It’s spring and eggs are hatching! What do you do when you come across what appears to be an orphaned baby bird? Your instincts might tell you to pick it up, maybe even care for it until it’s big enough to fly away, or take it to a professional. However, that baby might not be abandoned at all!
It is important to first identify whether the bird is a nestling or a fledgling. A nestling will be pink, featherless or fuzzy, and will likely not yet have opened its eyes, while a fledgling will have adult feathers and may be attempting flight. This important distinction will help you decide how to proceed.
If the bird is a nestling, it has most likely fallen out of its nest. If you can find the nest, you should attempt to return the bird to its home (don’t worry, the idea that mama bird will abandon it because of the smell on your hands is a myth). If the nest has been destroyed, you can make one. Try using a plastic container with small drainage holes cut through the bottom. Line it with soft nesting materials (paper towels or a wash cloth), and nail the container as far up into a tree close to where you found the nestling as you can. The mother will probably locate her young and continue supporting it while it grows to a fledgling.
If you cannot locate the tree from which it probably fell, you should carefully pick up the bird, place it in a small box with nesting material, and contact your local wildlife organization. (Peninsula Humane Society at 650-340-7022x456)
If the bird is a fledgling, it is most likely on the right path! With a full set of feathers and stronger breastbones, fledglings are becoming more independent as they learn to fly & forage. Their mothers are typically nearby (within a few blocks), and will return to continue to teach their fledgling to take care of themselves. In this case, if it’s in a relatively safe place (out of the way of cars and cats), you should leave the bird as close to where you found it as possible so she can find her baby. If you step way back and watch from afar, you’ll probably see mama return with a beak full of food!
If after prolonged observation you don’t see mama return, or if there appears to be a significant injury, give your local wildlife hotline a call for advice on what to do next – before handling the bird. (Peninsula Humane Society at 650-340-7022x456)
It’s important to remember that it is illegal to keep wildlife. As cute as these babies are, let their mothers care for them. However, if you really want to help, there are other adorable babies who would appreciate your contribution!