Unattended Baby Birds May Not Be Abandoned

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LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas is blessed with an abundance of wild birds and their offspring. Throughout spring and summer, it is not uncommon to come across unattended baby wild birds. During this time, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is flooded with calls about abandoned fledglings and what to do with them.

Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned young birds and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing. This almost always does more harm than good. A few simple guidelines can help determine whether the animal is in need of help. First and foremost, don’t assume that these animals have been abandoned and need to be rescued.

According to AGFC Passerine Bird Coordinator Catherine Rideout, one or both of the parents may be just out of sight and disturbing young birds could jeopardize their well-being.

“Many species of birds are raising young and feeding fledglings, birds that have left the nest, but may still require some parental care. Many well-meaning people find baby birds and pick them up. The best thing to do is leave them alone,” Rideout said.

Three simple questions can help determine the bird’s situation.

What should I do with a baby bird I found that needs my help?

The first step is to determine the bird’s age. While many people assume a feathered bird that cannot fly has fallen from the nest, this may not be true. Many kinds of birds, such as American robins, continue to care for their young once they leave the nest and before they fly well. If a bird has feathers and is able to hop around on the ground, it is likely a fledgling and its parents are probably nearby. Spend some time (even up to an hour) watching for the bird’s parents. It is always best to leave offspring with their parents if it is at all possible. If you think it is a fledgling, leave the bird alone. However, if you are concerned about the bird’s safety, evaluate the situation and decide what is best for the bird. Placing a bird up in a shrub or in a safer spot very nearby may be the best option. Touching a bird will not cause parents to abandon it. Please keep pets and children away from the bird while it tries out its flight skills.

I found a bird with no feathers and its eyes closed. What should I do?

If the bird is naked, has very few feathers, or has its eyes closed, it is likely a nestling. If possible, try to locate the nest by looking in nearby shrubs, trees, or potted plants. Returning the nestling to its nest is by far the best solution. Many people believe that once humans touch a bird, the parents will not take care of it. Most birds have a very poorly developed sense of smell, and they will not reject their young if you handle them. They have invested a great deal of time and energy in their offspring.

Sometimes nests are destroyed in bad weather or by predators. At times, putting nestlings back into a nest is impossible because it is too high. Again, the best scenario is to try and leave these nestlings under the care of their parents. One option is to create a make-shift nest with a plastic butter tub (with holes punched in the bottom to drain water) or a berry basket. If the nest is still intact, place the nest in the basket or tub and replace the babies. If the nest is gone, line the new ‘nest’ with dry paper towels and put the young inside. Use wire to place the nest as close to the old nest as possible in a tree or in a shrub and try to give it some cover to avoid sunlight and rain. Watch to see if parents relocate the young in the new nest you have created.

I found a nestling, baby bird and need someone to care for it. Who should I call?

Although it is difficult and often not successful, when all else fails, you may want to consider contacting a wildlife rehabilitator to take care of a young or injured bird until it is ready for release. Bird rehabilitators are required to have a federal permit to take care of birds. Migratory birds are protected, and it is against the law to possess eggs, birds, nests, or feathers without a permit. Additionally, trying to hand raise a baby bird is an incredibly difficult task, and requires a great deal of time, effort, and specialized information. Keep in mind that rehabilitators are volunteers and do not have any obligation to take on caring for a baby or injured bird. Please see the list of Arkansas rehabilitators with federal migratory bird permits at http://www.agfc.com/pdfs/rehab/migratorybird_rehablist.pdf.