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Orphaned Birds

Situation: You've found a young bird you think may be orphaned.

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Why this happens:

  • Nestling birds (naked or down-covered baby birds who are too young to be out of their nests) sometimes fall from their nest or their nest blows down and they are found lying on the ground 
  • Fledging birds (partially or fully feathered birds that are old enough to leave their nests but are too young to fly well and are therefore still under parental care) are sometimes found on the ground and assumed to be orphaned when no parent is seen nearby 

"I found a naked (or downy) baby bird on the ground. What should I do?"

A nestling bird will not survive for long out of its nest. Nestling are highly dependent on their parents for warmth, food, and protection from the elements and predators. So, a fallen nestling should ideally be put back into its nest. The exception to this is if the bird is injured. If you see cuts, bruises, abrasions, or signs of blood on the baby bird, it is unlikely to survive unless it is brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. 

  1. Search for the bird's nest. Some species nest in trees or shrubs, others nest on ledges, homes, or buildings, while others even nest on the ground. Sometimes just one or more nestlings will have fallen from the nest, other times the entire nest is found on the ground. While nest materials vary by species, many birds use dried grasses, fine twigs, and sometimes mud and hair to construct their nest.
  2. If you've found the nest up on a ledge or branch and you can safely reach it, you should place the baby bird back in the nest. HOWEVER, if the baby bird is cool to the touch, he should be warmed before being returned to his nest. This can be accomplished by holding him gently in your cupped hands for a few mintues or by partially filling a zip-lock plastic bag with very warm (but not hot) water and placing him on top of it. Most birds have little to no sense of smell, so the parents will NOT reject the baby simply because a human has touched him, but they might reject him if he is cold when put back in the nest. 
  3. If the entire nest has fallen down, you can try replacing the nest as close as possible to its original location. If the nest is falling apart or you can't get it to stay up where it belongs, you can place the nest into a plastic cup with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. The cup gives the nest additional support to hold it together and makes it easier to fasten up in a tree or shrub. 

Keep watch from a distance and if you don't see parents return to feed the babies after two hours, call your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. 

"I found a young bird that has feathers, but it still has some downy tufts and looks like it can't fly. What should I do?"

Fledgling songbirds are mostly or fully feathered young  birds that have become too big/old for their nest. They leave the nest before they are able to fly and spend several days learning to fly "from the ground up." They are vulnterable to predator attacks at this time, but the parents continue to feed and defend their young during this stage. Parent birds may only stop for a few seconds to fee a fledgling before leaving to forage for more food. So, they may be seen without a parent close by. For this reason, people who find a fledgling mistakenly think that the young bird is orphaned. Before assuming that the bird is orphaned and scooping it up for a trip to a wildlife rehabilitator, watch to see if the bird is truly orphaned. The best way to tell if a fledgling is orphaned or not is to watch from a distance, preferably from indoors where the parent birds can't see you, and wait to see if a parent comes by. If after a couple hours no parent bird comes to feed the fledgling, call your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice.   

For more information:

  • I found a baby duck (or goose) all alone. What should I do?
  • I found a young bird that appears to be injured. What should I do?
  • I found a baby hawk (or owl, or heron) on the ground. What should I do?

Visit this PDF to learn more!

Thanks for caring about wildlife and for helping to #KeepWildlifeWild