Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Baby Birds Should Be Left Alone
June 27, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     This is peak nesting season for many nesting birds in our area, and the calls have already begun from people who have found a fledgling bird that appears to be abandoned. So now is a good time to repeat my now annual column, that I originally wrote about eight years ago, regarding what to do when encountering baby birds:

     The sounds of baby birds are everywhere. The sounds of nestlings from their nests can he heard as parents come to feed. Young fledglings, those birds that have recently left the nest, call to the parent and the parent calls back. I have encountered fledglings on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins and bluebirds with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with only 1-inch tails and fluffy little chickadees and titmice, sitting on a branch fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds that I have encountered. All of these birds have had 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. This is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find just such 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 such as 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 well developed 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. 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 the bird is injured, it requires the skills of a licensed rehabilitator.

     The sad statistics show 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 have watched many a robin and catbird chase blue jays from their nest area. I have seen crows with hatchlings in their beaks as they were being pursued by scolding parent birds. It is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. And although it isn’t always the way WE like, it is Mother Nature’s way.

     Remember, even if you had the 15 hours a day necessary to feed and care for the bird, it would not learn the skills it needs to survive in the wild because it was raised by humans. So unless you can create a safer environment, or solicit the help of a licensed rehabilitator, it is best to leave baby birds alone and let their parents care for them, and 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! 
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