Know when to help a baby bird

baby cardinals

Baby cardinal hatchlings patiently wait for food from their mother.

Spring is here! And with it comes blooming flowers, rising temperatures, debilitating allergies – and baby birds.

Those chicks may find themselves out of the nest and helpless on the ground, but knowing basic information can save the animal’s life and benefit the environment. Learn more with information from Dallas Zoo Bird Curator Sprina Liu, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Audubon Texas.

(Consider this your first bird-keeper-in-training lesson.)

Know the bird’s stage of development

A hatchling is a recently hatched baby bird with little to no feathers and closed eyes. These birds are completely helpless and need help getting back into their nests, which should be nearby.

If the baby bird has open eyes and small tufts of feathers, it is likely a nestling, and needs some help. These birds are not mobile and need to be gently returned to the nest. Typically, the bird’s nest is directly above where the nestling is found.

A baby bird attempting to fly may be a fledgling. These young birds can be identified by short feathers and the ability to hop around, flap and grip onto your fingers. If you find a fledgling, the best plan is to step back and wait to see if an adult comes to tend to it. Despite being on the ground, most fledglings aren’t abandoned or helpless – they’re learning how to fly and move around!

Things to remember

• Before intervening with any bird, visually examine it to see if it’s hurt or injured. If you believe it is injured, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

• Baby birds can be delicate and quick action on your part to return the chick to the nest or to a rehabilitation specialist can make the difference.

• It is OK to move a fledgling out of harm’s way if it’s found on a road or busy path.

• If you find a baby bird, it’s always a good idea to restrain, crate or put inside any domestic pets while you deal with the bird.

• When in doubt, leave the bird alone and contact an expert.

Baby bird fast facts

• It’s myth that parents will reject a baby bird handled by a human. Birds have a poor sense of smell.

• Nests aren’t the safe, cozy homes that humans envision. Birds are quick to leave the nest for safety and survival.

• The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal to capture and raise any wild migratory bird.

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One thought on “Know when to help a baby bird

  1. Heather Ashwell-Hair

    we watched a fledgling cardinal last year in our back yard. At first we thought it was injured or lost but the parents were actually close by. It tired easily and we were anxious when it seemed “stuck” on the ground in awkward places. At one point it hopped into the pool so we had to intervene and lift it to our hedge. After an hour or so, it finally flew to a nearby tree. Glad we did the right things.

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