IF YOU FIND A BABY BIRD...
Nesting Season is here. This is the busiest time of year at almost any wildlife rehabilitation or rescue center. Not only does the number of patients increase, but the amount of care that is needed for each patient increases. Some baby birds need to be fed every 30 -45 minutes from dusk until dawn. Last year ORC took in over 50 crow orphans and they need to be fed every hour, that’s a lot of feeding! Needless to say this is an important time of year for rehabilitation but also for education. We’d like to start this year’s nesting news with a post about what to do if you come upon a baby bird. We have a section about this in our FAQ section that we refer people to but we thought we would do an elongated post since much of the time it is dependent on the situation and the type of bird. This post won’t fit to every situation but we hope it will be informative and interesting.
I have found a baby bird what do I do?
Do not attempt to keep and raise a baby bird. All native birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and keeping them for any period of time without a permit is illegal. Keeping a baby bird can and will result in IMPRINTING.
Imprinting is an irreversible social psychological disorder in animals that occurs when humans try and raise them. When a baby bird is fed/taken care of by a human when it is 4-6 weeks old or younger, the bird will no longer associate or recognize its own species. Imprinting is not equal to domestication. If you find yourself caring for a baby wild bird, you may think the bird is thriving because it's alert, eating and seems to be "fine," but it may have some serious health problems and imprinting may have already occurred. When imprinting occurs, the bird will never be able to feed itself, mate or reproduce in the wild and therefore would never survive in the wild if released. By keeping a wild bird and unintentionally or intentionally imprinting it, you sentence it to a life in captivity or worse. Imprinting is one the most common "injuries" but it is also one of the most preventable. We strive to give every bird the best chance at survival in the wild, which means having to put our natural instinct to nurture it aside and do the right thing by getting it to professional care. Six of our education ambassadors are imprinted birds, their chance to remain wild was taken from them by humans who were probably trying to help them but were unaware of the possibility of imprinting them.
Fledgling on the ground
ALWAYS observe before interfering with any wildlife. This is especially important for baby birds. When birds are fledging (leaving the nest and learning to fly), they are often on the ground from anywhere from 1 to 5 days (typically), so it’s actually perfectly normal for them to be on the ground, often looking very vulnerable. Bird parents are usually very consistent and have strong instincts to continue to care for their young even after they have flapped out of the nest. So before you scoop up a bird, look for a parent- is there a parent coming down to it? During their time on the ground baby birds may be walking, hopping and flapping. They’re also learning other things like foraging for food, and identifying and avoiding predators. Most fledglings have feathers, their eyes are open and they will usually try and flap away from you! The best thing to do is leave it alone!
There will always be hazards for baby birds, regardless of what type of environment they live in- cats, dogs, kids, cars etc. If there is not a hazard present at the moment, the best thing to do is leave the bird alone. The most you would want to do is to move the bird to perch on a nearby tree or shrub. If you have a dog, cat or kids you can keep inside for a few days, all the better.
If you believe the bird is a nestling and was displaced from the nest (not yet ready to fledge) first try and find the nest. If you can see the nest and can put the nestling back in it, this is the best option. Despite the popular myth, most birds do not have a developed sense of smell and cannot smell a “human scent.” Bird parents will not abandon young if placed back in the nest. If you can’t reach the nest try placing the nestling in a small container (with tissue, straw, leaves, grass or a small towel) and attach it as best you can to the closest sturdy thing you can. *Corvids (Crows, Ravens and Jays) are an exception to this rule because they recognize man made objects and will avoid them- replace in nest or simply move to safer place nearby if necessary. Below is a small breakdown the difference between fledglings and nestlings:
Days 0-3: Wisps of natal down on body, eyes closed
Day 3: Eyes open
Day 4: Primary feathers (also called pin feathers) pierce skin, they look like blue tubes sticking out of the skin
Day 6: Nestling responds to alarm call of parent
Day 7: Primary feathers unsheath
Day 10: Bird is alert, stretches wings and legs
Below are all examples of nestlings...not quite ready to fledge...
Days 13-14: Can flutter and hop from branch to branch, fully feathered, but has short tail and wings, leaves the nest.
Days 14-28: They do not return to the nest, but are still fed by the adults in nearby trees or on the ground if the young have not yet mastered flying.
Below are all example of fledglings- they will resemble their adult versions but feathers will be slightly different...
*Time table taken from Seattle Audubon
How do I know if it’s injured?
The majority of fledglings on the ground are uninjured. Again, observe before taking action. If it’s flapping its wings, is only one extending? Is it walking? Is there blood? Not flying does not necessarily mean injury. *If you know a bird has been caught by a cat, get it to a wildlife rehabilitator immediately- cats have a bacteria in their saliva and claws that is deadly to birds if not treated immediately.
To sum it up- it’s always best for a baby bird to stay in the wild with its parents. If your situation doesn’t quite fit this description you can always call ORC or your local wildlife organization.