If you find an injured bird, take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Wildlife rehabilitators are people who give professional treatment to sick wildlife and raise orphaned youngsters with the goal of returning them to their natural home. They are licensed by state and federal agencies, and they often work with veterinarians who specialize in wildlife medicine. Tri-State’s Frink Center for Wildlife has full-time wildlife veterinarians on staff.
It is against the law in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Mexico for anyone who is not a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator, educator, or falconer to possess native wildlife.
Baby birds may look injured when they are in fact healthy young fledglings hopping on the ground. Learn more about when help is needed below or visit our Baby Bird FAQ for frequently asked questions during baby bird season.
Nestling & Fledgling
Nestling and Fledgling Songbirds
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.
If you find an unfeathered or partially feathered nestling bird that has fallen from the nest, the best thing to do is to try to put it back into the nest. If an entire nest has blown out of a tree, the nest and babies can be put back up in the tree. Parent birds will not reject their young just because they were handled by humans.
If you can’t return the baby bird to its nest, make an artificial nest out of a small margarine tub (poke drainage holes in the bottom), strawberry basket or box lined with natural materials, such as dried grasses, pine needles or small twigs and place it as close to its original nest as possible. Watch from a distance to ensure the parents have returned to care for the bird, or check for fresh droppings in the nest as a sign they are being fed.
If you can’t reunite the baby bird with its parents, or if the bird is cold or injured, contact Tri-State or a local wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Young songbirds need expert care and specialized diets that only experienced wildlife rehabilitators know how to provide.
For information on non-native European starlings and English sparrows, click here.
Waterfowl (ducks and geese) have precocial young—this means they are ready to “go” within hours of hatching. This also means that they can easily imprint on humans, which means they will identify with humans and not their own species. To learn more about imprinting, visit our FAQ page. Sometimes, a duckling or gosling will become separated from its parents. Whenever possible, the young bird should be reunited with its family. If the duckling or gosling is injured, or the family cannot be located, it should be brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care. Keep birds quiet and away from people and pets. Some young waterfowl, such as wood ducks, can die quickly from the stress of simply being around people. The best way to help young waterfowl is to place the bird in a box with small air holes at the top of the box to provide ventilation and a towel on the bottom to provide traction.
If you are not able to bring the bird to a rehabilitator right away, provide supplemental heat by placing half of the box on a heating pad, which allows the bird to move away from heat if it chooses. Remember, even though these birds are able to walk and swim soon after hatching, their mother would still keep them warm. Please do not feed bread to young waterfowl. They cannot digest it properly and it may cause a blockage in their digestive tract.
Hawks and Owls
If you find a young hawk or owl that is on the ground, do not assume that it needs help. If it is standing, alert, and has some feathers, the parents are probably nearby. Some species of owls, such as great horned owls, will leave the nest when they are about half-grown. They can walk and climb but are not yet flighted. They have not been abandoned; the parents continue to feed and care for their young well into the fall months.
If the young raptor hasn’t moved within a day, then something may be wrong. Any young bird that is not alert, has flies on it, or cannot stand or walk will need help and should be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Any raptor chick that appears to be very young, is not yet standing, or has only fuzzy down on it (rather than feathers) should also be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.
Like waterfowl babies, if hawks or owls are not raised properly, they may become imprinted on humans. If this happens, they can never be returned to the wild because they associate humans with food and will approach any human when they become hungry.