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Bird Myths: A mother will reject its baby if a human touches it


Unlike some of the other myths I’ve covered, this myth has been prevalent for decades and probably arose from parents not wanting their children to touch any baby birds they find on the ground.

Despite the widespread belief that touching a bird will leave a human scent on it and therefore make other birds reject it, the story is absolutely false.

Birds have a terrible sense of smell, so the idea that they can smell the scent of humans on a baby bird is pretty crazy. Someone once said the idea was akin to a human mother smelling a bird that landed on the top of her child’s head and then no longer wanting them in her house.

Scientists and researchers have been handling baby and adult birds for years without birds abandoning the baby or ostracizing an adult from the flock. All this is not to say you should go around touching birds in nests.

Occasionally, a bird will abandon its baby if it sees a human coming around and grabbing the baby too often. The mother doesn’t smell a human on the baby, but might perceive there to be extreme danger and risk to herself and the baby from constant activity. Generally, this type of behavior is not very common since the mother will fight until the end to protect her baby.

Another reason this myth might be common is that when someone picks up a fallen bird and places it back in the nest, the mother might only come back for a little while and then fly away for several hours. There are two reasons for this: either the fallen bird was a nestling and the mother was going to find it more food or the bird was a fledgling learning to fly and the mother was giving it distant support to ensure it learned how to fly on its own. Neither of these have to do with the smell of a human.

If you find a fallen nestling on the ground and see the nest within sight, there won’t be any risk of picking it up and placing it back. However, you should always avoiding picking up wild birds unless absolutely necessary.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. But wat of when the egg is touched wil it hatched it

  2. Even if eggs are touched by bare hands, they will still hatch. However, you should avoid touching eggs all together because messing with them (i.e. shaking them, making them different temperatures, getting them dirty) will make them less likely to hatch. Also, if a mother sees you coming around her eggs and touching them too often, she might feel threatened and abandon the eggs.

  3. I have a duck egg and I turned it over, and my mom said that it killed the duck,and I got sad, but all the things I’ve heard say That the turning doesn’t matter is that true?

  4. There’s no reason to believe you touching or turning the egg had any effect on it. Mothers naturally turn their eggs during incubation and touching it will not leave a scent. So, you probably didn’t kill it.

  5. I also jogged with the egg and flipped it upside down when i picked up the egg. Will it still hatch? I have it in a cardboard box , and the egg is in newspaper under a light.

  6. I love your replies Timothy Martenez Jr. : )

  7. Generally speaking, when the egg is shaken, which it possibly was while you were jogging, then it probably won’t hatch. Careful and light movements are fine, but anything more will be too traumatic. It doesn’t hurt to keep trying if you don’t think it was shaken too badly, though.

  8. but can it still hach after a humun tuches it

  9. We had a family of house finches build a nest onto a very narrow ledge under our patio several weeks ago. I always worry when they build there since the ledge is so narrow (they’ve built there before). We’ve been keeping watch on the goings on of the little family and discovered that the mother had laid five eggs in there (we would only check quickly when she had left the nest to avoid upsetting her). Last week I went to check on the nest and saw that all five eggs had hatched! However, yesterday, I was shocked to see the nest on the ground, along with one of her babies, dead. I couldn’t believe that the other four babies were still lying on the ledge! The only thing I could think to do was put gloves on and carefully try and put the nest back together (though, I’m not a bird so I’m sure I did it wrong!) and gently put the four remaining chicks inside. I carefully replaced the nest onto the ledge. The mother and father have both been back frequently to feed the chicks and keep them warm. However, yesterday I noticed that two of the four chicks were (yet again!) out of the nest on the ledge. Is this mother just rejecting some of her babies and pushing them out of the nest? They’re so young that I can’t imagine they’re getting out on their own. We’ve never had this happen before with house finches. My kids are worried that more of her babies are going to die. Maybe the mother knows something we don’t? Any insight?

  10. No, it won’t reject the baby bird.

  11. I picked up a baby bird and put it back in its nest .will the mother reject it?

  12. I found a baby blue jay yesterday. Unfortunaly my dog found it first, and broke one of its legs at the (knee?). I have been feeding it mushed up cat food and keeping it in a small plastic dish full of t shirt scrapes at night. I have also been leaving it outside during the day because mama is still looking after it. I’m not sure what to do with the little guy. Any impute?

  13. i have to birds in their cage but when it layed its egg it fell on the bottom rail cage and they look like they are going insane. picking each others beaks. we have wood nest for it but the egg looks fine does not look broken is it possible for me to get it and put it on its nest?

  14. dont feel bad i have a problem i touched a baby duck because it was all alone and i did after 10 minutes i fond the mother and returned it to her.
    but will the mother take care of the duckling. yes or no

  15. A baby Morning Dove fell out of its nest in our yard last week. I put gloves on, got the ladder out, and as I reached up to return it to the nest, mama never left it. Instead she lifted up her wing for me to slip the baby under it, then tucked her wing around it as I got down and took the ladder away. She never took her eyes off of me, but clearly she welcomed her baby back. I then happened to be in the yard when mama and papa were teaching their two babies to fly. Close quarters in the yard,and they knew I was there. This is the second year this pair have nested in this spot. Same nest, just remodeled a bit this year. We are benevolent neighbors.

  16. That’s a fantastic story. It just goes to show that birds to appreciate the help of people!

  17. […] you can still assure everyone that a mother bird will not reject a chick if it smells human on […]

  18. I spotted a birds nest in ny orange tree in my back yard. I went to show my kids the nest and the momma bird flew away now everytime I open the door or go outside (mostly everyday) I see the momma bird fly to a higher tree and look at what im doing. Im scared shes going to feel threatend and leave her eggs… What should I do?

  19. Please help me i don’t want to find out the bad results

  20. Honestly I think the momma bird just isn’t used to you yet I think you should just leave her alone and make sure your kids aren’t secretly messing with her eggs and jut dont look directly at her that does potentially threaten a bird i say just dont even egnolage her and you should be fine after a while u will just become part of her daily routine and she won’t be threatens

  21. Yes, a mother will usually still sit on her babies if they are dead. But it’s possible they’re still alive and she’s rehabilitating them, so you shouldn’t give up hope.


  23. I need help! So this bird made a nest and layed 3 eggs in my parents barbecue grill, and someone threw the eggs far away from the birds nest. I picked the eggs up and put them back in the nest… but I think the parents might have abandoned the nest!D: Also one of the eggs had a huge hole in it but the other two are fine. (Both my mom and I thought we felt them moving a little!). I’m sorry I’m not the good with typing stories. So will the parents come back? It’s been about a day and I don’t think I’ve seen them.

  24. Hi,
    We have House Finch nest rather close to our house that we can see the mother bird sitting on nest from inside our house. She has been sitting on nest for over 3 weeks with no eggs hatched. This is too long. Can the eggs still be alive? And how long will she sit there if the eggs are dead?

  25. Yes, there’s still a remote possibility that the eggs will still hatch (there have been some interesting cases), but it’s very likely they won’t hatch. It’s hard to say how much longer the mother will continue incubating the eggs, but she will eventually make a judgment and move on when she realizes they will not hatch.

  26. We had to cut a couple trees down. One the tree was down my husband found a nest w baby birds in it. He picked the babies up and put them back in their nest and placed the nest in another tree. How do I know if the mother had rejected the babies? Is it a safe guess if she’s not sitting on them at night she left them?

  27. I have a nest in a hanging plant under my porch. The five eggs hatched this week and I have only seen the mother once since then. The babies are alive and breathing, is it normal for the mother to be gone often? I’m not outside often, but she was always there before they hatched. I’m a bit worried something happened to her. I believe they are sparrows.

  28. Today I found a baby bird on the sidewalk. He was an older one who couldn’t quite fly yet. I looked around the area for a nest, but couldn’t find one. I did however find another baby bird under a tree a few feet away near some shrubs. There were some adult robins on the tree above with worms in their mouths, glaring at me. I didn’t want to leave the little guy on the sidewalk, so I picked him up and put him next to his assumed sibling. Did I do the right thing, or should I have let him be?

  29. It’s always good to leave a bird alone, unless it’s in some sort of immediate danger. I don’t know what the situation was like, but the sidewalk could be a dangerous place, especially if people are walking a dog. It might not have been necessary to move the bird, but it almost certainly didn’t harm it. To answer your question, either one is fine.

  30. Hi, yesterday found a nestling crow fell thirty feet down from a very big tree we have. Had her in my hands and she perched on my arm for hours calling her mother. Whilst her mother called called back for her. So a neighbor climbed the tree and placed thebaby back up there. But unfortunately I found her dead this evening. Seemed not like a cat had gotten her maybe fright led her to fall out of the tree again. But this is the third dead baby bird, the other two were much smaller. But this nestling was big but couldn’t fly. Learning to, I wish I hadve kept her she wouldn’tve been dead and crows are quite intelligent. I am very sad. 🙁 but will bury the third baby in my backyard with head stone. But do you think that these birds scare easily might’ve died from the trauma of being placed up in he nest or falling again? Ive read they fright (smaller ones like finches etc) die from fright. Never survive being placed in captivity. Birds are fragile from my experience. So I’m quite sad bout the whole thing. Have any advice if another falls down?

  31. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why these birds keep dying. You say it was a nestling, but it sounds like it could have been a fledgling (big but can’t completely fly yet). If it’s a fledgling, you should try to leave it alone on the ground. The mother will still feed and take care of it. It could also just be that birds accidentally fell out of the nest. So if it’s a nestling, you should put it back, but know that it may not survive if it was a really huge fall and it was on the ground for a while. If it’s a fledgling, you should leave it be (unless it’s in some sort of immediate danger).

  32. Three blue bird eggs just hatched, I think yesterday or today, but there has been no adult birds around for more than a week, that I have seen. I think they were hatched by the heat from the sun. They look very weak in the nest. Should I just leave them alone?

  33. I found a fledgling today and kept it I am going to return it to the nest tomorrow , will the mother still take care of it?

  34. If it’s a fledgling (has feathers and looks about ready to fly), that means it’s probably ready to leave the nest anyway. If you found it on the ground in front of the nest, you should put it back where it was. The parents will usually still take care of it on the ground as it’s learning to fly.

  35. I have two doves that had a baby about a week ago and today we changed the nest and we must have touched it because the mother started to pluck and pull at the baby’s feathers and swallow them. Is it possible that the mother is now rejecting her baby? If so, how do we feed the baby by hand, how do we give it water, etc. the male doesn’t seem to mind the baby but the mother doesn’t want to go near it. Help

  36. my cat got ahold a nestling and the mommy bird come and looks at it then flies away what does it mean

  37. I was outside today with my dog, and I found him trying to eat a baby bird. I picked my dog up and threw him somewhere else, while I picked up the baby bird to keep it from being attacked by my dog again. I let the baby go near its mom and now I hope the best for the little fledgeling, if I wouldn’t of found my dog, the poor thing would of died.

  38. PLEASE HELP! This morning my dad was taking the cover off of our camper and a nest fell out with 3 baby birds, which they barely have any fur and the drop was not high at all. My dad didn’t want to harm them so he got two sticks and picked the nest up and set it in a little eave on the roof which was only about 15 yards away from the original location. I haven’t seen the mother around. But a little later I went to go check on them they were begging for food..(you know opening their mouths and looking up) it was really sad and I wanted to feed them but I don’t want to hurt them or feed them something wrong either that might result in killing them. Then the next time I looked at them they were sound asleep all bundled up. Are they okay? PLEASE PLEASE help me I really don’t know what to do and I want to help them and make sure they don’t die and also make sure that the mom finds them. PLEASE RESPOND. I also don’t know what type of bird they are.. HELP

  39. The mother is probably just assessing the scene and seeing whether the nestling is still alive. There’s not too much the mother can do if it’s out of the nest and injured.

  40. I’m glad you were able to save the bird in the nick of time.

  41. It sounds like your dad did the right thing. If you the nest can’t be put back in its original location, put it in a logical place nearby. Birds will typically be able to find the nest again if it’s not far. Sometimes the mother comes and goes without anyone noticing. It’s possible the mother has returned. Hopefully she was able to find the nest again, but there’s not much you can do about.

  42. We have a doves nest right outside our window in a low lying pine tree. It has 2 baby birds…maybe a week old. I have not seen the nest without a bird on top. But I did see the mama bird get spooked this morning (my fault) and fly off. This was an hour ago and she has not returned. Will she come back?? When she flew off, she went to my neighbors drive way and it looked as though she was having a hard time flying. Would that be from sitting so much?? I’m just concerned for the babies. If she doesn’t come back, how long should we wait to get them care?

  43. Baby birds can’t live for very long without their mother. If she is spooked, she might be watching from a distance, so steer clear of that area for as long as possible. You also have to be 100% sure she hasn’t come back. Sometimes birds will come back to feed the nestlings and leave again. If she hasn’t returned in several hours, you should contact your local wildlife rehabilitators for recommendations.

  44. A pigeon had kept an egg on the grills of our balcony so we picked it up with cotton and kept in a basket so will the bird look after egg

  45. How do eggs not ha ha when the mother sits on them?
    I really don’t now

  46. I had been watching a nest of Robin eggs, peeking in and enjoying watching mom and dad. One day I checked and the nest was destroyed and all but one egg was broken. I watched all day to see if mother came back but she never did. I brought the egg inside and made an incubator from a light source and cardboard box. Lo and behold, a few days later the egg hatched. I had a baby. I read up on how to feed it, bought baby bird formula from a pet store, followed all the instructions and kept him alive for 10 days until contacting wildlife rehabilitation, who finished the job. It was a wonderful experience to save this baby.

  47. A dove has laid her 2 eggs in the nest but the nest fell to the ground (they didn’t build their nest in the best of places this time) we picked up the nest and put it back right where it was. The whole time, the eggs stayed on the ledge, never falling to the ground. We placed the eggs very carefully back in the nest and the mother came back but is only on one of the eggs. Should we try and place the other egg in the nest for the female to sit on? Worried for the egg that is left outside of the nest =/

  48. There is a paired morning doves that made a nest in a ornamental tree. She layed 2 eggs and a couple of days ago one hatched. The second one is just now piping. But the first baby fell out of the nest just underneath where the nest is at. So we are thinking the mother is keeping the nestling warm but abandoned the second. Should we leave it alone?

  49. is this true if it is I JUST RUINED HIS LIFE

  50. oh you just feed them worms witch sounds discusting but actually it heals them then they think your ther mommy

  51. Heidi do I knw you what is your last name because if it’s grove you are my Aunt

  52. I have a moruning bird egg at home so what should I do with it if the mom is no longer there anymore?

  53. Ok. So I have a sparrow nest at my front door. It has 3 eggs in it. After about 12 days there was another egg. Then a couple of days ago one hatched. 2 days later they were all hatched. Now there is only 1 baby. Did the mother discard the others?? We have been useing the garage to go in and out. But I use a mirror to look in on them. The one that is left is breathing fine. What happen to the others

  54. It almost sounds like a cowbird came and laid its nest in the sparrow’s nest. In case you aren’t familiar, cowbirds are considered parasites because they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests because that bird will care for it as its own. Then when it hatches, the young cowbird will take up all the resources and sometimes push the original young out of the nest. Can’t say for sure, but it sounds like that’s what happened.

  55. Hi there, I just have one question. I found a bird egg in the water at the pond. The water was cold and there was no mother bird that surrounded the egg. I didn’t want to leave it so I used a towel and picked it up to make sure it was still alive. I wasn’t sure if it’s alive so i wanted to ask you what to do to see if it’s still alive… how can I tell?

  56. This morning my husband found a robin egg laying in the grass in the backyard. He picked it up and placed it in our outdoor birdhouse nest that is occupied by a different type of bird(Wren, maybe). Will a bird of a different species sit on a egg of another bird type. I mean will a small bird adopt a robin egg if left in their nest. ?

  57. I NEED HELP!!! So we have a bird nest at the top of a pillar on our porch. A house finch has laid 6 eggs. Looks like 4 have hatched, closed eyes and still pink. Anyways the part of the pillar is hollow and drops down like 4 feet into the pole. So we placed a piece of cardboard to cover it. We did not touch the nest or babies. The momma has not come back yet and it’s been about 2 hours. I am heart broken. What do I do? Will they survive the night ? We took the cardboard off just in case it was freaking her out.

  58. Hi. I just found a nest of 12 mallard eggs in the garden of my church. There is a large lake nearby, but the church is separated from the lake by a very heavily traveled road. The mother is incubating full-time, but unfortunately I have no idea when she finished laying the clutch, and therefore I have no idea when the ducklings may hatch. I am considering waiting until the mom leaves and then trying to candle one of the eggs using a duck egg candling chart I found on the web, to estimate hatch time. Then I could stick around as much as possible, and use a pet carrier to get the ducklings to the lake, using the advice I also found on the web, keeping mom within vocalizing distance. The problem is that I live 30km from the church. My questions are: should I use gloves to candle the egg, as long as they aren’t slippery? Or should I not risk it? How often must someone check on the nest for signs of hatching? Once they do hatch, is the pet carrier option the best one to get them to the lake? I appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks!

  59. When I touched pigeon egg, then the pigeon Fly away, now it will hatch

  60. I found a bird egg at the park today and I couldn’t find its nest what do I do with my daughter brought it home

  61. I noticed a neat in a low bush in our yard. I took a peek at it several times to see if the eggs had hatched, they hadn’t. I only saw the mother once, that was when I knew there was a nest in the bush. Do you think the mother was eaten by maybe a sparrow hawk? Why else wouldn’t see come by to sit on her eggs?

  62. I cut down a tall bush that to my dismay had a song bird nest in it with 5 babies. One baby died, but the other 4 seemed fine. I stood the tree back up, strapped it to the wall, and put the babies back in the nest, it was just a few minutes…. That was Saturday, today is Monday. I just checked. The two babies still in the nest had been pecked to death. Mostly intact, but still in the nest. One was on the ground. I couldn’t find the 4th one. I saw the parents come back a few times I thought they were feeding the little birds. If I had known this would be what the parents would do I would have raised them the rest of the way myself. They had feathers and the wings were almost long enough. I was really sad. Next time I will watch a tree for a few hours before I cut it down. Really awful.

  63. I didn’t know a dove had babies in a hanging basket and I was watering it, and the mama dove flew out. A few seconds later, a nestling fell to the ground. It isn’t able to fly yet. I picked it up with a glove and put it back in the nest, but now I am not seeing it’s mama. Will she come back to the nest? I’m afraid the baby will die.

  64. Hello I have found 2new born pigeon in my flower pots. The mother was their but she flew when she saw me. Will she come back again to feed her babies ???

  65. Will the mother pigeon come back to feed her new born babies???? She flew away when she saw me. I am afraid to Avon an her babies

  66. A pigeon laid an egg on my balcony. I wanted to get rid of the egg safely as we use the balcony frequently. So I picked up the egg with a cloth and left it on the wall and the mother came but did not pick it up. Instead it say by the side. A while later a crow came and picked up the egg and went away. This happened right in front of my eyes and right in front of the mother.

    I am deeply hurt by the incident as I myself let it happen with my own actions and even when the crow came to take the egg I didn’t make any effort to shew it away.

    Is it superstitious? Will it impact me or my family in anyway?
    Very much worried.

  67. So you just proved the “myths” point.

  68. May 14th 2018
    I have 6 Mallard duck eggs in a nest in an elevated flower garden hidden by a bush, We first noticed it 6 days ago, so far the mother duck has sat on the nest only 2 days and left for 2 more days, came back for about 6 hours and left again and hasn’t been back since, that was 2 days ago, has she abandoned the nest? Will she return? Will keep watch and post more info if she returns…..

  69. I am building a screened in porch, mama bird has babies in this nest above the door and needs to moved. I wonder if I move it will she take care of if after I do?

  70. Saw 4 eggs on June 19, it is now July 21 and she is still sitting on them occasionally. What should I do?

  71. I have rescued a baby barn swallow that has fallen out of the nest, will the parents feed it if it is sitting in a box outside after I’ve touched it???

  72. I seent a robin the udder day when I cam out of my mobile home and she pecked my fingers when I tries to pet the baby birbs. what do? will she come back for them birbs? if not can I keep as pets, sheila loves to chase the birbs, sheila is my gran aNd she shouldn’t be running maybe a birb will settle her down a bit so I can stop using horse tranquilizers.

  73. wow that is unbeleivable i need to ask something is it true for a baby whatever it is to think i am its mom ehen it hatches? i have been wondering that for years so is it true tell me in the comments please tell me one day cause before i went inside i saw a bunch on eggs on the ground. Tell me soon.

  74. OMG…. Ok i have lost you why did the bird do that, that is dangerous.

  75. goof morning felloew? i had a GOOD questiom for you.

    if you putted the bird egg in you’re mouth would itt hatch? and once it did would the baby inside resent you forever and place a curse upon your kins

    alspo bwhy did my wifre leave me? please respomd

    lots of love

    you’re beloved

  76. I found a bird I think it fell from its nest my parents said not to touch it but is that true? I don’t want it to die because it fell and I didn’t do anything about it.

  77. I found a robin egg when I was walking and the nest fell all eggs were cracked some weren’t bad but one was not that bad. I picked it up and brought it home and there was a robin nest with eggs and put it inside will it live? It had some cracks but the mom still sits on it.

  78. And we have no Incubators.

  79. A crow carried away the cracked egg and her egg there is only 2 eggs now😓

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