Spring and summer are nesting seasons for most birds, and those who care about birds often find young birds in their nests, as if they were themselves. When you find a bird, knowing what to do can help you give it proper care and the best chance of survival.
Is the bird a baby?
If you find a young bird alone on the ground or away from its nest, you must first determine if it is a baby in need of help. Many songbird chicks leave their nests 2-5 days before flying, and the mother birds are still taking care of them, feeding them, and paying attention to their safety. The young bird’s feathers are almost completely formed, although their wings and tails may be short, and they can fly or fly short distances. With these characteristics, young birds usually do not require minor intervention from concerned birds.
On the other hand, hatching is much younger and needs help. The cubs may be bald, or have only one feather, they are much smaller and do not have the same energy as young birds. They can’t fly, they can’t even open their eyes.
When you first notice a bird, look at it carefully. Observe their energy levels and behavior to determine if they need help. Energetic, active birds should be good for themselves, while weaker, less active birds may need help. Birds of any age, with obvious signs of injury, such as wounds or bent wings, will need help.
Illustration: © Spruce, 2018
When you find a bird
If you find a bird that just needs help, there are a few steps that will ensure it gets the best care.
- Watch ingress birdsBefore touching or emphasizing it in any way, observe whether it can take care of itself, or whether the mother bird is inclined to it. Many times, when humans find a young bird, they can’t see nearby parents who are ready and willing to feed and protect their offspring. However, it may take half an hour or more for the mother bird to return to the baby, so patience is essential.
- Intervene as little as possibleFor young birds, simply moving the bird to a nearby sheltered sunlight is the best way to help. Younger birds may need more help, but it is best to interfere with them in minimal ways.
- Send the birds back to their nests.The best place for baby birds is their nest. If the hatching is too young to go out of the nest, gently pick it up and put it back in the nest. If you can’t find the nest, or if it can’t be accessed or destroyed, arrange a small basket with a paper towel or grass scissors and place it in a tree as close to the nest as possible. Make sure the basket is safe (pin it to a tree if necessary) so the young birds don’t fall out. Mother birds will hear their baby and it is easy to find it because most birds have a bad sense of smell and they won’t give it up because it has been touched. Vigilant adults may take an hour or more to approach their child again, but they will eventually return to care for the young man.
- Keeping the birds safeIf a bird is in imminent danger from damaged nests, carnivores, or other unsafe conditions, or if it is visibly injured or sick, it needs immediate help. Gently place the bird in a small box with paper towels, paper towels or similar materials, and cover the top of the box loosely with a newspaper or towel. If necessary, keep the bird in a quiet, safe place until outdoor conditions improve or wildlife rehabilitation can take the bird for appropriate care.
Sometimes birds know for sure that a young bird is an orphan. Female birds may be killed by predators or window knocks, or nests with live babies may apparently be abandoned for much longer than normal. In these cases, it is necessary to collect the young birds and hand them over to licensed wildlife healers for appropriate care. Note: In most areas, even planning to release wild birds is illegal – always seeking the help of knowledgeable healers rather than trying to keep their own young birds. Even well-intentioned birds that want to raise young birds do more harm than good, because young birds need a special diet and their own company to learn the necessary skills to survive in the wild.
Tracy Keller / Flickr / CC via SA 2.0
Tips for what to do when you find young birds
When you spot young birds, give them the best chance of survival:
- Emphasize the birds as little as possibleAvoid over-handling, loud noises, or unfamiliar situations and keep them close to where they are found to prevent the mother bird from returning. Keep your child and pets away from young birds.
- Always wear gloves when dealing with young birdsEven young birds can carry bugs, lice, lice, bacteria and other unpleasant parasites that can be transferred to humans. After handling the birds, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Do not give food or water to young birdsAlthough this may seem counterintuitive in helping young birds, the young birds have precise dietary needs and cannot be satisfied with kitchen waste, bird seeds or other food. Young birds need live insects to develop properly, and their parents feed them 3-4 times an hour to meet this need. Improper provision of food can cause infants to suffocate or be malnourished. Instead, wait for the mother bird or wildlife healer to feed the young bird properly.
In most birds, finding a young bird inspires sympathy and help, but usually the best help is to intervene only alone, or if absolutely necessary. Infant mortality rates are high, and the strongest and healthiest chicks can survive even without human help, no matter how cute and helpless they may look.