Wild Baby Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

During the spring and summer, it is not unusual to encounter a wild baby bird on the ground. Often, people respond by taking the little "orphan" home before they figure out what to do with it. This handout provides important information should you encounter a wild baby bird.

What should I do if I find a baby bird?

If the baby appears to be in good condition and too young to leave the nest (a nestling), try to locate the nest first, and then, if possible, return it to its nest. If you cannot find the nest, carefully place the bird in a small container, flowerpot, or shoebox and securely place it up in a tree in the general area where the baby was found. A nestling is a bird not yet fully covered by feathers and has some skin showing. It cannot yet stand on its own. The parents will not reject the bird because it has a "human” scent on it.

"The parents will not reject the bird because it has a 'human' scent on it."

Birds naturally look after their families and a baby on the ground (a fledgling) is not always a sign of distress. Fledgling birds are fully covered with feathers even though the wing and tail feathers are still short and partially encased in sheaths. Fledglings often hop around the ground until they learn to fly (up to two weeks), while their parents continue to care for them. Parent birds leave their offspring for brief periods to search for food. If you interfere during this time, the adults may return to find their chick has been taken unnecessarily while they were simply performing normal wild bird functions.

Human intervention should only be used in emergency situations. Parental care is by far the best for a baby bird. Careful and patient observation of the young bird will prevent unnecessary separation of families, otherwise known as "bird-napping".

What are the signs that a baby bird has been abandoned or needs medical attention?

The following list of signs will help you determine if you should intervene:

• blood from nose/beak, swelling, or bruising around head indicating head trauma
• blood, obvious wounds or growths anywhere on the body
• limping, dragging, or dangling wings or legs
• wings or legs protruding at abnormal angles from the body
• no sign of parents for 24 hours
• head tilt, persistent circling motions, twitching, spasms, or apparent blindness
• bird is not moving at all, lethargic, listless, non-responsive to sound or movement
• gasping, sneezing, wheezing, or other breathing difficulties
• mucous, blood, or pustular discharges from eyes, nose, ears, mouth, or anus (vent)
• bloating
• no droppings for several hours
• excessive feather loss (not to be mistaken for the partial feather growth of a fledgling)

If you do take a vulnerable baby bird into your care, it is crucial to keep it warm and in a dark, quiet, draft-free location until qualified help is available. Do not attempt to force food or water into the mouth, as the young bird could choke, and the complications could prove fatal. The wrong type of food could do more harm than good. Wash your hands well to help prevent the spread of parasites and diseases to your family and pets.

Who is qualified to provide care for the wild baby bird?

"There are trained professionals qualified to heal and rehabilitate the bird to enable its successful return to the wild."

It is best NOT to attempt this "Good Samaritan" venture on your own. There are trained professionals qualified to heal and rehabilitate the bird to enable its successful return to the wild. Large amounts of time, attention, expertise, and space are needed for young birds to learn how to fly, find food, and learn wild bird instincts. The goal should be to return the bird to a quality life in the wild where it belongs.

Contact your local avian veterinarian, humane society, or your state/provincial department/ministry responsible for wildlife, which typically falls under Conservation or Natural Resources if not indicated in the department’s title.

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