Jun 24, 2020 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2013

Orphaned Birds: What To Do?

A fledgling American robin bathes in a backyard bird bath.
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If I find a young bird that has fallen from the nest, what should I do?

Try to place the nestling back in its nest if at all possible. This will be the young bird's best chance for survival. If you can't find the nest or a place to put the nestling out of harm's way, you will need to get the bird to a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible. Baby birds are unable to thermoregulate (regulate their body temperature), so they must be kept in a protected area with a heat source. A soft nest made of tissues inside a small cardboard box placed on a heating pad set on "low" is a good temporary home. A moist sponge placed in the box will add a touch of desired humidity.

Your state or provincial fish and wildlife officers are responsible for licensing and regulating the activities of rehabilitators and have listings for all rehabbers in your state.

If a fledgling is found hopping around on the ground, it should be left alone if it's in a safe area. It can be placed up on a tree branch or in a shrub if in a dangerous situation but must remain in the same area so its parents can find it. Birds have an underdeveloped sense of smell, so handling the baby bird won't cause the parents to abandon it. Young birds often leave the nest before they are capable of flight. They spend a few pre-flight days hopping on the ground and flapping their wings. Its parents are keeping an eye on it and feeding it when necessary. During this time the fledgling is learning valuable survival lessons from its parents.

Emergency food for nestlings

If you find an orphaned nestling songbird and there's no licensed rehabilitator immediately available to receive the youngster, here is a recipe for basic baby bird care.

Grind up dry dog food into a powder. Add warm water to make a yogurt-like slurry. Offer it to the bird through a baby medicine syringe, gently prying the bill open. Keep the bird warm in a tissue nest inside a box. If necessary, use a warm water bottle or heating pad on "low" placed nearby. As soon as possible get the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator.

This article is excerpted from our popular booklet The Backyard Bird Watcher's Answer Guide by Bill Thompson, III. Browse other BWD titles designed to help you learn more about backyard birds. »



About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson, III, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • I understand that the ducks' blood vessel arrangement in their feet is to provide the benefits of the counter-current heat exchanger mechanism; returning cold venous blood from the feet is warmed by the descending warm arterial blood, preventing excess heat loss by the feet and avoiding cold blood from chilling the body. This means that the feet are cold, not warm.
    by Frank Barch, Sat, 02 Jan 2021
  • I have the same situation. The feeder is attached to the middle of a large picture window that goes ceiling to floor w/ no ledge or sill for animals to climb or balance. Yet every morning all the sunflower seeds have been cracked open and hulls left. Any ideas what it is?
    by Liza Fox, Sun, 15 Nov 2020
  • I have a bird feeder that sticks to my window and I've been hearing noises against the window at night right now its going on. But whatever it is it is aware of me. And when I get to window it leaves.I can't imagine a squirrel or mouse or possom being able to get at it. ...So as I was reading this article im to assume no bird eats at night. Or no birds will eat at night. Why is that? Then im also thinking of a sinereo that could a lost confused bird eat at night. This eating thing is watching meI turn out the light go there noise dissappears..Thank you.
    by Nosferatu, Thu, 05 Nov 2020
  • I have metal baffles (cones) on my pole for my bird feeders. Something is still tempting them at night. What else could it be? Deer???
    by Ella Spencer Connolly, Thu, 27 Aug 2020
  • I found where he lives, then I keep him up all day by singing at full volume! Hah, that'll show the little sucker!
    by Pike Juan, Tue, 11 Aug 2020