BabyBirdsSpring is in the air, which means that birds will begin building their nests and raising their families. It’s also the time of year when many veterinarians, pet stores, and wildlife rescue services receive a large number of calls about an orphaned baby bird found by good Samaritans who want to help.

While our first instinct may be to rescue what we think are lost baby birds, it is important to note that the vast majority have not actually been abandoned – and intervening can do more harm than good.

How to Tell if a Baby Bird Is in Danger

The first thing to determine is how young the bird is:

  • A hatchling, also referred to as a nestling, will be bald, with downy fur or pin-like feathers, and its eyes will be closed.

  • A fledgling, also called a branchling, will have some or all of its feathers, a short tail, and fully opened eyes.

Hatchlings usually fall from nests accidentally. Despite the old wives tales, birds have a very poor sense of smell and will welcome a missing baby that is returned to the nest.

With this in mind, the best course of action is find the nest and return the baby to its parents. If you are unable to find the nest or it is destroyed by wind or other causes, you can tack a small plastic tub or fruit container to the tree near the original nest, line it with grass or leaves, and place the baby inside. If they are able, most parents will return to their chick.

Fledglings often leave the nest several days before they can really fly. A fledgling’s parents are often nearby, and will come back to feed the baby as it works on strengthening its wings for longer flight.

Do not be tempted to pick up a fledgling. Keeping pets and children away is the best way to help. The vast majority of fledglings found on the ground are there as a normal part of their development and need this time to develop and learn to fly.

What to Do if You Find a Baby Bird

  • Do not cause undue stress to the baby bird by handling them, having crowds around them, or taking them into unfamiliar conditions.

  • If you must lift a bird back into its nest, wear rubber gloves. Wild birds can carry lice, ticks, mites, bacteria, and parasites that can make you or your pets sick.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after handling any type of wild bird for any reason.

  • Do not attempt to give food or water to an orphaned bird.

  • If there is no possible way to return the bird to its parents and intervention is necessary, contact a licensed animal wildlife rescue service. It is illegal to house wild animals and birds without a license, even if it is your intent to release it back into the wild.