Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Baby Birds Best Left Alone
June 03, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     We are moving into peak nesting season for many species of birds in our area. The sounds of baby birds are everywhere. One can hear the sounds of nestlings from their nests, as parents come to feed. I have heard different calls from young fledglings, those young birds that have recently left the nest, calling to the parent, or heard the parent calling back. 

     You may encounter fledglings on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with only 1-inch tails and fluffy little titmice, sitting on a branch fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may encounter. All of these birds will likely have their parents nearby and, though at first glance one may think they are on their own, the parent soon comes, once it is “safe,” to feed the young ones. Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly or fend for themselves. This is part of the “training” process for surviving on their own. The parent birds are almost always in the area, watching after and defending their young, as well as feeding the fledglings until they learn to feed themselves.

     So now is a good time to repeat my annual reminder of what to do when you encounter baby birds. This is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find an “abandoned” bird, and the best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave these birds alone.

     First, most all birds are protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal to possess or relocate birds, unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The only exceptions are nonnative species: house sparrows, starlings and pigeons. That being said, it is human instinct to want to protect the bird. If the bird is a hatchling, that is – it does not have feathers or looks totally helpless, you can look for the nest from whence it came and return it to the nest. The next best thing is to secure a basket in a bush or tree and place the bird in the basket with the hope, albeit slim, that the parent will find it and care for it. Most birds do not have a keen sense of smell, so handling a baby bird will in no way deter a parent from caring for it. 

     If you don’t know where the nest is, keep the bird warm and safe until you make arrangements with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for its continued care. Remember, even if you had 15 hours a day to feed and care for the bird, it would not learn the skills it needs to survive in the wild if it were raised by humans. Do not attempt to feed it or give it water unless instructed to do so by a rehabilitator. A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be obtained from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Web site at www.masswildlife.org.

     If the bird is a fledgling, that is – it has feathers and is just flightless, and it is not visibly injured, it is best to leave it alone. Parents are likely nearby and often are very sneaky about feeding the offspring when they won’t be detected. If there is imminent danger, such as a cat, try to remove the danger, not the bird. Put the cat inside where it belongs or if it belongs to a neighbor, ask the neighbor to remove the cat. Or try to shoo the cat away with water. Place the bird on a branch up out of the way if that will improve its chances. 

     If you suspect that the bird is injured, an injured bird requires the skills of a licensed rehabilitator. Make the bird safe and call a rehabilitator and follow their instructions. Hopefully they will arrange to transport the bird.

     The sad statistics are that less than 30 percent of all hatched birds survive their first year. Cats are certainly a major danger, but that is a subject for a whole other column. Grackles and jays are notorious for raiding nests, and I watched many a robin and catbird chase blue jays from their nest areas. I have seen crows with hatchlings in their beaks, as the crows are pursued by scolding parent birds. This is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. And although it isn’t always what WE like, we need to let nature take its course.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply