What to do if you find a Baby or Injured Bird

Baby Birds

To rescue or not to rescue?  That is an excellent question!
Baby birds go through many stages of growth and development before they become independent and no longer require the care of their parents. Let’s take a look at some of the critical stages of development for baby songbirds and review their needs for parental care, what’s normal behavior, etc.  

 Hatchlings


Hatchling songbirds are naked, featherless, and helpless; their eyes are closed during the first few days of life.  These birds are 0-3 days old and will be in the nest, not on the ground.  Typically, the female parent will brood the babies to keep them warm because at this age, baby songbirds are not able to thermoregulate (maintain their body heat).  Parents deliver food to their babies at regular intervals throughout the day, approximately every 15 minutes from sunrise to sunset.  At this stage they will quickly die of hypothermia and starvation without parental care. 

Nestling



Nestling songbirds are still nest-bound and very dependent on their parents for care.  Their eyes are open and they are vocal. Older nestling are preening (grooming) themselves and beginning to exercise their wings. In general, young nestling songbirds have pin feathers (feathers which are just developing and still covered in a keratin sheath) and older nestlings have mostly feathered bodies, but are still growing in their tail and wing feathers. Notice the difference in coverage and development of feathers in these photos. The length of the nestling stage varies from species to species, but is usually 9-12 days. SWALLOWS are an exception as they remain in the nest until they are approximately 20 days of age.  Nature’s plan for baby songbirds is for them to grow quickly so they can leave their nest quickly.  As prey species, the longer they’re in the nest, the more vulnerable they are to predators.    

Fledgling 


Nestling songbirds are still nest-bound and very dependent on their parents for care.  Their eyes are open and they are vocal. Older nestling are preening (grooming) themselves and beginning to exercise their wings. In general, young nestling songbirds have pin feathers (feathers which are just developing and still covered in a keratin sheath) and older nestlings have mostly feathered bodies, but are still growing in their tail and wing feathers. Notice the difference in coverage and development of feathers in these photos. The length of the nestling stage varies from species to species, but is usually 9-12 days. SWALLOWS are an exception as they remain in the nest until they are approximately 20 days of age.  Nature’s plan for baby songbirds is for them to grow quickly so they can leave their nest quickly.  As prey species, the longer they’re in the nest, the more vulnerable they are to predators.  

The majority of fledgling songbirds are well feathered on their body with short wing and tail feathers; they’re able to stand, walk and hop; they may be able to make short flights from branch to branch or from the ground up to low branches; and they are vocal and still dependent on their parents for care.  During this stage they are commonly observed on the ground, out in the open, on branches and in bushes - all over the place! 

Although the parents may not be with their fledgling every second of the day, they remain in 
vocal contact at all times.  Additionally, the location where you observed the baby is the parents' territory, so they are always nearby.  It will take a few days to more than a week before fledgling songbirds can fly well enough to attempt to keep up with their parents and evade danger.  They are vulnerable and naïve at this stage of their development.  If you have outdoor cats, the kindest thing you can do for the birds is keep your cats indoors.  Remember, keeping cats indoors is safer for wildlife AND cats.  

Follow these steps if you think a nest of baby SONGBIRDS or a FLEDGLING songbirds has been orphaned, before you attempt to rescue:

  • Watch the nest or the youngster for at least one hour, non-stop.  Parent birds are fast and discreet when feeding their young.  So by taking your eyes off the baby or the nest for even a few seconds, you could miss the parents delivering a meal.
  • Observe at a safe distance away from the nest or the baby, at least 50 feet.  If you can view the birds from a place indoors, this is even better.  Parent birds will be wary to approach their baby if they know a predator (human, or otherwise) is in the vicinity. 
  • Keep pets inside while you’re observing.  If you have a child observing with you, make sure they understand it is important to remain very quiet and still.
  • If you observe the parent birds delivering food and tending to their young, all is well.
  • If you are certain the baby/babies are abandoned, follow the instructions for “Preparing a bird for transport”. 


If you find a hatchling or Nestling on the ground

  • Carefully and loosely wrap it in a soft cloth and place it in a small box or bag with a few holes for ventilation
  • Keep the baby warm, dark and quiet
  • Placing the container with the baby in it on a heating pad set on LOW will be very helpful in keeping the baby warm.
  • Do not offer it any food, medicine or water
  • Call us immediately for further advice, even if you know where the nest is. 

Nest destroyed/blown down/cut down:

Please call us first before attempting to re-nest baby birds.  Re-nesting songbirds does not simply involve preparing an artificial nest and attaching it to a tree branch, or relocating the original nest.  Songbirds are very selective about the structure and placement of their nest. Even under the best of circumstances, a nest of baby songbirds is extremely vulnerable to predation by jays, crows, hawks, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, rats, and cats; as well as exposure to the elements and human disturbance. 

Signs if the bird is injured include:

  • Obvious injury such as blood anywhere on the body; a leg or wing is not symmetrical with other side;  bird is unable to use a wing or leg; leg or wing is dragging or part of it is missing or out of normal position.
  • Had contact, or suspected contact, with a cat or dog – even if you can’t find any injuries, you need to bring the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care.  The tiniest puncture wound, especially from a cat, quickly introduces lethal bacteria into a bird’s body.
  • It is a featherless, helpless hatchling.
  • Appears lethargic, weak, unresponsive, cannot lift head, or is cold.
  • Has a strange odor.
  • Feathers are contaminated with something, or appear wet and matted down.
  • Has poor balance, seizures, cannot turn head straight, is a fledgling and cannot stand up or grip with feet, or is shaking.
  • Eyes or nostrils appear infected.
  • Droppings are liquid and white or bright green.
  • Has bugs, ants, flies crawling all over it.
  • One or both of the parents are known to be dead.
  • If the bird exhibits any of the signs above, rescue it immediately, and follow the instructions to “Prepare a bird for transport

    Preparing for bird Transport

    • Prepare a box or paper bag appropriate for the size of the bird.
    • Make small holes for ventilation in the box/bag.
    • Line the box/bag with something soft so the bird is insulated and does not slip around.  Please note: if you are transporting a hatchling or nestling bird, please fashion a small nest using a clean soft cloth around the baby to help insulate it - they cannot regulate their body heat at this age.
    • Carefully pick up the bird with a soft towel or gloved hand and place the bird in the bag/box. 
    • Make sure the box/bag is securely closed to prevent accidental escapes.
    • DO NOT off the bird any food, water or medication - the wrong food can kill a bird, fluids when administered improperly can kill a bird, the wrong medication/medical treatment can kill a bird.
    • Keep the bird warm, dark and quiet.  
    • Stress can KILL a wild bird!  Talking to the bird, holding it, playing music, noise from pets and children, etc. is very stressful for any wild animal.


      Please remember, all native wildlife is protected by federal law and can only be cared for by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  Wild native songbirds have very specific dietary needs, requirements for housing, care and release back to the wild.  The internet is filled with misinformation, even some grossly irresponsible information and should not be utilized for advice about hand-raising any wildlife.  It is also important to remember that raising wild native birds is in no way similar to raising domestic pet birds, regardless of advice provided by a health professional for domestic animals or a pet store.  Over the years we have received many baby birds that were raised by well-meaning, but misinformed untrained humans.  The results were very poor and often resulted in the unfortunate and unnecessary death of the bird.  So, if you’ve taken the first step to do the right thing for the bird by rescuing it, please complete the process and bring it to a licensed wildlife facility where it can receive proper medical and supportive care by a trained professional.
    Article thanks to: http://nativesongbirdcare.org/I_found_a_bird.html

    Florida Wildlife 

    Hospital & Sanctuary 

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    Palm Shores, FL 32935

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