Finding a young bird triggers compassion and helpfulness in most people, but the very best help you can give a baby bird is to simply leave it alone, or if absolutely necessary, to intervene in only minor ways. Infant mortality is high for young birds, and the strongest, healthiest chicks will survive even without human assistance, no matter how helpless they may seem.
Many species of birds leave the nest and spend as many as 2-5 days on the ground before they can fly. This is a normal and vital part of the young birds' development. While they are on the ground, the birds are cared for and protected by their parents and are taught vital life skills (finding food, identifying predators, flying). Taking these birds into captivity denies them the opportunity to learn skills they will need to survive in the wild.
Share this information with your children or neighborhood children, and advise them to find an adult to give them a hand if they find a baby bird on the ground.
Here are some guidelines for what to do if you find a baby bird:
Intervene as little as possible. In the case of fledglings, simply moving the bird to a sheltered nearby location where it is out of direct sun and in a protected spot is the best choice to give it a helping hand. Younger birds may require more help, but it is always best to interfere with the birds in only minimal ways.
Before touching the bird or stressing it in any way, watch to see if it can care for itself or if the parent birds are tending to it. Many times when a human spots a baby bird, they fail to see the nearby parents that are ready and willing to feed and protect their offspring. It may take a half hour or longer for parent birds to return to their baby, however, so patience is essential.
Return the bird to the nest. The best place for a baby bird to be is its own nest.
A wildlife biologist provides a great idea for making a substitute nest:
Nestlings on the Ground
If it is a nestling, generally identified as having few feathers and unable to walk, hop or flap its wings, it is too young to be out of the nest. Gently pick it up and place it back in its nest. If you are unable to find the nest or it is unreachable or destroyed, line a small basket with tissue or grass clippings and place it in the tree as close to the nest site as possible. Be sure the basket is secure (nail it to the tree if necessary) so the baby bird will not tumble out. The parent birds will hear their baby and find it easily, and since most birds have a poor sense of smell, they will not abandon it because it has been handled by humans. However, adult birds are cautious after any type of disturbance and it may take several hours before they approach the nestling. During this period it is essential that humans not approach the nestling.
Fledglings on the Ground
Fledglings are typically fully feathered, with a short tail and wings. They are able to walk, hop and flap, and they may attempt short flights, but are still being cared for by the parents.
If you find a fledgling, it should be left alone or placed in a nearby shrub. Keep people and pets away so the parents will continue to care for it until it can fly.
Placing fledglings back into nests is typically only a short-term solution, as they will quickly re-emerge. Moving fledglings to entirely new locations is also ineffective, as they are still dependent on their parents for survival and will quickly starve.
Owls are some of the earliest birds to fledge. Young owlets leave the nest and begin exploring nearby branches long before they are able to fly. Sometimes a swift gust of wind or a misstep will bring them to the ground.
If you find a young owl on the ground, try placing it on the highest nearby branch you can find. They will frequently make their way back up the tree. Or if the branches are too high, place it at the base of the tree.
What NOT to do:
- Don't give it food or water,
- Don't remove it from where you found it,
- Don't pet or stroke to calm it.
If you have any questions or concerns, contact Audubon de Mexico at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-111-4518.