Finding a baby bird abandoned on the ground can be traumatic for both you and the bird. If the bird has feathers it is classed as a fledgling and therefore should be left where it is found. If the baby bird is featherless then you should attempt to find its original nest. If you can’t find the original nest then you should create a temporary one using a container and some old clothes. In the meantime, located your local professionals such as vets and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Follow this step by step guide on what to do when you find a baby bird on the ground:
1. Nestling or Fledgling?
- Nestling – Featherless, pink skin and can’t move.
- Fledglings – juvenile birds, feathers not confident fliers.
If you find a fledgling – keep away! Fledglings will hop around on the ground away from their mothers for a couple of weeks while they’re maturing. Although it might seem that they are abandoned, their mothers will not be far away and any attempt to relocate the fledgling will do more harm than good.
2. What happens if you find a Nestling?
Your first action should be to find the original nest of the baby bird. Search nearby trees a foliage for any sign of the nest. Returning the nestling is the best-case scenario and will ultimately give most comfort to the baby nestling.
In some rare cases mother birds will eject the weakest nestling from the nest. If they feel like they can’t sustain the health of each of their babies they will eject the weakest baby bird. You should always put a nestling back in the nest but if you notice that it gets ejected then you will need to take care of it yourself. (Skip to #3)
If the you find the nest broken on the ground or in nearby foilage then you should certainly keep it. Often nests will fall to the ground but will break in the process.
Whether you have located part of the nest or no nest at all you will need to find a container of similar size to a birds nest. Plastic tupperwear from the kitchen or an old shoebox is usually a good solution!
3. What if the mother bird doesn’t return within a few hours?
If you have waited a few hours hours since leaving the container where you found the nestling then you should bring the container inside. Leave the container in a quiet and warm section of the house. It is incredibly important that you DO NOT FEED the nestling. They require a specialist diet that is very difficult to replicate.
If you notice that the nestling is cold then we advise warming a sock up lightly in the microwave and placing it in the container. This will allow the nestling to gain some heat.
Seek help immediately, contact the local vet, humane society or wildlife rehabilitation center to help you out. At this stage, you need professional help.
4. No help is available for over 24 hours?
In this rare situation, you will have to feed the bird. But we can’t stress enough that this is an absolute worst-case scenario and you are looking to avoid this at all costs. The bird will survive for 24 hours before needing to be fed. Never feed a nestling any liquids, they can inhale it and die. They get their liquids from moisture in their food.
What food do baby birds eat?
- Moistened dog food/kibble/biscuits
- Raw liver
- Hard-boiled eggs
What food shouldn’t baby birds eat?
- Kitchen leftovers
You want to cut these foods into as small as pieces as possible and moisten all food to ensure easy eating for the bird. Avoid touching the bird as it can cause harm or stress to the baby.
Many people try and adopt a baby bird with the best intentions of giving it care. Unfortunately many nestlings will die due to the specialist care that is needed for them to survive. Seek professional help and give the nestling the best chance of surviving.
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We are avid bird-watchers who recently retired, allowing us more time to travel the world. Fortunately, we have managed to visit numerous countries around Europe, Asia, and America. Watching and photographing birds has been a passion for many years and we are making the most of the extra time on our hands!