When You Find a Baby Bird

David Wheeler and Little Friend

It’s that time of year – baby bird season. Lots of people are finding baby birds in their yards, and want to help, bless them. Little birds can be so ugly they are cute. Unfortunately, a well-meaning human can be the death of a baby bird. 

Baby Tufted Titmouse

Here’s the problem. Birds, especially small song birds, grow up at an amazing pace. Sometimes it gets crowded with a nest of four babies, and one may fall or be pushed out of the nest. They are often ready to fledge (or fly and leave the nest) long before they look grown up. And long before they are ready to survive on their own.

People find these apparently helpless birds hopping on the ground and assume they have been abandoned by their parents. Usually this is not the case at all. Birds are wonderful dedicated parents, and if you step back and watch for a while, the parent is sitting nearby keeping a sharp eye out for the well-being of this baby.

Years ago, Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve had a rehabilitation center, and people still call us about injured or orphaned birds even though we are no longer involved in such activities. The best thing to do if you find a baby bird is nothing. I know that sounds cold hearted, but believe me, the parents are probably sitting their wishing you would just go away and leave their baby alone!

If you can find and reach the nest safely, try to put the baby back in it.  Adults need to do this, not your human children please. And please, please, PLEASE do NOT try to raise the baby yourself. First, it is very difficult to determine what kind of bird this may be since most birds without feathers look the same, and you do not know what to feed it. Second, baby birds need to be fed about every 40 minutes.  Professional rehabilitators of songbirds have been known to take them along everywhere they go (including restaurants and grocery stores) because they cannot leave the babies alone. Read Julie Zickefoose’s blog about one of her current rescues.

Click Chart to Enlarge

Remember, all birds (except House Sparrows and European Starlings) are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, making it illegal to possess, harrass or interfere in any way with any bird.  If you are concerned about the bird’s safety in your yard because of dogs or cats, put the bird under a bush, and take your pets back in the house. Cats shouldn’t be allowed to roam in any event, since the Pasteurella bacteria commonly found in the feline mouth, are extremely hazardous to birds. Even a simple puncture by a tooth can result in a fatal infection. Scratches from claws are also extremely dangerous, as the risk of infection is very real. Click here for a larger pdf version of this decision chart and some more sound advice on caring for baby birds.

If you are really concerned about the bird you’ve found, contact a licensed rehabilitator. Remember that rehabbers usually specialize (mammals, raptors only, etc.) and may not be able to care for the song bird you found. To Find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, contact:

•Your state wildlife agency
City Animal control officer
•Veterinarian (wildlife/exotic)
•US Fish & Wildlife Service

PS – The mother will not abandon the baby if touched by human hands.  Birds have a very poor sense of smell.

Naturally yours,