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Baby Birds and You - What to Do if You Find One

baby robinBy Elena Fox, Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

Spring is nearly upon us! We in the Northwest eagerly shed winter rain gear and head outside where the birds and the bees (and the mammals, both land and sea) are busy bringing the next generation into the world.

This is a time of year when many people come into contact with baby wildlife that may appear to need assistance. Our concern, together with some very common misconceptions can sometimes lead us to cause harm.

For instance, I was taught that if you touched a baby bird, the mother would never take it back. This is not true! Most birds have a comparatively poor sense of smell and can't detect your odor, but even if they could, they would still not abandon their young. Some rules of thumb can help you avoid causing damage to a young bird.

baby birdIf you find a baby bird in a nest- smile at your good fortune and leave it undisturbed! If you find a baby bird on the ground and you can find its nest -- put it back quickly! If you find a baby bird and can't find the nest (which is very likely since birds often hide them) you can make a substitute with an empty margarine tub or cottage cheese container. Simply poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of a clean, dry tub, line it with grass or leaves, and secure it over your head in a tree close to where you think the nest might be. Make sure it is shaded. Keep an eye on the new nest from a distance (binoculars are best) and watch for the parents. In all likelihood an adult will appear on schedule to feed the hungry baby. Parents have been seen caring for a nest full of young as well as tending a rescued baby in a substitute nest.

A little later in the season, we will begin to see young fledgling birds. These guys have feathers and can be found jumping, flapping, or simply resting on the ground. Many birds wind up on the ground in their first attempts at flight. If the fledgling is in an unsafe area such as a sidewalk, road or parking lot, carefully move it to into a nearby bush or undergrowth. In a safe place such as a yard, park or beside a road, watch carefully before interfering with fledglings. Do not assume they are injured. This is a critical time for birds -- they must face risks to develop their skills. Their parents are usually close by to feed them, warn them of danger, and demonstrate how to behave as they become independent. The most important thing you can do is keep pets and children away from the area for a few days.

Of course, it is possible that you will find an obviously injured bird, or a known orphan. In this case, place the baby in a secure container with a lid. Make sure the lid allows plenty of ventilation. Line the box with grass, tissue, and newspaper or paper towel and put it in a dark, warm and quiet place while you call for assistance. It is important that you not offer food or water! It is also important that you not try to keep this baby. For one thing, people are always surprised to learn that it is illegal to keep any wild bird in your home. More importantly, baby birds require intensive care to survive -- they must be fed every 10 to 20 minutes from dawn to dark. Call us if you find a baby bird. We have the trained staff and volunteer team needed to take care of them.

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