What should you do if you find a baby bird?

The warmer weather is here and young birds are starting to  leave their nests. It is not unusual at this time of year to see fledglings sitting on the ground, perching on low branches or hiding beneath bushes as they gain their confidence and learn to fly. 

Fledgling sitting in grass

Should I pick it up?

In most cases fledglings should be left alone where they are. The parents will not be far away and they will be keeping an eye on them. Removing a fledgling from the wild will severely reduce its chances of long term survival and should be avoided wherever possible. 

If the fledgling is in immediate danger, on a road, pathway or some where very exposed pick it up very gently and move it just a short distance. Make sure it is still within hearing distance of where you found it so the parents can locate it easily when they return.

blackbird fledgling being fed by parent

Will the parents reject the baby if I handle it?

Parent birds will not abandon the baby bird if it has been handled as birds have a poor sense of smell. It is wise to have clean hands and or wear gloves when picking up a bird and to wash your hands afterwards.

Fledglings vs Nestlings

Robin fledgling sitting on bird feeder

Fledgling sitting upright with plenty of feathers. 

Nestlings in a nest

Nestlings, featherless and helpless outside of the nest.

Unfortunately not all baby birds we might find are ready to leave the nest like fledglings are. Nestlings are younger birds, unequipped for independent life. 

Nestlings should be placed carefully back in the nest if you can find it, it will often be nearby. If you cant see a nest wait for an hour to see if the parents come to attend it.  Make sure you are not so close as to scare the parents away. If no parents arrive then you can contact your local wildlife rescue group for advice and help (see below for links to wildlife charities).

Nestling 

  • Few or no feathers.
  • Extremely vulnerable out of the nest.
  • Flightless.
  • Maybe unable to walk.

Fledgling

  • Fuzzy down and adult feathers.
  • Learning to fly, hopping around.
  • Perching, hiding under bushes.
  • stands more upright with wings tucked tightly into sides.

Can we help fledglings?

There is not a great deal we can do to help fledglings, their parents are they experts when it comes to raising them. Keeping cats indoors during the days when you spot fledglings out and about and they  are at their most vulnerable is worth while. Fledglings don’t need very long to gain confidence and become airborne, and unfortunately before they do they are easy targets for predators.

Supplementary feeding at stations with suitable foods and access to clean water will always be of benefit to both growing and adult birds.

cat gazing out of a window

If  you can keep cats in when fledglings are about, they are literally ‘sitting ducks’. It is only a few days a year and can make a big difference to a brood of baby birds.

Who can I call for advice?

Veterinary surgeons are not obliged to treat wildlife for free, although many will do so. Your local vets may therefore be ready to offer care and/or advice or put you in contact with a local wildlife rescue organisation.

National animal welfare charities  can help and give advice on injured wildlife include;

helpwildlife.co.uk have a search tool for locating nearby wildlife rescue organisations.