What Should You Know About Rescuing a Baby Bird?

Pet Health


February 10, 2022

Chances are that you have heard stories of people who rescued animals who had fallen from their treetop nests, only to make a lifelong companion from that moment. Whether you are interested in helping an animal that may be in distress or you are looking to keep the wildlife around your home in good health, there may come a time when you need to help an animal that is in distress.

However, handling a baby animal when it is not in distress can cause quite a bit of damage. To prevent this, it is important for you to know how to tell if a baby animal needs human interaction or not, and what you can do to rescue it if it does.

How to Tell When a Baby Bird Is in Distress

The first thing that you will need to know is whether or not the bird you have found is truly in distress or not. There are many cases when a fledgling that hasn’t quite figured out how to fly is left to sit on the ground with its mother watching nearby and is suddenly scooped up by a well-meaning person thinking that the bird is in trouble. Generally speaking, when a bird needs rescuing, there will be signs to look for.

The most obvious sign that a bird needs help is if you can see visible injuries. This could be deformities, limbs bent the wrong way, or bloodshed. Any sign of blood, whether it is fresh or dried, is a sign that the bird may need help. Stillness doesn’t always mean that a bird needs help, but it is a reason to take a closer look.

When you approach the bird, you will want to handle it very, very gently so as not to worsen any potential injuries. You should gently place your hand on the bird to see if it is still warm or not, as a bird losing heat is a sign of serious trouble. Other similar signs include the eyes closing and overall limpness.

Gauging Whether or Not the Mother Will Come Back

It is also very important that you do not remove a bird from the area if the mother is coming back. If a mother bird comes back to find its child missing, the mother bird may never attempt to look for the baby again, assuming it got eaten by a predator.

As such, you will want to try and guess if the mother bird is watching from a distance or simply went to get food for the young birds and an accident happened.

Unless there is significant bloodshed or another reason to believe that the bird you found will not survive for an hour, you should first wait and see if the mother bird comes back. You should wait at a distance, as mother birds may not want to come for their children if they believe that a predator is nearby. Even nestling birds can survive for around an hour without being fed, so this will not endanger the bird more than the danger it is already in.

You should also consider looking for the nest. If you can hear that there are active, healthy babies in the nest, this is an indication that the parent birds are actively caring for their young and that they will likely return for the fallen child. However, if night is on the horizon and the parent bird is not in sight, it is time for you to take action to help the baby bird.

Knowing What You Can Do

Last, it is incredibly important that you are aware of the laws in your area. Some states will have different regulations on helping baby birds. Most states have made it illegal to keep native birds in the house without the appropriate license, and there’s a very good chance that you do not have said license. In other states, this rule also applies to abandoned birds.

You should also make sure that you contact the appropriate resources. Most people cannot care for a baby bird as they need constant, specialized attention. If you know that you are going to need to treat the baby bird, you should contact the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center and ask them for advice. They will direct you on the best way to handle the situation, from rescuing the bird to bringing it to the rehabilitation center.

You should also know what your limits are. If you do not have anything that you could potentially feed the bird with or anything to provide water for the baby bird, it is not wise to bring it in and make-do with what you have, as this can cause more harm than healing. Make sure that if you plan on rescuing the baby bird, you know how to save a baby bird from dying and you have the resources to do so.

Identifying the Bird and its Age

When rescuing a baby bird, one of the first steps you will need to take is identifying the bird’s species and its relative age. Different bird species are going to need different foods and it will help the rehabilitation center to know the type of bird that they are dealing with. Species can be identified by the color, size, and age of the bird.

There are two types of baby bird ages that need to be thought of: nestlings and fledglings. The amount of care required to rescue the bird will depend heavily on the stage of life the bird is in. Therefore, it is imperative that you have a good sense of it yourself.

Nestling birds are the younger type of baby bird. These birds are entirely confined to their nests and often haven’t yet grown in their full feathers. Instead, they will have down feathers, pin feathers, or be considerably fluffier than standard birds. Fledglings are birds that are just beginning to learn how to fly. They share the appearance of their adult species, but may not move around with the same grace that adults do.

Rescuing a Nestling Bird

With nestling birds, the first thing you will want to do is search for the nest. The bird needs to be returned to its nest immediately, as it will starve in about an hour of not being fed. If you find a nearby nest, you should make sure that the baby birds look about the same as the bird you found. If the babies match, you will want to gently place the baby you found inside that nest.

You can use your hands to do this as long as you remember to be as delicate as possible. It is simply a myth that mother birds abandon their young if a person touches them. Once you have placed the nestling in its nest, you should make sure to check for any other birds that could have fallen.

After you have done this, you will want to stay back about 80 feet (to the best of your judgment) from the nest and watch for the parent birds to return. If you have children or pets, keep them the same distance away. If the parents return for their children, all will be well. If the parent birds do not return or you see the baby fall again, you need to contact the rehabilitator for further instruction.

Rescuing a Fledgling Bird

Fledgling birds are learning how to fly, so it is much more common to find them on the ground outside of their nest. During the learning process, they fall a lot, though the parent still keeps a distant eye on the babies to make sure that they remain safe. This means that it can look as if a baby bird has fallen from the nest and the parents are nowhere to be seen.

You should approach the bird, first to see if it is a fledgling or an adult as an adult bird will fly away. If the bird allows you to approach, you should gently pick up the bird and lift it to a nearby branch. A healthy fledgling will fly onto that branch. If the fledgling appears injured or otherwise makes no attempt to fly onto the branch, it may be worth contacting a rehabilitation center for further instruction.

The Takeaway

The truth is that, for the most part, the average person is not going to need to save a baby bird from dying. More often than not, a bird encountered on the ground is a fledgling that still hasn’t grasped the idea of flight yet.

By approaching the bird, observing its overall condition, and seeing if it is able to respond to your assistance, you will be able to gauge whether or not the bird will be fine waiting for its parents to return or if it needs some more intensive care provided by the professionals at rehabilitation centers who have the training and experience to follow through with it.