Found a baby bird? Here's what you need to know.
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Details on each step are outlined below the infographic. Please feel free to share on social media or download. The contact information given is specific to the Okanagan region of BC. Please be aware that in Canada and many other regions in the world, only licensed wildlife rehabilitation centres and some animal shelters or veterinarians may keep or treat wildlife.
You're out in the garden, or mowing the lawn, or taking the kids for a walk in the park - suddenly you notice it: a helpless little ball of fluff, half-hidden in the grass. A baby bird, too uncoordinated to fly. And because you're a kind person, you want to help the poor little guy. Most people feel responsible when they see a helpless creature - especially a baby. It's normal to want to do something to help it survive.
But - Are you about to become this birds saviour, or are you about become a felon birdnapper?
Here's an easy guide to knowing when it's appropriate to interfere and when you should let nature do its thing - and here's a visual guide you can save, share and print.
Step 1. Stop for just a moment and assess the situation.
First, is the baby bird injured or in serious distress? This might mean you need to get a closer look, but don't touch yet. Check the 3 B's of birds:
Check for obviously broken Bones:
Most bird bones are hollow and light to make flying easy, but this means they break more easily than mammal bones. Wings and legs are most likely to suffer damage in a tough fall. If the bird is moving but dragging a wing or leg, it may be broken or dislocated. They also begin to heal very, very quickly and must be set correctly within hours by a vet.
Check for signs of Blood:
Baby birds are a lot like any baby animal, their immune systems just aren't as developed as an adult. Any scratches, abrasions, or punctures need to be treated seriously, especially if they are caused by a predator, but even more so if it's caused by a cat in particular. Any bird that has been cat-caught - even one than just got a few scratches - will need antibiotics because of the high risk of infection.
Check for quality of Breathing:
Birds have unique respiratory system, which includes not just lungs but also specialized air sacs throughout their diaphragm. If you notice that the bird's breathing is laboured, or if you see excessive bloating in the abdomen, it could mean that an air sac has been ruptured.
If any of these 3Bs are raising red flags for you, call a wildlife rehabilitator. In the Okanagan, we have a bit of a shortage of readily available options. If the bird you found is a raptor (raptors are predatory birds; hawks, eagles, owls, osprey, & falcons), you're in luck! SORCO in Oliver has a lot of experience. However, don't call if your bird is a waterfowl, or songbird. They can't take them - this isn't because they don't want to, but they don't have the permits and it doesn't fit into their mandate. They're specialists, and that's okay.
If your bird ISN'T a raptor, the closest wildlife rehabilitation centre is in Kamloops at the BC Wildlife Park. They take all kinds of birds, mammals, and reptiles, but you may have to transport the animal to them.
If the 3B's are okay, and the bird is uninjured, move on to step 2.
Step 2. Is the bird a hatchling, nestling, or fledgling?
This will help determine your next steps so make sure you know what you're dealing with:
Hatchlings are fresh out of the egg - helpless and - let's face it - pretty ugly. They've usually got closed eyes and pinkish or grayish skin, maybe patches of fluffy down (think fluffy feathers like snufflupagus's eyelashes...). They may appear weak, lumpy, or bloated. If you are dealing with an uninjured hatchling, look for its nest. If you can put it back, that's the best! If not, you can construct a new nest using dry grass and some kind of container, like a small basket. Don't use wool or yarn - strong flexible fibres can wrap around bird toes and cut off circulation. Find some wire and securely attached it to a nearby tree or bush. Mom and Dad bird will find it.
Nestlings have opened eyes, and may have a lot of skin showing where feathers haven't grown in yet. New feathers that look like hard tubes may be protruding from the skin, and it may have some patches of baby feathers or down. If you are dealing with an uninjured nestling, look for its nest. If you can put it back, that's the best! If not, you can construct a new nest using dry grass and some kind of container, like a small basket. Don't use wool or yarn - strong flexible fibres can wrap around bird toes and cut off circulation. Find some wire and securely attached it to a nearby tree or bush. The parent birds will find it.
Fledglings are pretty much fully grown and more-or-less fully feathered, they may even appear bigger than their parents because baby feathers are fluffier and broader than adult feathers. They sometimes have fluffy patches of fuzz, giving them an 'unfinished' look (want to see a bird that looks like Bernie Sanders? You're welcome), and they often have bright yellow fleshy corners of their mouth, called the gape. If you are dealing with an uninjured fledgling, leave it be! This is a normal part of bird development. If it has feathers, it's ready to leave the nest, even if it's unable to feed itself. The parents will stick around (if you give it space!) and will continue to feed the little one on the ground until they gain the control and coordination to take off. No intervention is required!
3. Is there any way you can make this nesting site more safe for future generations of baby birds?
If there's baby birds around, there's a good chance that it's a choice place for birds to nest, and those places are becoming harder and harder for birds to find. From loss of habitat and decreasing food supplies to pesticides and deforestation, life is tougher than ever for bird parents.
What can you do to help?
1. Let your garden - and your lawn - get a little wild. Natural grasses and flowers provide homes for insects and plenty of nutritional pollen and seeds.
2. Keep your cats indoors. Yes, really. Cats are responsible for more bird deaths than disease, deforestation, and wind-powered turbines combined.
3. Leave dead/dying trees where they are. Dead trees provide homes for a variety of species - birds, mammals, and reptiles - for generations. If one of the trees on your property is getting old and rotted, consider leaving it for the birds and their neighbours.
Click the image to see a larger version.