevers, chills, and diarrhea. They can also carry lice, ticks, and fleas. When handling a bird (or any animal, for that matter), one should wash their hands afterward. They should also take special care not to touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
What if There Isn’t a Rescue or Rehab Close By?
Many animal rescues and rehabs are not open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This may require a person to temporarily take care of a baby bird that needs specialized attention. In the interim, they should:
- House the bird in a shoe box. They can line the shoebox with newspaper or an old rag.
- Refrain from feeding the bird. Unless the animal is in distress, one should avoid feeding it, as the bird could choke. However, if they need feeding, one could feed the chick softened cat food through a syringe. Raw liver and hardboiled eggs also work.
- Keep the box in a warm, soundless place. A baby bird’s chance of survival decreases when it’s stressed out. One may consider keeping the bird in a dimly lit closet until it goes to the rehab center.
Long story short, as pitiful as they may seem, baby birds generally don’t require human intervention. Yet, if it’s a hatchling, one may consider putting it in its nest.