During the Spring and Summer months, it’s not uncommon to come across what looks like an orphaned baby bird on the ground, exposed and vulnerable. Even in a metropolitan area like New York City, baby birds can fall from their nests. What should you do when you see a baby bird in need of assistance? It’s important to first determine:
- Is the bird a hatchling or a fledgling?
- Has the bird actually been abandoned?
What’s a Hatchling?
A hatchling is small and may be bald or only have tufts of feathers. They are very young and fragile and may accidentally fall from their nests. If the nest from which the hatchling fell can be identified, the baby bird should be placed back in the nest, if possible. It is a myth that handling by humans will cause the parents to abandon their young, partly because of birds’ poorly developed senses of smell. They may not even notice a human has touched their young! In the event that the nest is out of reach, the young may be placed in a small box lined with tissue or shredded paper and placed as close to the nest as possible. Cover the box with loose paper for protection while still allowing the parents easy access for retrieval. Do not offer food. The diets of birds are very specific and it’s best to just allow the parents to take over.
What’s a Fledgling?
Fledglings are more mature than hatchlings and may have full feathering, with shorter wings and tails. Fledglings may leave the nest several days before being able to fly, and so may be found on the ground, apparently helpless. The parents will still be caring for these babies though they may not be immediately visible or identifiable. When a fledgling is found, it is important to just stop and observe whether the parents are nearby. If may take half an hour or longer for the parents to return. Again, if the fledgling seems to be in an unsafe spot, it is okay to put the bird in a box and move it to a more sheltered area, as close to where it was found as possible. The parents, who will be listening for their young, should be able to take over from there.
Handling Baby Birds
Ideally, you should always wear gloves when handling birds and wash your hands thoroughly after. Even baby birds can carry parasites. Remember, in New York City, it is illegal to keep wild birds in captivity even if you plan to release them. If you have found a bird that is in need of medical care, or that the parents have not identified, please reach out to your East Village veterinarians, or contact a wildlife rehabilitator such as Wild Bird Fund.