In spring and summer you often see young birds sitting or jumping on the ground, with no parent in sight. This is normal behaviour and is not a cause for concern. As tempting as it is to ‘rescue’ a young bird on the ground, in most cases it is not necessary, and may, in fact, drastically reduce its chances of survival. Only remove a baby bird as a last resort when you are certain it needs your help, such as if it is injured, definitely abandoned and/or definitely orphaned.
If the bird on the ground has feathers, leave it alone and watch it from a distance. It is likely to be a fledgling, and usually the parents are not far away and will return with food. They may be a while—possibly hours—but it is perfectly normal for young birds to leave the nest before they can fly.
If it is a nestling with fluffy down and no feathers, it is likely to have fallen accidentally. If it looks healthy and uninjured, place it back in the nest if possible. If this is not possible, make a makeshift nest (such as from a hanging basket or small shallow box) and carefully place it as high in the tree as possible, on a nearby branch or somewhere off the ground and out of danger.
Contrary to popular belief, parent birds will not reject their young if you pick them up—birds generally have a very limited sense of smell. Again, the parents won’t be far away. If you are unable to place a healthy chick back in its nest or out of danger nearby, then you need to get it to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible if it is to survive.
It is very unlikely for parents to abandon their young. However, sometimes parent birds will reject young if they are unhealthy or if there is not enough food available – they concentrate their efforts on the strongest and healthiest ones.
If you think the baby bird is sick or injured and you are able to safely capture it, place it in a box or pet carrier and leave it in a warm, quiet room away from pets and loud noises. If you are unable to find it help after hours, keep it warm and quiet and take it to your nearest veterinary hospital or wildlife rehabilitation centre as soon as possible. DO NOT offer food. A shallow dish of water can be left in the box.
To reduce unnecessary stress on the baby bird and possible death/shock, avoid the following:
- loud noises (including car radios, talking, laughing etc.)
- foreign smells (perfumes etc.)
- extreme temperature changes
- sudden movements
- being handled by humans
- domestic animals
- bright lights