Now is the time of year when little featherless baby birds are hatching out of eggs all over the place, sometimes tumbling out of trees and occasionally into trouble.
Here at Peace River Wildlife Center, we have already had an increase in little cheepers coming in for care. More often than not, baby birds brought into rehabilitation centers are just going through their natural developmental stages when a well-intentioned human intervenes and unknowingly takes the baby away from its parents. Should you find a baby bird with no or few feathers or any other type of mini fowl, there are steps you should know before you unknowingly become a birdnaper.
The first thing you should do is try to identify whether the bird is hurt. If the bird is bleeding, feels cold, has its eyes closed, looks exhausted, dehydrated, droopy, or seems rather lifeless then consider it injured — it should be brought to PRWC for treatment. It is very important that you don’t offer it any food or water due to where the opening to their lungs is. It is too easy to accidentally put food or water in their lungs thereby drowning the bird or causing pneumonia. When transporting, keep the little bird in a dark place – like a shoebox with holes punched in and a t-shirt so its metabolism slows down, and it calms down and warms-up.
If the bird seems uninjured, do your best to identify if it is a nestling or a fledgling. Nestlings may have no feathers at all, be covered in down, have pin feathers (little dark beginnings of feathers), or have most of their feathers but still look quite fluffy, unlike an adult. Nestlings are also likely pear-shaped looking like their wings may be too small for their body and seem rather tame and chirpy opening their mouth for food. A nestling cannot survive outside the nest even if the parents are still feeding it. In this case, it is best to try to locate the nest and gently place the baby bird back in. Once the baby is back in its nest, step away at a good distance and watch for the parents to return to the nest. A mother bird will not return if a human is sensed or seen too close to the nest, but she doesn’t care if you got your “scent” on the baby – the vast majority of birds can’t smell very well anyway and won’t reject their chick. If the parents do not return after a few hours or if the nest could not be located, the best bet for the nestling is to be brought to PRWC for treatment.
Fledglings have some feathers or may even look like a fluffy adult but seem unable to fly and seem quite awkward in their movements. Fledglings rarely need a human’s help (unless the bird is injured). People sometimes see a fledgling bird hopping around on a branch some distance from a nest or even on the ground. This is perfectly normal behavior for growing birds. The best thing to do for these babies is to leave them alone. Mom and dad will care for them, even if they end up on the ground. However, if there is a dog or cat in the area, try getting the baby back up into the nest or at least the tree the nest is in. Watch from a distance. If the parents don’t show after a few hours, it may be time to call PRWC for more advice as it may be necessary to bring the little one in for treatment.
It is not always easy to tell if the bird is a nestling or fledgling, so it’d be wise to call PRWC or a local rehabilitation center for help. Each situation is different and the best advice is to use knowledgeable sound judgment under the circumstances. Quick action is very important. Many species feed their nestlings several times each hour. Although a nestling could go for an hour or so without food, it is critical to take action within a short time after you discover the bird. The baby bird cannot wait until later; it will not survive. Never attempt to rehabilitate a baby bird yourself because the chances of the bird surviving and being successfully released into the wild are very low – meaning you’ll do more harm than good even though you meant well.
In sum, more often than not people come across fledglings that do not need rescuing – the baby birds are alright, but on occasion, some help may be needed so it is important to be informed.
Rehabilitating baby birds is no small feat. Baby birds must be fed around the clock — four times per hour for 14 hours each day. It takes trained professional skills, days of planning and preparation, hours of cleanup, and a continuous supply of resources for meals that are gulped down in a flash. It’s physically and emotionally demanding to take care of an infant of any species even more so when there are many others to take care of. It takes a skilled team to manage the influx of baby birds through nesting season along with our regular intakes. It is a mission to rehabilitate and aim for release.
To support baby birds in their rehabilitation as well as many other species, please donate or shop our online gift store. Every donation and proceeds from purchases go directly to the care of PRWC’s patients and residents. We can save wildlife because people like you support us in our mission.