How to Help an Orphaned Baby Bird

By the staff of Bird Watcher’s Digest

American robin fledgling, photo by Monique Haen, moniquehaen.com, via WikiCommons.
American robin fledgling, photo by Monique Haen, moniquehaen.com, via WikiCommons.

April showers bring May flowers—and baby songbirds. Invariably, some will fall out of their nests and be noticed by caring human beings seeking to be helpful.

If you find a fledgling hopping around on the ground in a safe area, leave it alone. Do what you can to keep cats and dogs away. If it’s in a dangerous area, place it on a tree branch or in a shrub not far from where you spotted it so its parents can find it.

Birds have a poor sense of smell, so handling the baby bird won’t cause its parents to abandon it. Young birds often leave the nest before they are capable of flight. Many species spend a few pre-flight days hopping on branches near the nest or on the ground, flapping their wings, which builds strength. It is perfectly natural and normal. Parent birds keep an eye on their young and feed them occasionally. During this time the fledgling is learning valuable survival lessons on its own and from its parents.

If you find a helpless nestling on the ground, place it back in its nest if at all possible. This will be the young bird’s best chance for survival. If you can’t find the nest or can’t reach it, put it in a soft, lined, nestlike container in a safe place as close to the real nest as you can manage—as quickly as possible.

If even this is not possible, take the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Baby birds are unable to regulate their body temperature, so they must be kept in a protected area with a heat source. A soft nest made of tissues inside a small cardboard box, placed on a heating pad set on low, is a good temporary home.

If you don’t have a heating pad, use a hot water bottle, or put warm—not hot—water in a tight-sealing bottle or jar, wrap it in a soft cloth, and tuck it into the box. Be sure to keep the water warm. A moist sponge placed in the box will add a touch of humidity, but don’t let the bird’s bedding become damp.

Your state or provincial fish and wildlife agency is the best source for finding a wildlife rehabilitator near you. Visit wildliferehabber.com/wildlife-agency-listing to find contact information for your state’s or province’s wildlife agency. Many agency websites list contact information for wildlife rehabilitation centers.

If you find an orphaned nestling songbird and there is no licensed wildlife rehabber available in your area or available at that time, here is a recipe for emergency baby bird food: Grind up dry dog food into powder. Add warm water to make a yogurtlike slurry. Offer it to the bird through a baby medicine syringe, gently prying the bill open.

Keep the bird warm, and get it to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. It is illegal to posses wildlife without a permit, even if your intention is to care for the bird until it is old enough to fend for itself.

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