What to Do if You Find a Baby Bird
Wildlife Hotline: 503-292-0304
In the spring and summer, baby birds are the most common patient at the Wildlife Care Center. However, many baby birds do not need rescuing and would be much better cared for by their parents in the wild. Before bringing a baby bird to the Care Center, it is critical to determine whether or not the animal you have found needs help.
How to know if a baby bird needs help
Is the baby bird visibly hurt or sick?
Has it been in contact with a dog or cat (even if it appears uninjured), or has it been in human care for more than 12 hours?
If you answered yes to any of the above, the bird very likely will need to come to the Care Center for treatment. Please call our wildlife hotline at 503-292-0304 and one of our Wildlife Solutions Counselors will advise you on the best course of action. Learn more on our Wildlife Rescue Tips page.
Is the bird a nestling?
If the bird doesn’t have feathers, has fluffy wisps of feathers, or has a combination of pinfeathers and wisps, the bird is what we call a “nestling.” Nestling birds are too young to get around well, and should not be outside of their nests.
If you find a nestling that has fallen from its nest, here’s what you can do:
- Look for its nest and if possible, return the bird to its home.
- If the nest is damaged or unreachable, a surrogate nest can be used. To make a surrogate nest, attach a berry basket or small container (with drainage holes) to a branch near where the original nest was located. Place it in a sheltered spot, and not in direct sun/rain. Watch from a distance to see if the parents return. It can take a few hours before the parents feel it is safe to approach the nestling. Also, remember that parent birds visits may be short and easy to miss as they are busy gathering food.
- If the parents do not return, or you find the baby on the ground again, please call our Wildlife Hotline at 503-292-0304.
Is the bird a fledgling?
Many species, such as robins, scrub jays, crows, and owls leave the nest and spend as many as 5 days on the ground before they can fly. Birds of this age are called “fledglings” and this unflighted time is a normal and vital part of the young birds’ development. Fledglings are able to walk, hop, and flap, and may attempt short flights. They often stay close to shrubbery or low branches, and can hop/climb up quite high.
Unless the bird is injured, it is essential to leave them with their parents. If you are concerned the parents are not visiting the fledgling, give the bird plenty of space by keeping pets and people away, and watch from a distance.
During this period, fledglings develop flight muscles and learn vital life skills from their parents, such as finding food and identifying predators. Taking these birds into captivity deprives them of the opportunity to learn the skills they will need to survive in the wild. It is critical not to move a fledgling to a new location, even if you fear it's in danger, because it still depends on its parents for survival.
It is important to differentiate fledgling birds from injured adult animals. Fledglings typically have all their feathers, but their tail and wing feathers will be shorter than an adult. Their coloration is often different as well – usually more camouflaged than adult coloration.
Like many species, juvenile crows will typically leave the nest before they are able to fly. This is a completely normal and very important part of their life cycle. It is not uncommon to find young crows on the ground in suburban, urban and industrial areas during the months of May, June, and July.
However, fledgling crows are as large as adults, and people are frequently concerned that the crow they have seen on the ground is an injured adult rather than simply a youngster learning to fly. One easy way to tell if a crow is a juvenile is to look at the color of the bird’s eyes. Young crows have blue/grey eyes, while adults have black eyes.
Many people are surprised to hear very noisy birds chattering in their chimney in the late spring. These are almost always Vaux’s Swifts. Swifts attach stick nests to chimney walls using saliva. Their young have Velcro-like feet that allow them to actually climb up and down the walls of the chimney.
If a nest of young has fallen into your fireplace, place the nest in small box or berry basket. Learn More
Owls are some of the earliest birds to fledge. Young owlets leave the nest and begin exploring nearby branches long before they are able to fly. Sometimes a swift gust of wind or a misstep will bring them to the ground. If you find a young owl on the ground, try placing it on the highest nearby branch you can find. They will frequently make their way back up the tree.
Killdeer are notorious for nesting in highly traveled areas. Their young are precocial and are able to walk and feed themselves at hatching. People frequently hear young killdeer doing their high-pitched peeping and feel compelled to rescue them. In most cases, a parent is hiding nearby and will return as soon as the area is vacated.
Ducklings and Goslings
Many of our urban parks are overcrowded with waterfowl. As a result, female mallards and geese will often nest far from water and then have to lead their young back to the park when they hatch. Learn More