I have heard numerous stories recently about people finding baby birds that have fallen out of their nests. So I decided to look into the proper procedures to follow when this happens.
Birds are out of their nests for a variety of reasons and the age of the baby bird can indicate why or how it got on to the ground.
Nestlings, or birds with no or a few new feathers, might be on the ground if they fell out, perhaps by wind, or were pushed out by other babies competing for space. They also could have been pushed out by their parent if it felt the bird was sick or weak.
Fledglings or older baby birds with full but new feathers will leave the nest, practicing until they get strong enough to fly.
It is illegal to take a healthy bird away from its habitat, except for domestic pigeons, starlings and house sparrows. If a bird needs help, certified wildlife rehabilitators are the only ones authorized to take the bird.
Most people believe if they touch a baby bird, the parent bird will no longer care for it. But, that is a fallacy. Birds do not have a good sense of smell, so placing a bird back in its nest is not going to cause abandonment.
But, is placing a bird back in the nest the right thing to do? Because parental birds are always the best caregivers, intervening should only be done in a few circumstances.
A nestling may be put back into a nest so the parent can continue to feed it and keep it warm. If the nest cannot be found, you can create one from a well-ventilated box or basket, lined with shredded paper or other soft materials. Affix that nest to the tree nearest so the parent can locate it.
If a parent doesn’t return within a couple of hours, then a rehabilitator can be called. Trying to feed a nestling is very difficult and dangerous to the bird and most won’t survive.
A fledgling shouldn’t be touched, since the parents are usually near, encouraging the baby to fly and continuing to feed it. Try to keep other animals that may hurt the baby away from it. Within a day or two, the fledgling will be flying.
Lastly, if a bird is touched, wash your hands and clothing to prevent disease and parasite transfer.
Darla Menking is a certified Bell County Texas Master Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.