Spring and summer are nesting months for birds, and avid bird watchers may find baby birds out of their nests and on their own. Concerned birders will likely feel inclined to help the bird and knowing what to do will aid in the bird’s survival. Here are a few simple steps.
Fledgling or Hatchling?
Identify the bird’s age. Hatchlings are smaller than fledglings and have only tufts of feathers or are bald. If hatchlings are out of their nests, they need assistance. In contrast, a fledging will have almost fully formed feathers, and can fly short distances. It does leave the nest, making it probable to be sighted by a bird watcher. However, fledglings are still being assisted by their parents and need little help from humans. The bird’s energy level will help you determine its age; fledglings are much more active and energetic than hatchlings.
The first thing to do upon finding a baby bird is to watch it. Observe the bird for several hours. If it seems to be able to care for itself or if the parent returns, do not bother it.
Keep activity to a minimum
It is likely that the parent is nearby. Too much human activity can stress the parent and keep it from returning to its offspring. Keep pets and children away, so the birds are not disturbed.
Interfere as little as possible
Do not be overzealous in helping the baby bird. In most situations, it is best to simply observe and ensure the bird stays safe.
Return the bird to its nest
If you decide the bird is a hatchling, the best place for it is in its nest. If you can find the nest, return the hatchling there. If the nest is destroyed, line a box or basket with grass clipping and attach it securely to a tree limb out of harm’s way. The hatchling’s parents will be able to find it because of its cry. Importantly, most birds have poor smell; it is myth that touching the baby bird will make its parents abandon it.
Keep the bird safe
If the bird is in danger from predators, weather conditions, or injury, place it in the makeshift nest described above and bring it into a quiet, warm location until conditions seem safer.
What to do with orphaned or injured birds
If the bird is orphaned or injured, your best move is to call your local wildlife rehabilitator. While you may be tempted to adopt it, remember that in most areas, it is illegal to keep wild birds.