Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Oh no! A baby bird appears to have fallen out of the tree. Pick it up or leave it? Does it actually need rescuing? There are many myths and questions when it comes to “rescuing” a baby bird. Lynn Dickinson, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent, helps to unpack some of these uncertainties.
Does it Need Saving?
If there is an adolescent bird on the ground, the first step is to estimate its age. In other words, determine whether it is a nestling or a fledgling.
“The distinction between a newborn nestling and a fledgling is critical,” Dickinson said.
Fledgling, or wandering from the nest, is a normal part of a bird’s development. While they may appear to be alone, their parents are watching nearby and are most likely still feeding them. Most fledglings do not need to be rescued. Simply walk away from the bird. Nestlings, on the other hand, almost always need rescuing.
“Whether they fell or got pushed from their nest, they’re not ready to go off into the world on their own,” Dickinson said.
In order to distinguish the two, look for things like feathers and types of movements. Fledglings are larger and covered almost completely in down and feathers. They can move around by hoping. Nestlings are rather small and typically naked or have just a few fluffs of down. They can hardly move except for dragging themselves on the ground with their bare wings.
If the bird is a a nestling, help it. First, look for the nest the bird may have come from in nearby bushes and trees. If the nest is easy to locate, put the bird back in the nest. The parents will continue to care for the bird.
“The old tale about once a baby bird has been touched by human hands, the mother will reject it is untrue,” Dickinson said.
If a nest cannot be located, it is important to make one. Something like a strawberry basket or another small container can serve as a nest. Fill it with straw, scrap pieces of cloth or anything that is dry. Then, place the bird in the nest and affix it to a tree close to where it was found. Try to put the nest as high up in the tree as possible. After, watch and wait to see if the parents return to the bird.
“If the parents don’t return within an hour or so, call a wildlife rehabilitation center or take it to a vet,” Dickinson said.
As stated before, if the small bird is a fledgling bird that is not injured, simply walk away from the bird. However, in the case that it is in the road or in a dangerous situation, place it in a nearby bush. This will protect it from prowling cats, humans and the elements until the parents find it again.
Injured Bird Care
When a sick or injured fledgling or nestling is found, call a rehabber, state wildlife agency or veterinarian immediately. If the bird is found after hours, take the adolescent to a safe and warm location. For example, a closed box with air holes and a heating pad under it can make a great temporary home. While it may chirp, do not attempt to feed the bird. Improper feeding can cause the food to go into the baby’s lungs.
“If kept in a dark place, they can go without food,” Dickinson said. “Its metabolism will slow and then once it is in the hands of a professional, it can be fed.”
It is important to work together to protect feathered friends. For more information on birds, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.