What Do You Do If You Find A Baby Wild Bird?

What Do You Do When You Find A Baby Wild Bird?

 December 16th, 2013
Posted By:
Mel
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Not an Australian native – this is a feral/pest species found here; so not one that can legally be placed in a shelter and a vet would have to euthanise it.  Fortunately, I could reunite it with its parents.

 

Baby birds are one of the most common wild bird rescue situations that I deal with during the warmer months. At the time I’m typing this, I’m literally waiting for the night to end and daylight to come so I can follow-up on a case I dealt with yesterday. It might be summer here in Australia but I had hail bouncing off my head during this rescue yesterday. That particular chick is going to be the least of it; you can always anticipate a day of baby cases after a storm.

 

Myth #1: Parent birds will reject their offspring if a human handles it.

 

I don’t know where this myth originated but it’s well known globally and at best has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering and at worst has undoubtedly been the cause of many baby bird deaths. It is totally 100% definitely NOT true. Parent birds do not reject their young because you have touched their baby. Rather, if they notice you nearby, they’re probably trying to kill you for being there or else they are desperately trying to get their baby back if you do happen to pick it up.

 

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This cat carrier kept the chick safe from cats and the neighbour’s dog and the parents were able to reach in and feed it/look after it through the bars.

 

Does the baby actually need to be ‘rescued’?

 

Well-meaning humans unnecessarily ‘rescue’ many baby birds, so this is the first question you should be asking yourself if a baby bird finds its way to you. In many cases, a baby bird learning to fly looks like it needs rescue when really it’s at a natural stage of development. The trick is to watch and see if the parents are around. They may be off foraging for food, but they will come back and feed their baby. If that’s the case, don’t steal the baby. The best option is to usually ask people in the area to contain pet dogs and cats for a couple of days while the chick learns to fly. Similarly if someone brings you a baby bird – check out the location where it came from, as you may be able to reunite it with its parents by just providing a fake nest.

 

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When the chick was old enough to safely learn to fly, I transferred it to a hanging basket. This way the chick could leave when ready and the parents could continue to feed it. I kept the five year old child (my neighbour) that had brought me the bird involved in this process because there is no better way to get a child interested in looking after wildlife (even if it is a feral species that created the interest).

 

Myth # 2: Birds learn to fly on their own.

 

There are many reasons why it is preferable for the parents to raise their own chicks. Flying is a skill and while some part of learning to fly is instinctual and birds should really get there in the end, the parents do teach their young many basics. Not to mention that they’re there to guard their babies as they learn.

 

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An easy fake nest to make. Take two hanging baskets, Turn one upside down and cable tie them together. Use wire cutters to make an entrance.  Coconut fbre inserts (bought from the plant nursery) provide shelter and warmth.  Literally a five minute job.

 

The other thing to think about is the process of feeding. The way in which parent birds regurgitate food to their young actually works to help a chick establish correct gut flora. It’s also useful in helping the chick develop a stronger immune system. It also teaches the chick what sort of food they should be looking for when they eventually have to fend for themselves.

 

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The blackbird left the fake nest, spent a day in my lemon tree and then flew off with its parents. It was very lucky its parents had been able to look after it.  Unlike Indian Miner birds, blackbirds aren’t pulling our native birds out of their nests, so these guys are pretty harmless.  I didn’t want to put a young child off getting help for wildlife by telling him he had the wrong sort of bird unless I really had to. Instead he loved every second of watching to make sure the parents fed the baby and he now has a real interest in wildlife and birds.

 

When is a rescue necessary?

 

Sometimes strong winds, a storm or a predator may bring a chick out of the nest earlier than it really should have been. This is when some intervention may be necessary but considering the above, it’s preferable if you can intervene in a way that doesn’t separate the chick from its parents.

 

Using the example of the case I’m currently working on… Yesterday we had some pretty dodgy weather here. One second it was sunny, the next second the sky was black and throwing things at us. One of the things that got thrown about was a small noisy miner bird chick. It was actually at the correct age for emerging from the nest and the parents were trying to look after it on the ground but intervention was necessary for a few reasons.

 

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A fairly busy car park. Frequent bursts of hail… This is not what you want to see.

 

Firstly, the location was shocking. The chick was hopping around the carpark of a strip mall. Secondly, the weather was atrocious. The chick was trying to shelter from the hail by hiding under a parked car and it was clearly going to get too cold if it didn’t get some real shelter soon. Considering that parked cars don’t stay parked for long, there was a good chance it was going to get squashed or the parents were going to get hit by one of the cars. The other chicks were still high up in the nest and would be in serious trouble if something happened to their parents. Intervention was necessary but baby theft was not.  (Tip: Observe what’s going on from a distance even if it means zooming in with a camera.  You’ll find out if parents are feeding a chick a lot more quickly if you’re not in the way.)

 

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This is a young noisy miner chick (so it is the native variety of miner bird found here). It’s actually the correct age to start to learn to fly but too young to cope with the storm that knocked it out of the nest. (Having trouble keeping warm with hail bouncing off its head.)

 

If you put a bird in a fake nest, the parents will still feed it.

 

Duct tape is an awesome invention. I solved my miner bird problem with a cardboard box and duct tape. The box was the fake nest, the duct tape was the water-proofing and helped secure my ‘nest’ to a tree. I lined it with some paper towelling and grass. I caught the baby (who screeched like a banshee while a parent tried to de-eye me).  Its temperature was dangerously low so I took it home and dried it off by warming it in a heatbox.  Once it was stable I settled it in the cardboard box and took it back to the parents.

 

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The chick is quite calm and nestled into the paper towel that I have lined the box with.

 

A few tips: Attach your fake ‘nest’ to a trunk/very thick branch so it doesn’t move too much in the wind. Don’t put it too high up in the tree because the baby will come out eventually and you don’t want it to fall too far. You don’t want it so low that a predator can get it either. I usually either write on the box or leave a sign so that people know why this thing is stuck in a tree. Clearly ask people not to touch it.

 

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Attached firmly to a thick branch with another thick branch acting as a roof.

 

I like using a box because a lid with a hole in it will provide some shelter from the elements. A hanging plant basket is another option. Some people like to nail a container into a tree too (drill holes for drainage if you do this). If it will hold something that the bird can snuggle into and the parent can access the baby for feeding, it will work.

 

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Don’t forget to check for any other chicks that might be on the ground. In this case, the rest of the chicks were still in the nest (far too high for me to return the misplaced chick) but close enough for the parents to look after both chick locations.

 

I have also used a cat crate in the past too. I usually use this when I can closely monitor the bird, when a bird is still too young to fly, and I want to ensure it doesn’t leave the fake nest too soon (especially if there are too many cats around that people won’t contain). I’m careful to use one with bar spacing that is wide enough to allow the parents to continue to feed the bird during the day but the chick still can’t escape. I bring the bird in to a heat lamp at night.

 

Following up on your fake nest.

 

Close monitoring is essential here, as you need to know the parents are maintaining feeding. If it’s in a private yard, the lazy person in me usually sets up a security camera and just reviews the footage at a higher speed while drinking coffee (beats staring at a tree all day). When the bird is old enough to leave the nest, I’ll switch from the cat crate to a hanging basket, so it can leave when ready. It usually doesn’t take long for the parents to call the baby out when it is ready.

 

Another reason to monitor your fake nests is to make sure the public haven’t messed with them. Over curious humans are annoying. This is another reason to use a cardboard box in a public location – people steal cat carriers and hanging baskets.

 

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Checking the chick’s progress right on dusk, it was still in the box and this parent was guarding it/watching me closely. The rest of the chicks were with the other parent in the nest.

 

If the parents aren’t around/the bird is orphaned:

 

This is when a fake nest isn’t going to help you and unfortunately things get a lot more serious.

I don’t recommend hand-rearing if you don’t know what you are doing. A lot can go wrong and when it does – it happens very quickly. Get the chick to a wildlife rescuer/carer/organisation/vet. Even if you feel you know what you are doing with handfeeding a baby bird, the bird stands a better chance if you get it to someone who is doing this routinely. It isn’t just about keeping the chick healthy, it’s just as much about giving them the skills they need to survive.

 

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It’s first light and this is what I found below the tree with the nest in it. This is the hard part about wildlife rescue – one of the other chicks had come out of the nest during the night, got too cold and died.

 

Inadequate temperature is the number one thing that kills baby birds:

 

Inadequate temperature is the number one thing that will quickly kill a chick. If you find a baby bird – it is essential you keep it warm. A hot water bottle/heat pad wrapped in a tea towel (so it doesn’t burn the bird) will work. Heat lamps are even better.  Click here to read a post on heat sources.
As a quick environment temperature guide:

 

  • Sick/injured bird – 28 Degrees Celsius/82.4 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Naked young – 36 Degrees Celsius/96.8 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Feathered – 26 Degrees Celsius/78.8 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fledglings – 23 Degrees Celsius/73.4 Degrees Fahrenheit

 

As always – watch your body language. A bird that is sitting fluffed up is too cold; a bird that is panting and holding its wings out is too hot.

 

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This is the chick that spent the night in my box. His/her siblings were now climbing around in this tree, so I removed the chick from the box, climbed the tree myself and placed the chick on a branch close to its siblings.  Yes this chick is cold but the parent is already on it.

 

Don’t stress the chick out!

 

Treat the chick as if it is in shock. Provide a heat source, quiet and darkness. Keep pets and noisy children away. Don’t over handle it. Don’t stick a flashing camera in its face.
I must stress the camera side of it. I don’t like seeing sick and injured wildlife in Facebook pictures. A rescue should be about the animal, not the cute picture. There is a reason I don’t post photos of the wildlife I deal with on a daily basis all over Facebook.

 

I understand that pics can be used for educational purposes (I’m using them myself in this post). However, as a wildlife rescuer/transporter I can honestly say it is very rare for me to be in a position to take a picture. When I see them, the animals usually aren’t stable enough to cope with that added stress. My focus is always the animal and that leaves little time to pull out a camera. There is time enough to take an educational picture when the animal has been stabilised and is doing well in care or in the case of some chicks – settled safely and calmly in their fake nest. None of the photos used in this post were taken in the early stages of rescue. Each picture is of a stable animal that is well past the ‘shock stage’. All pictures were taken after the animal had received appropriate vet care/treatment.  (This is why there is no pic of the chick in the heatbox for example, instead I got one when it was warm and comfortable in the fake nest.)  I think the pictures I’ve used still educate despite being past that initial stage.

 

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Three chicks and a parent. It didn’t take long for the parent to nudge the chick I’d put in the tree up to where the other 2 surviving chicks were.

Quarantine.

 

I’ve done all of the training, I have all of the equipment, I have the space and time but I’m not a carer and I’m not a shelter. Instead, I limit my wildlife work to rescue, transport and helping at other shelters as required. The reason? I have a lot of pets.

 

I wouldn’t want to accidentally desensitise wild animals to the dangers of cats and dogs and I certainly wouldn’t want to risk my pets by exposing them to any diseases that wild animals are carrying.

 

Do not stick the cute stray bird in with your pet birds. Keep them separate and maintain quarantine standards. Don’t share equipment. I have wildlife transport carriers and pet carriers and I don’t mix them up. Use a cardboard box instead of your pet bird’s carrier.  It sounds paranoid but if you’re dealing with wildlife rescue you probably share my paranoia. Disease is frighteningly common amongst wild birds and if it needs rescue – there is probably a reason behind that need. Don’t risk your own flock.

 

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Feeding the babies. Checking back later in the afternoon – I can no longer tell the three chicks apart. (The adult is the upper bird.)

 

Feeding chicks:

 

As a general rule, I advise people to contact a wildlife rescuer/carer/organisation/vet BEFORE trying to feed a chick. They will be able to advise you if they think the bird should be fed and if so, what the food should be and how much to give. In most cases, the bird should be ok until someone qualified can take over. It can be a real nightmare when a member of the public feeds a chick something incorrectly.

 

A big part of a wild bird’s care plan, is what they weigh (before food), how much food or water they take, how long it takes the crop to clear and how this affects their weight and poo and alertness. You get the idea. This information is essential for a carer if they are to monitor a bird’s progress.

 

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Very different from the adults/juveniles – a chick can be hard to identify. This is a feral species (not Australian) – this is a Spotted Dove chick. (Yup I climb trees while carrying a camera…)

 

Different species have different dietary requirements and those requirements are going to be different to what the adults in their species eat. Correctly identifying a chick is essential. Standard bird identification books aren’t going to help you here. The average identification book will show you what a juvenile bird looks like but not what a chick looks like. Here in Australia, I use a book called “Chicks, Nestlings & Fledglings of Australian Birds” by Norma Henderson.    (Purchased through wildlife organisations, it isn’t easy to get.)

 

At this time of year, I keep a range of baby food products in my wildlife first aid kit. I like the brand “Wombaroo”. They have three powdered products that mix up into wet formulas for different types of birds. Insectivore is for insect and meat eaters; Granivore is for seed and fruit eaters, Nectarivore is for nectar and pollen eaters.
Water is usually a safe thing to offer, provided it is at a reasonable temperature that won’t change the bird’s temperature. Some species of bird (usually birds of prey) will often fulfil their daily water needs with the blood of their prey. Even these species of birds shouldn’t be hurt by drinking water.

 

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Severely dehydrated Tawny Frogmouth chick. It takes 3 days to correct dehydration. Giving a vet-prescribed amount of water (based on body weight) at timed intervals to keep this chick going until the shelter operator got back from a different rescue case and was able to accept a new intake.

 

Why get the bird to a wildlife rescue/vet even if you know what you’re doing:

 

I don’t keep the above food on hand because I plan to hand rear wild birds. I’m a rescuer/transporter NOT a carer (although I’ve done courses/training as a carer). I keep it on hand in case I have to feed a baby bird in the time that it is in my care. It can sometimes take hours to get a bird in to see a specialist vet if required. It can also take a few hours to arrange for the best possible carer/shelter to take a bird. My point is: if you get the bird to someone who does this routinely – they should have the specialist equipment and food on hand. They should also be collecting essential information and have the contacts to ensure the best possible outcome.

 

What do I mean by best possible shelter/carer? As an example, I will try to place Tawny Frogmouths in a shelter that I know has aviaries especially dedicated to Tawnies. Orphans benefit from a surrogate flock. If you can place a baby where other orphans of the same species are being raised, you stand a better chance of socialising the bird properly and preventing it from imprinting on you. So in the case of the Tawny Frogmouth shown in my pictures: It went to a shelter where there was an adult Tawny in care and another eight orphaned chicks. It was taught what real food looks like (cutting up dead mice with scissors isn’t for the faint-hearted). The setup included hunting training (think of things like a specially designed train set with cut up dead mouse bits attached so that the birds learn that mice move). A falconer was used for flight training. These are facilities that the average person simply doesn’t have.

 

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Any wildlife carer/shelter would likely have taken this one but the benefits of putting an orphan with others of its kind are priceless. This one did very well in care with its surrogate family and excelled at its flight training.

 

You might have found a more common species of bird but they will still benefit from going somewhere that has a large flight aviary and other chicks of the same species.
It is actually completely illegal here in Australia to keep a wild animal in your care without the appropriate license. It’s true that you can keep some native birds as a pet without a licence. The key word there is ‘pet’. A wild injured galah requires a licence while a ‘pet’ galah does not. Wildlife carers here usually live in/run a licensed shelter and they really do go through a lot to get those licenses. When I say wildlife shelter – I am not referring to the RSPCA style of shelter. Wildlife shelters are usually private premises/houses. I have never taken a wild animal to the RSPCA and I never will. The RSPCA in Australia is better equipped for looking after cats and dogs.

 

The best bit?

The best bit is when you see a wild bird flying free and it pauses to look at you. I always walk away wondering if it paused because it knew me from a rescue? There is no better feeling.

 

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Adult Blackbird. This bird pauses and looks at me every time I come into the yard. It stays that bit longer and comes that bit closer than a wild bird normally would.  It makes me wonder if it was the chick in the pictures at the start of this post or one of the parents that raised that chick?

 

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5 Comments on “What Do You Do When You Find A Baby Wild Bird?”

Janis Warne  12/19/2013 10:42 am

Great article! Lots of good information, but there is just one thing that I would like to comment on–Mel suggested nailing or drilling holes into trees to attach a nesting box. NEVER NAIL ANYTHING (or drill holes) INTO A TREE!!! The holes can provide entry for pests and disease, and eventually kill the tree. Mel, as a bird lover, I’m sure you love trees too, but many people are unaware that doing this can mean slow death for the very shelter that birds and a multitude of other creatures (including us!) need.


ray thomas  12/19/2013 8:01 pm

I raised 3 baby birds first one was a butchie bird about 3 weeks old,second one was a morining dove about the same age,the last one was ababy sparrow only a couple of days old.that was a lot of work,I raised her from a baby helped her learn to fly and she did great.then one day I took her outside,and she flow up in a tree ,sat there for a while and flow off. IT WAS A GREAT FEELING.


Tamara Switzer  12/20/2013 11:43 pm

LOVED this. Two springs ago, my daughter and I found a young blackbird in our yard. We watched for a while and found the parents were feeding it, but it was not able to fly at all. Before dusk I put on gloves (to keep from getting bit) and lifted the baby into the tree. We place a box up there with grass in it. I would have loved to know about the easy bird nests then! The next day it was down again. We watched and just before dusk we placed it back in the tree. Over the next week, we found it down one more time and again placed it back up in the tree. About a week later, we were privileged to see it flying with its parents.
This past spring, we had an adult blackbird in our tree that seemed to call to us and watch us as we moved around outside. Always wondered if it was the little one we had helped.


josiah  12/21/2013 11:52 pm

STOP rescuing our Australian pests!!! lol, they are ferrel, take them back to america if you possibly can…..

the latest bird that got handed to me was a baby sparrow finch or willywagtail…. not sure what it was cos it had no feathers it was so young, the lady that found it found it covered in ants and on the floor, she handed it to me cos she thought i would have some idea what to do with the thing, it survived for 4 days before choking on its food…. :/


Angela Cheng  12/23/2013 9:57 pm

Can you do a blog post on cockatiel body language?