We are currently experiencing a high call volume at the Bird Barn with questions related to baby birds. In fact, one of my employees recently asked me if I had written a column this year on the topic of what to do if one finds a baby bird out of the nest.
This could probably be the shortest column I’ve ever written, as I could answer the title of my column with a single word. The simple answer is to do nothing. I understand that there are sometimes unique and extenuating circumstances, but in most cases, certainly over 90% of the time, the correct answer for what you should do if you find a baby bird is to simply do nothing.
It might seem uncaring but keeping baby birds in nature gives them their best chance for survival. Most folks who “rescue” a baby bird genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, even a good thing. However, human beings, even with the best intentions, are a very poor substitute for an adult bird caring for its offspring. The minute you pick up that baby bird, bring it into the house and place it in a box, you have reduced the odds that that bird will successfully make it to adulthood.
Almost without exception, the best decision is to leave the baby bird right where it was found. When baby birds leave the nest, they maintain contact with their parents as they vocalize back and forth with one another. Mom and Dad know where their babies are, and they will continue to feed and nurture them until the babies become independent of the adults. This may take a few weeks.
Before taking a wild bird into captivity, stop and ask yourself some questions. Do you think you know how to care for a baby bird better than its parents? Do you know what kind of bird it is? Do you know what it eats? Can you teach the baby bird survival skills such as avoiding predators? Can you model foraging behaviors so that it learns what it should be eating out in nature?
Now there are times when it is prudent to move a baby bird. For example, perhaps you have a fenced-in yard with dogs, and you know if you leave the baby bird inside the fenced area the dogs will get it. That is a legitimate reason to jump into action, but I would initiate the least amount of intervention as possible.
Don’t bring the bird inside and put it in a box. Simply move the bird outside of the fenced area. Touching a baby bird will not cause the parents to abandon the bird. The parental instincts of animals—including birds—is very strong. The babies will continue to be cared for after they leave the nest, even if you have touched them.
Nature does a much better job of caring for itself. I am a strong advocate for letting nature take care of itself. Rarely can we improve on nature. Usually when we get involved, we end up making a mess of the situation.
This past week a City of Prescott Animal Control Officer came by the store with a juvenile Cooper’s hawk that had been hit by a car. Fortunately, while stunned, it appeared that the hawk could be released back into the wild. After admiring the hawk and discussing a game plan, the officer took the hawk back to the same area where it had been captured so that its parents could continue to care for it. Great job Officer Hamer!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.