Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. If you buy an item via links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
If you head out to your backyard to find a baby bird that has fallen from the nest, this can be pretty distressing. Most of us are inclined to pick the bird up and take care of it. In some cases, this is what is needed, but in others, you may have to leave the bird alone. For example, there are some birds that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and these are illegal to keep in your possession.
This guide serves as a reference as to the best course of action when finding fallen baby birds in a variety of situations.
What to Do If You Find an Uninjured Baby Bird Fallen from a Nest?
If you find an uninjured baby bird that is out of it’s nest, you first need to determine whether it is a nestling or a fledgling. A fledgling will have all of its feathers, and while it may still appear to be helpless, it is essential to leave it alone. It has left the nest as part of its development and will go on to take care of itself. It does not need any human intervention.
On the other hand, if the bird still has a lot of skin visible and isn’t fully feathered, this is a nestling and should not yet be out of the nest. In some cases, you may be able to easily locate the nest. If you can, then it is OK to pick the bird up and put it back where it belongs; this will not affect how the parents treat it as they do not go by scent.
However, if there is no obvious nest nearby, you can fashion one yourself and place the bird inside. You will then need to keep an eye out to see if the parents return. Do keep in mind that being too close could deter the parents from returning, so stay out of sight and spend as little time with the baby as possible, as this could be detrimental to their survival.
You may find that the bird has been orphaned. If you can be 100% certain that this is the case, you should contact a wildlife rehabilitator who will handle the situation. It’s essential to keep in mind that it is illegal to raise wild birds at home under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which applies to all native species. The only people allowed to do this are licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Even if you have all of the most well-meaning intentions in the world, an inexperienced person is unlikely going to be able to provide the necessary care for a young bird.
What to do If You Find an Uninjured Fallen Baby Bird with No Nest?
Again, the first order of business is to determine whether the bird is a nestling or a fledgling. If it is the latter, then you should not interfere. While the presence of a nest might not be immediately obvious, the parents are likely close by and still taking care of their young. If you are at all concerned, you can observe from a distance to make sure that the parents return.
When finding a nestling and no obvious nest, you may have to make a surrogate nest. You can do this using a small container or basket; just make sure that there are holes in the bottom. Fill the container with a soft material such as tissue as this provides protection to the bird’s legs and will prevent them from spreading out and becoming deformed. You will then need to place the nest in a tree near to where you found it.
Make sure that the nest is placed in a sheltered location well out of the way of any pets or potential predators. Don’t hang around for too long as the parents will be unlikely to return if you are present. In most cases, they will continue taking care of their young if they remain within around 10 yards. Leave the bird for now, but you can take a look from a distance to make sure that the parents have returned.
What to Do If You Find an Injured Baby Bird?
Finding an injured bird is a little different as they likely need assistance, but this needs to be offered in the right way. You must be certain that, if the bird is a fledgling, it is truly sick or injured before you attempt to offer any kind of help. There could be many signs of this, but you should look for the following when making your assessment.
- The bird is shivering
- The bird is very quiet and subdued
- There is a clear wound or injury such as a broken bone, broken wing, open wound etc
- The bird is being or has been recently seen to have been attacked by a predator
- The bird does not fly away or hop away as you approach it
- The bird has difficulty breathing
- There is an obvious immediate threat to the bird’s safety
If any of these apply, then you may need to intervene. Make sure to wear clean gloves when handling the bird and place it into a cardboard box which must be lined with towels. You should also keep the bird warm by using heat pads on a low setting underneath the box. Be sure to put the box somewhere quiet where the bird will not be disturbed. Do not attempt to offer any food or water to the bird. While you may do this with good intentions, it requires the expertise of a professional.
You will now need to get in touch with a local wildlife rehabilitator. Wildlife rehabilitators are the only people legally allowed to care for abandoned wild birds, and you can use online resources to find one close to you. Animal charity PETA has details of wildlife rehabilitators by state, but you can also find information on The Humane Society website and your state website.
How to Keep a Baby Bird Warm?
While you may not be licensed to take full care of a baby bird after finding it, you will need to offer some very basic provisions while you wait for help to arrive. The most obvious one is warmth since the baby would normally rely on its parents to keep it warm. If the baby bird is not kept warm, then this can cause more stress than it is already experiencing.
There are several things you can do. As we discussed earlier, using a heat pad on the lowest setting under the box you are keeping the bird in is a good option. However, you could choose something as simple as a sock filled with rice which you can microwave for a minute and place into the box. If you do not have this, you can fill a plastic bottle with warm water and place this inside or use a hot water bottle.
When placing any heat source into the box, be sure to cover it with a towel to prevent burns. Moreover, it is a good idea to place a heat source at either side of the box for more even and consistent warmth.
If I Touch a Baby Bird Will the Mother Reject it?
There is some concern that by touching a baby bird, it will then be rejected by the mother upon their reunion. But this is not the case. While we would not recommend handling baby birds unnecessarily, there may be times that you need to and doing this will not cause the mother to reject her chick.
The reason that people believe this myth is down to the sense of smell. Many animals recognize their young through their unique sense. But birds do not have a strong sense of smell and so do not use this to recognise their babies. As a result, if you handle the young, the mother probably wouldn’t even notice that this had happened.
With all of that in mind, it still isn’t a good idea to just go around picking up baby birds; no matter how cute and helpless they may be. In many situations, the birds will not need any human assistance, and you may be doing them more harm than good by moving them away from where you find them. This is especially true of fledglings who may have recently left the nest to explore. While they may not yet be able to fly, the parents are probably close by and still taking care of the baby. Unless you know with absolute certainty that the bird is in need of help, leave it where it is.