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I Found A Baby Bird: What To Do

Updated on December 30, 2017

Found A Baby Bird: What To Do

You've Found A Helpless Baby Bird...Now What?

Spring has sprung and soon the wildlife around us will be having their young...this includes the birds. It is not uncommon for us humans to come across a fallen chick or a nest of them, and then what? You want to help, but how do you care for such a tiny, fragile creature? The honest answer is that is is not easy, but it can be done.

First and foremost, you want to assess the situation for the possibility of returning this chick to its parents. The absolute best place for a youngster to be is with his own parents. We humans make poor substitutes for the real thing, and the bird should be returned to the nest or the nest returned to its place, if at all possible. There are many scenarios which we might encounter.

How and When to Catch A Baby Bird

If a bird is not flying, there is a reason for it. This reason could be because it is a fledgling, especially if it is mid-summer and the bird in question has a short tail and/or looks downy or fluffy. It is normal for a baby bird to leave the nest before it can fly. The parents are probably nearby and will continue to care for their young for some time yet. The best place for baby wild birds is with their parents. Please do NOT "kidnap" baby birds from their parents. Do keep dogs and cats indoors: then, watch from a distance for up to 2 hours. If the parents don't show themselves in that amount of time, you may legitimately have an orphan.

If the bird is not a fledgling and is on the ground, unable to fly, it is likely injured or sick. The easiest way to catch a bird that is running away is to use a blanket, sheet or even a sweatshirt. Throw the blanket over the bird to calm them, then pick them up, through the blanket, and put them in a box. A bird that is shivering or being hounded by flies, is unquestionably in need of rescuing.

How Are The Chicks Acting?

First, let's assess the condition of the chicks. Are they alert, listless, shivering? Your first actions will depend on the condition of the baby bird or birds. If they are shivering, they are in trouble...get them warm. Hold them gently in your hands until they stop shaking, then place them on a heating pad set to low. Using a small box with a lid (you could use a towel or other fabric as the lid,) make a nest from tissue, set the chicks in it, then place it on the heating pad. Be sure to have some holes for ventilation if you are using a box lid. Shoe boxes work well in this case.

The next hurdle is to get them hydrated, if necessary. If they are drooping or listless, they are probably suffering from dehydration. They need help. The best thing for them is unflavored Pedialyte. The next best things are: any Pedialyte, Gatoraid (watered down a bit,) or a mixture of one cup of luke-warm water with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp sugar completely dissolved.

Now is the tricky part, you never want to force liquids into a bird's mouth as it may aspirate the liquid into its lungs: but if they are really listless, they probably won't gape (open wide) for you. So here are some options:

  • Use a dropper to drag the liquid along the side of the beak. You should see them swallow.
  • Use a Q-tip, saturated it in the liquid, then put a drop right on the tip of the beak or drag it along the side of the beak. Do not use this method with a baby Woodpecker as they can get the cottony fibers stuck in their mouth.
  • Use your fingernail to pry the beak open, just a bit, and drip (don't squirt) a bit of liquid in.
  • None of this is easy, I admit, but it may save a life.

Another scenario we encounter, all too often, is a cat-caught bird. A bird that has spent ANY time in the mouth of a cat (or dog) has about 72 hours to live unless it gets an antibiotic right away! Even if the bird looks completely unharmed, you can't even see a scratch, there is still a very strong likelihood that the bacteria from the cats mouth has gotten into the bird somewhere...and the bird will not survive without an antibiotic such as Baytril. The best thing to do is to contact a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.

Hopefully, you have a baby-bird that was not in a cat's mouth, and is alert, well hydrated and not shivering. Now you want to get them back to their parents, if at all possible.

Can You Get them Back To The Parents?

Okay, now let's figure out how this little one ended up where it did. One possible situation is that the baby bird has prematurely fallen from the nest. If you are looking at a featherless or fuzzy chick which is peeping, this is a nestling and it needs to be in a nest. Do not be afraid to touch it: the "human scent will cause the parents to abandon it" myth is not true. No parent is going to give up on their offspring that easily. The most obvious solution would be to locate the nest and simply put the baby back.

Of course, this is not always possible. Perhaps the entire nest has fallen in a storm or some kind of accident. The result is a bunch of helpless little chicks sitting on the ground getting picked off by predators. The solution here is to retrieve the nest, or make one out of a butter tub or berry basket and some tissue paper, then secure it as close to the original nest sight as possible. You might use duct tape, zip ties, or string...get creative here, and get the nest off the ground and close to where you think the nest fell from. Now, get out of sight and watch for the parents coming back.

If, after two hours, there has been no sign of the parents, then you may really have orphans. It is time to find a wildlife rehabilitator.

How to Find a Wild Bird Center or Bird Rehabilitator

Many licensed rehabilitators do not list themselves in the phone book, so finding the closest one to you might take a few calls or a little research. Keep in mind that most wildlife rehabilitators are volunteers that are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. In most cases, being a wildlife rehabilitator is not a paid position. In fact, the rehabilitator is often footing all of the costs him or herself. So, please be kind and know that a willingness to transport the bird to the rehabber is usually much appreciated. Also, keep in mind that the license probably does not allow them to display birds, so please don't ask to see the other birds at the center.

To find a wildlife rehabber in the U.S. or Canada, try the links below:

Or, call your local veterinarian, Audubon Society or humane society for a list of referrals.


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