Uh Oh, I Found a Baby Bird – What Do I Do?

Northern Cardinal Fledgling
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Nesting season’s most asked question is: “I found a baby bird on the ground – what do I do? ” Well, that’s not entirely scientific, but the question gets asked a lot right now! We expect to see baby birds in the nest being fed and cared for, but what if the baby bird is out of his nest and on the ground? Is he injured? What should you do?

The answer to that question depends on a number of things including the chick’s health, if the parents are alive and how old he is.

If the birds eyes are closed or he doesn’t have flight feathers and his feet don’t grip, then this is a nestling. They are covered with fuzz when they are very young, and they are helpless. Chicks like this which are healthy and uninjured need to be returned to their nests so their parents can take care of them. Baby birds are seriously difficult to handle and take care of so experts recommend not to try to feed the chick yourself and not to keep him at home – basically no food service and no kidnapping!  The best caregivers for a healthy baby bird are his own mom and dad. He might have fallen out of the nest. And if you are able to find the nest nearby and put him back in, you have done an enormous service, and it is the best thing you can do for him and the rest of his family.

If he has feathers on his body and his wings are feathered out, like this slightly odd looking cardinal above, then this would be a fledgling. This bird has already left the nest and has taken a maiden voyage. So if you find an uninjured fledgling on the ground, then you have found a baby bird on a very big adventure.  But unless both his parents have been killed, he is not doing it alone, so don’t insert yourself into the process. Mom and dad are watching their baby, feeding him, keeping him safe on the ground until he has the strength and skill to fly better than the first, often embarrassing, lift off. Keep all your pets inside for several days as some fledgling birds may be on the ground for up to a week. You can keep an eye on the baby, but from inside or at a distance, as the parents will remain hidden if they think you are watching or nearby. But unless you are absolutely certain both parents are gone, or that the bird is injured, then you should never help or collect an uninjured fledgling off the ground.

If the bird seems injured, don’t try to nurse him back to health.  Its illegal to keep wild animals at home unless you are licensed to care for them.  Many wildlife rehabilitators are trained to care for injured birds, and they will know what to do to help him.

For more specific information on whether or not to rescue a baby bird, check out what the pros at Cornell Lab of Ornithology have to say.

If you have found an injured bird of any age, then contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.  You can find a list of local licensed rehabbersfrom the HSUS site. And information on how to care for a wild bird before getting him to the rehabilatator can be found at the Wild Bird Fund.