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Top Five Myths About Rescuing Baby Wild Birds

Mourning Dove on Nest

Mourning Dove on Nest

5.  Mother  birds push their defective young out of the nests – FALSE

If an egg doesn’t hatch, birds will sometimes roll it out of the nest,  But wild birds do not push their young out of nests.  Typically, baby wild birds will be knocked out of their nest by a fellow nest-mate, by the wind or more likely dragged out by a predator.  It’s also not true that a wild bird parent will carry their young back to the nest.

4.  Wild birds will not return to a fallen nest if it is put back into place – FALSE

Wild birds will absolutely return to a fallen nest, especially if called by their hungry babies.  If a bird’s nest is knocked to the ground, return it near it’s original location.  If the nest is damaged, the remaining material can be put inside a container with drainage holes (e.g.  strawberry container) and wired into place near the original location.  Set the babies back into the nest and watch from a distance to make sure the parents find the nest.  The parents should return before nightfall.  If they do not return to the nest, contact a wildlife rehabilitation specialist for more information.

3.  It’s OK to try to raise a displaced baby wild bird yourself. – FALSE

In the U.S., only people who are licensed rehabilitators, or veterinarians who occasionally treat wildlife on an emergency basis, may legally care for wildlife.  Otherwise, it is against state and federal laws for people to raise wild birds.

However, many people outside the U.S.  and those in rural areas, and not near a wildlife rehabilitator find it difficult to not care for a displaced baby bird.  In these circumstances, research and learn about the species of bird to be cared for, noting its nutritional needs, and keep your contact with the bird to a necessary minimum.

Mourning Dove Nestlings

Mourning Dove Nestlings

2.  Any displaced baby wild bird should be returned to their nest.  – FALSE

A nestling (pink or beginning feathers) should be placed back in the nest, and observed until the parents return.  A fledgling (2-3 week old, fluffy with 1/2″ tail feathers) commonly exit and return to the nest as they learn to fly.  If fledgling activity is observed in your backyard, keep pets and kids a safe distance away and leave the birds alone.

1.  If you touch a baby wild bird, the mother will abandon it – FALSE

Birds have little to no sense of smell, and are dedicated parents who put a great deal of time and energy into feeding and caring for their young.  Touching the baby bird will have no effect on the parents’ decision to care for the baby wild bird.  If the nestling is cold to the touch, it can be cupped in the hands and warmed before putting it back into the nest.

What to do if you find a displaced baby wild bird

Robin's Nest

Robin's Nest

If you see a bird in distress, make sure there are no predators in the area (put cats and dogs indoors) and keep children a safe distance back.

Determine if the bird is nestling (pink and few feathers) or a fledgling (fuzzy, hopping and flapping, 1/2″ tail feathers).   If it is a fledgling, let it be, as it is likely just practicing some new skills.  If it’s a nestling, locate the nest and return it.

If the nest is lost or destroyed, hang or secure a container with drainage holes lined with dry paper towels near the original location of the nest.  Do not attempt to give food or water to the baby bird.  Return the baby birds to the nest and observe.  If the parents have not returned by nightfall, bring the nestling indoors (warm, quiet, covered box with air holes) and contact a wildlife rehabilitation specialist in your area.

For more information about rescuing baby birds, visit the New England Wildlife Center.

By Bill Askenburg, Owner & Artisan – New England Birdhouse

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  1. Jan (ThanksFor2Day)

    Good info. to know. Thanks!

  2. Wolfgang Hofmeier

    Here are pictures of a robin I raised in Quesnel BC, Canada. If I hadn’t raised it, it would have been crow’s lunch or roadkill. Maybe in New England you are lucky enough to have wildlife rehabilitation centers nearby, but this isn’t the case here. I agree with most of your article, but if you live in an area where there is no wildlife rehabilitation center, the bird you found is a nestling, it isn’t possible to locate the nest and you have lots of time during the day, then it is best to raise the bird yourself. Baby robins need to be fed every hour initially, later on every 90 – 120 minutes. They eat worms including mealworms, canned catfood, soft berries. It is easy to raise a baby robin and they learn how to feed themselves after two or three weeks and require less and less manual feeding. In nature, only 25% of baby robins survive the year in which they were born, so you will be improving the odds for the nestling considerably.

  3. acninee

    I was told a few years ago in CT by the local wildlife rehab group that there was nothing they could do to help me with a mostly naked like blue jay because jays were too common and they had such a small budget. I fed him round the clock, he learned to fly by himself in the dining room and I sat outside with him for hours watching to be sure he developed an interest in catching and eating insects. Eventually he took off and had his own life. Hope I wasn’t breaking any laws, but the rehab people didn’t warn me that I might be!

  4. Lauryn Carbone

    For the past four days I have found two mockingbird nestlings in the same place on the ground under the tree where the nest is. For all four days I have picked the babies up and returned them to the nest where one other nestling remained. They did not appear hurt or injured in any way. One or both parents are always in the vicinity and the birds appear well taken care of. I have now taken to going to that spot several times a day to check on the birds. However, it is around dusk when I find them out of the nest. We have not had any storms or violent winds, just wondering what may be causing this.

  5. Bill Askenburg

    Hi and thanks for posting your comments. It sounds like the birds might actually be fledglings and not nestlings. If so, it’s natural for them to “flop” from the nest to the ground, where they will stay until they realize they can fly. If the birds look more like adult birds than pink, featherless chicks, it’s likely that they are fledglings learning to fly. Putting them back into the nest, or into a nearby shrub or low hanging branch will protect them from predators (if you have a cat, please keep it indoors). If the birds appear healthy and not listless or non-responsive, everything should be ok. If the birds do not appear healthy, you can contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Here’s a link to a directory of wildlife rehabilitators, or google wildlife rehabilitation and your zip code. Please let me know how everything turns out. Thanks!

  6. Darin anderson

    I have a nest outside my back sliding door on top of our sun shade. Our back door gets the afternoon_evening sun can the babies birds get to much heat from the sun ?

  7. David kennedy

    Accidently knocked a baby mourning dove and its nest out of its tree while pruning. The baby dove appears to be 7-10 days old. Replaced nest and baby back in tree within 2 feet of its original location. This all done within 10 minutes. What are the odds of mother accepting new nesting location after handled baby and next. I would hate to leave the bird in its nest to die if mother does not return, but don’t want to disturb anymore. Anyone any ideas?

  8. Bill Askenburg

    Sounds like you’ve done a good job, and the chances are very good that the mother will revisit the nest. If there’s cats around keep them inside, and keep an eye on the nest from a distance. Water in the area (not too close) will help keep the mother around as well.

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