Baby Bird FAQs
Learn the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions during baby bird season.
For more information on how to help a baby bird, refer to the following pages on this website: https://tristatebird.org/foundinjuredbird and https://tristatebird.org/babybirds/.
If you find an injured bird, take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Absolutely not. Not only is illegal to raise native wild birds without a permit, it is also unfair to the young bird. Waterfowl babies that are not raised by adult duck or geese can easily become imprinted on people and not learn the necessary social behaviors they need to survive in the wild. Improper housing often causes feather damage, and inadequate nutrition can result in irreversible developmental problems. Truly orphaned babies should be brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. After medical clearance, healthy youngsters can be placed in a foster waterfowl family that has chicks of similar age.
Rescuing babies from storm drains and swimming pools must be done carefully to avoid scattering the babies or scaring off the mother. In those cases, contact the center for help.
In most cases, the answer to this question is no. If you find a baby songbird hopping around the yard, it is probably not injured, even if it doesn’t appear to be flying well. Fledgling birds are like toddlers: they can hop and fly a little bit, but they need a few days to develop their skills. Parent birds continue to feed and look after these fledglings for up to two months, so it is important to leave these babies with their parents. If the fledgling has been attacked by a cat or dog, or it appears injured, it should be put into a paper bag or box with ventilation holes and taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Since these babies are uninjured, you may be able to renest them yourself! It may be possible to wire the branch (nest included) back onto the tree taking care to position it so that the young are sheltered from direct sun and rain. Alternately, an intact nest can be placed inside a strawberry basket or margarine tub (with drainage holes) and secured in the tree or nearby tree. Please see additional instructions for making substitute nests here: https://tristatebird.org/babybirds/.
These babies need to be brought to a rehabilitator for evaluation and care. They may have sustained injuries in the fall, and the parents may have been killed or scared away. Bring the branch or section of tree to Tri-State or another licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. If the nestlings are not injured, it may be possible to place them into a foster nest of the same species. If no foster songbird family is available, the rehabilitator will care for the babies until they are old enough to be released.
If you find a young hawk or owl on the ground, do not assume that it needs help. The answer to this question depends on the age of the bird, its species, and whether it is injured.
If you find a downy or partially feathered baby that lies on its belly rather than stands, you have probably found a “nestling,” a bird that is too young to be out of the nest. This bird should be checked for fall-related injuries and evaluated for renesting by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Contact Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research or another rehabilitator for assistance.
If you find a fully feathered baby raptor hopping around on the ground, it is safe to assume that it is a “brancher.” Birds at this age frequently fall when they climb out of the nest and onto branches while they practice flapping their wings. Sometimes branchers will climb back up the nest tree or hop onto nearby branches. Raptors are devoted parents, and they will continue to care for their young whether on the ground or in a tree.
If the brancher is active and alert, with no obvious injuries, chances are that the parents are nearby: no intervention is needed. However, if the baby is injured, or if a dead/injured parent or nest mate is found near an otherwise uninjured baby raptor, please contact Tri-State or another rehabilitator for help.
If the young raptor is in an area with a lot of people and pets, try to reroute traffic until the young bird is safely back on a branch. If this is not possible contact the center for help.
Young osprey that come out of the nest raise slightly different concerns because they usually fall into water. While older babies can often swim to shore, some are too young and/or become waterlogged or exhausted. These young birds need immediate help, and a state agency or licensed wildlife rehabilitator should contacted right away. However, if the birds have safely made it to shore, their parents may continue to feed them on the ground. In this situation, watch from a distance for several hours before assuming that intervention is needed. See https://tristatebird.org/babybirds/ for more information on helping baby raptors.
You’ve got chimney swifts nesting in your chimney! The babies are chattering whenever an adult brings food. In a couple of weeks the young will be flighted and quiet will return. In the meantime, keep your damper closed, don’t make any fires, and enjoy the free mosquito control.
If an older nestling should fall into your fireplace and is not injured and its feathers are not soiled, you may be able to renest it by placing it as high above the damper as you can reach. (Young swifts will instinctively cling to and climb up the chimney.) However, if the bird appears injured, has creosote or soot on its feathers, or is unable to cling, take it to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible.
Swifts migrate to South America in late summer. If you don’t want them to take up housekeeping next year, cap your chimney in the fall. Learn more about these remarkable summer visitors here: https://tristatebird.org/faq/#swifts.
Bringing the babies to us is not a good solution for several reasons. It is far better for baby birds to be raised by their parents rather than by people. Birds do a much better job than any human ever could, regardless of how skilled or experienced they might be. Rehabilitators are licensed to care for birds that are injured or orphaned and truly need their help, and not babies that are inconveniently located. Active nests are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and thus should not be disturbed once eggs or young are present.
Our recommendation is to leave the babies with their parents and enjoy the show! Your guests are probably house finches or Carolina wrens. Once the eggs hatch, the babies will fledge in about two weeks. At that time you can remove the nest so that it is not reused.
If the nest is actually located on the door or so close to the door that the birds are disturbed by routine activity, it may be necessary to use another entryway until they fledge. For more information see ”What can I do about a bird nesting on my porch” at https://tristatebird.org/faq/.
This young bird needs to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator for evaluation and care. Even though it appears healthy, the duckling may be injured; downy feathers can obscure wounds and tiny bones are easily broken. Your pet may have broken the skin or caused internal injuries that need prompt medical attention, including antibiotics. Additionally, this baby may not be welcomed by another family on your pond. Newly introduced babies are sometimes attacked or even drowned.
This young bird needs to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator right away for evaluation and treatment with antibiotics. Tiny puncture wounds caused by cat teeth may not be obvious, and the bacteria in a cat’s mouth can result in life-threatening infections within 24 hours.
See “Why should I keep my cat indoors” at https://tristatebird.org/faq/.
These birds need to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator right away. Growing songbirds have such strict nutrient requirements and rapid growth rates that having an inadequate diet for just a few feedings can result in permanent developmental damage. It is also illegal to disturb an active nest or to care for migratory birds without a permit. If your daughter is interested in birds, encourage her to volunteer at a local wildlife center when she is old enough to participate in service opportunities.
Walk carefully and keep your pets under control. You have killdeer nesting in your driveway, and the adults are doing their best to lure you away from their eggs. As members of the plover family, killdeer look as if they belong at the beach rather in than a grassy field. They do not build nests, instead laying their eggs in a slight depression on the ground—often directly on gravel. If an intruder approaches, the broken-wing simulation or distraction display draws him away from the nest and toward the “injured” adult bird(s). Once the eggs hatch, the nest is abandoned, and the fluffy, precocial chicks follow after the adults.