Helping Wild Baby Birds
Relevant Web Resources
- Hand-raising Wild Baby Birds
- Care for Orphaned / Abandoned Domestic Baby Birds
- The Dos and Don'ts of Caring for Baby Birds
- The Do's and Don't's of Caring for Wild Bird Chicks
- Handfeeding Bird Chicks - applies to seed or insect eating bird species only. Not applicable for hummingbird chicks that have different dietary requirements. Contact an experienced wildlife rehabilitator with knowledge of hummingbirds.
Important things to consider:
- Is it a hatchling, nestling of fledgling? Click here to find out
- Is it injured, sick or weak? Click here to find out
- Is it a hummingbird chick? Hand-raising a hummingbird chick is difficult and is best left to an experienced wildlife rehabilitator who has experience with hummingbirds.
How old is the chick
- ... are less than 5 days old
- ... have no or minimal feathering or sparse down
Hatchlings require feedings every 10 to 15 minutes and need specialized care and as they lose body temperature quickly, they need to be kept warm. Don't feed the chick a diet of human baby foods, hamburger meat, tuna, bird seed, milk, hard boiled eggs, bread or water as this will kill them. They require care that can only be provided by a wildlife rehabilitator with the experience and tools (including sophisticated temperature-controlled brooders) needed to care for hatchlings. If nobody is available, please click here for instructions.
- ... are either almost or fully feathered. Some unfeathered patches may be seen or fuzzy down can stick out from their feathers.
- ... their tail feathers may just be little stumps.
- ... are able to move around but tend to sit still.
The best course of action is to place the nestlings back into their nests, which is typically located in a tree or a bush (but they may also nest in unusual places, such as under a bridge or roof, in hanging planters, even in traffic light structures). Anything really, that offers a cozy nesting place with some protection from the elements.
The challenge, of course, is to locate the nest. Nestlings usually remain within 6 - 9 meters (20 - 30 feet) of its nest. If you can't find it, watch out for the parents. They should return to their nest every 20 to 40 minutes with food in their beaks to feed the chicks with (the younger the chicks, the more often they need to be fed). There is a good chance that the siblings are still in the nest. This may help you locate the nest.
If the nest is damaged or too packed with chicks, you may have to construct a substitute nest that can accommodate all chicks. We found that a plastic hanging basket (20 - 25 cm or 8 to 10 inches in diameter and 15 cm or 6 inches deep) with drainage holes (otherwise water would collect during rain fall and drown the chicks) work great for this purpose. Line the makeshift nest with dry plant material (grass, straw, dried leaves, etc.) and make a little indentation in the center of the nest to create a small bowl and then place all the chicks into that basket.
Place the nest at or very close to its original location (if known). Ideally, it should be situated away from the trunk (otherwise predators, such as cats, can easily get to them), about 2 meters or 6 feet off the ground, with some branches and leaves above them to protect them from overhead predators (birds of prey) as well as sunlight and rain.
The calling chicks will soon attract the parents to the new nest. However, they will not do so if they know you are nearby. Observe the nest from a discreet location to make sure that the parents return to feed the chicks. If they don't return within 2 hours, contact your local wildlife rehabilitators.
- ... are fully feathered and can (and will) move around freely.
- Their tails are usually 2 cm or 3/4 inch long or longer.
- They are either only partially flighted or are not able to fly yet.
- They are usually difficult to catch. If they are easy to catch, there may be something wrong with them and it is recommended that you place the fledgling into a softly lined box with ventilation. Place the box into a quiet and warm location away from people and pets. Contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center. If it is agile and strong, it is best to let it be. The chick is likely to call for its parents and they should return soon to feed it. However, the chick's calls can also attract predators. So it is important to stay nearby and keep an eye on it.
Helping Baby Birds
They're probably not orphans
Summer is the season when the baby bird shows up on the lawn. Irresistibly vulnerable. So cute you really want to take it home and feed it and take care of it.
But it's a good time to reflect on what is really going on in the baby bird's life.
Why baby birds leave the nest
Most birds are ready to leave the nest before they can fly or get their own food. It's because the nest gets to be such a dangerous place as the young birds grow. The nestlings chirp their heads off, begging their parents to bring them food. They can't stay hidden any longer. The whole nest is just one big tempting mouthful for a squirrel, hawk, or climbing cat.
At this point it's perfectly normal for the baby birds to flop out of the nest and land on the ground. From then on they are no longer nestlings. They have fledged, and they are now fledglings.
If there are some shrubs nearby, the parents will coax the youngsters into thick vegetation and then continue to take care of them while the fledglings hide and continue developing. After a few weeks, they will be able to find their own food, and soon they'll be on their own.
But in their first minutes or hours out of the nest, sometimes we see a fledgling out on the lawn, looking lost and abandoned. Naturally, we want to help.
Not up for adoption!
The bird's parents are very much taking care of it, and they know better what to do for their baby than we do. So resist the temptation. Don't adopt. It's not an orphan.
You can help though. The main danger is getting eaten, especially in a residential neighborhood where there are many outdoor cats. The fledgling can often benefit from some assistance getting into a hidden location soon.
Your helping hand
Pick up the bird in your hands. Or better yet a towel. Hold the fledgling firmly enough that it can't injure itself by struggling. Put it into the nearest thick bush or tree, where it can scramble into the safety of foliage.
The parents will hear its chirps and will bring it food. It's innate behavior. They're programmed to continue caring for that baby. Just put it where it can hide, while as close as possible to where you found it.
Don't be too concerned about which bush or tree the nest was in. Even if you must go next door or across the street to find suitable foliage, the parents will easily find the baby from its cries.
If your child has brought the bird home, you can still put it back in the area where it was found. The sooner the better, but even after hours have elapsed, or the next day, the baby will have a better chance if you return it to its parents.
They will not abandon it just because it's been touched by a human. Songbirds have less sense of smell than we humans do, and they won't smell you on their fledgling. Besides, they want their baby back. They'll welcome it and will get right back to work feeding it.
You can watch from a distance or through a window from inside a house. Within an hour, you should see a parent bird enter the bush where you put their baby.
It's good to give a helping hand, and then let nature be.
- The chick is lethargic and keeps its eyes closed most of the time.
- Blood in any amount is a sign of an injury.
- Abnormal breathing (breathing heavily)
- SItting or laying in an awkward position
- A chick should feel very warm to the touch. If it feels cold, it needs to immediately placed in a warm environment.
- The belly and the eyes look "sunken-in"
- The belly is winkled and whitish. The skin should be tight and pink.
- Check for possible fractures by gently extending its wings and legs. The chick should be able to pull them back into proper position.
- If the chick is sick, injured or weak, it is best to have an expert wildlife rehabilitator take care of it -- but until this happens, or if no one is available, please click here and here for instructions.
But what, if you know that the chick is in distress, the parents are dead or have left for some reason. Please visit this website for information on how one of the AvianWeb visitors dealt with this situation.
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