Encounters with wildlife become more common as we continue to diminish their habitats by expanding our residential areas. Many bird species quickly adapt to our society since they can easily find food and places to raise their young. This makes backyard bird sightings quite prevalent, especially during nesting season.
And because it is currently nesting season, you know what that means: baby birds are here! There are two groups of baby birds you may encounter: altricial and precocial.
Altricial birds are those that are born naked, blind, and completely rely upon their parents for care during their first few weeks after hatching. Examples of these birds include songbirds and doves.
Precocial birds are up and ready to go soon after hatching. They are coated in a downy fuzz, can see, and are able to feed themselves. Quail chicks and ducklings are great examples. One of my favorites, Gambel’s Quails, follow their parents in groups like tiny, fuzzy bumblebees, and often hide under low shrubs and bushes.
If you see a baby bird, and are not sure what to do, first take some time to quietly observe it from a distance.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the bird appear to be a nestling or a fledgling?
- Are the parents nearby?
- Does the bird appear ill or injured?
- Is there danger present? (Dogs, cats, vehicles)
If the bird is mostly feathered and hopping around near the ground, leave it alone! This is a fledgling learning how to fly while still being cared for by its parents. It may take days or weeks for a fledgling to completely be on its own in the wild.
If you are still unsure what to do at this point, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association may be a helpful resource for finding rehabilitators in your region.
If a bird is otherwise injured, ill, or appears to be in distress, carefully place it in an appropriately sized box (with small air holes) lined with paper towels. Do not use newspaper as it is too slick for the bird to keep its footing. Keeping the bird warm and quiet are the most important steps at this time. Please, do not give the bird food or water as they can die from aspirating fluids or ingesting the wrong things (hummingbirds are an exception). Always contact a rehabilitator for advice and further instructions. You may need to transport the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or facility as quickly as possible. Consult with your nearest wildlife agency or veterinarian to help find a rehabilitator in your area.
*Always contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area for advice.*
—Basic instructions for displaced hatchlings or nestlings—
As you continue to look for the nest to replace the baby bird, consider the following instructions:
Please line a container or box with a paper towel or an old, clean cloth (rag, towel, shirt, etc., making sure there are no loose strings for the baby to get tangled up in). Do not use newspaper as it is too slick for the bird to keep its footing and traction is necessary for proper leg and foot development and growth. Keeping the bird warm and quiet are the most important steps at this time. Minimize handling and place the baby in the quietest area of your home, away from pets and children. Use a covered heating pad set on low, an old sock filled with dried white rice heated in the microwave, or an empty plastic soda bottle filled with warm water to help keep the nestling warm. A Ziploc bag or exam gloves filled with warm water can be useful, too. Just make sure there are no leaks and they are closed/tied tightly! A wet baby bird is a chilled bird! Unless you have experience and training to properly care for wild baby birds, do not give it food or water as they can die from aspirating fluids or ingesting the wrong things.
If you locate the nest but cannot reach it or it has been destroyed, make a new one out of a plastic container (e.g. empty milk jug) and line it with the old nest or with dried grasses and leaves. Poke holes in the bottom of the container so water can drain from it. Hang it as closely as possible to the original nest and quietly watch for the parents to return to care for the chick. If there is no sign of the parents after an hour or two, the baby will need a rehabilitator’s help.
After contacting a rehabilitator for advice and following their instructions, transport the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or facility as quickly as possible. Consult with your nearest wildlife agency or veterinarian to help find a rehabilitator in your area. Do not try to care for the bird on your own! In many cases, it is illegal to keep and care for wild birds without proper state and federal permits and licensing.
Know when to help and when to leave it alone- take time to enjoy all of the beautiful birds out there!