Leave Baby Birds Be

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Baby_Bird_by_Monique_HaenThis is the time of year when birds begin their reproductive cycle in the northern hemisphere. People find eggs, nests, and baby birds and try to help them. Generally, that is not a good idea. Only 10-20% of songbird eggs ever result in an adult bird. The eggs might be infertile, die during incubation due to genetic or environmental causes, or be eaten by predators. Weather might blow the nest out of the tree or the young might starve. When young birds leave the nest they cannot fly and are still dependent on their parents and the risk of death from predators and weather is amplified.

During the first five days after hatching, baby birds are blind, naked, helpless and cannot maintain a steady warm body temperature. During the next five days or so their eyes open, they develop thermoregulation, and grow some feathers. At about 10 days of age they leave the nest. They are now fledglings. Here’s something that most people don’t realize: the young jump from the nest, unable to fly, and for the next ten days or so are fed by their parents. Unfortunately this stage is when they are most likely to be seen and found by humans.

Humans, being the empathetic creatures they are, feel sorry for this poor bird that “fell from its nest” and try to “rescue” it. Don’t do it. The parents may not be seen but they are there, taking care of their offspring until the young can fly. If you take the bird away, you badly disturb the bird family and you are unlikely to take care of the bird as well as the parents can. And don’t try to return it to the nest. Leave it alone. Repeat: leave it alone.

Occasionally, a young helpless bird falls or is knocked from its nest or a tree trimmer trims the wrong branch and the whole nest comes down. It this case, the babies or eggs will not survive. So what do you do? Well, if you have a bird rehab center in your area, call them. They have the skills and dedication to take care of the birds. But don’t just pick up the bird or egg and take it to a vet or wildlife official or nearest biology department because it is unlikely that they will have the time or resources to devote to hatching an egg and/or raising a baby songbird.

You can try to raise the egg or young yourself, but there are three important caveats here:

  1. It is VERY difficult to do without experience
  2. It is VERY time consuming as baby birds need to be fed around the clock
  3. It is ILLEGAL to do so unless you have a federal permit

Go to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for more information on orphaned birds.

Sure, it’s difficult to leave a baby bird alone when you see it on the ground. But this is how nature has operated for millions of years; human interference rarely helps. So leave the bird be unless you are absolutely certain the bird is abandoned and in trouble and you have a place to bring it for experienced care.


33 thoughts on “Leave Baby Birds Be”

  1. I was picking up tree debris and found a nestling age bird on the ground. We couldn’t locate the nest but placed it in a little alcove (padded with soft palm tree material) up in a tree within feet of where the bird was found. Do the parents find the baby by sound? We hope they will find it. Is there a way for me to send a picture to you to see if you can identify what kind of bird it is. Its black and gray but it’s beak looks like a crow to me.

    1. When you find a nestling, half or more feathered, the bird jumped out of the nest because it was time to do so. Never try to put them back in the nest because they will just jump out again. They cannot fly yet but their parents will take care of them until they can. Just put the bird on the ground under a shrub – the parents will find it and care for it. You can send me a photo at rlederer@csuchico.edu

  2. I found a baby fledgling yesterday. I did not feel there was a safe place to put it as it was in the hot sun and right next to the road. I put it in some nearby woods. Do u think the mom will find it? What is an acceptable radius? It was only a bit down the block. I hope it will be ok.

    1. You did the right thing. I don’t know what an acceptable radius is as I don’t have any idea of your situation. Mom will probably find the baby and all will be ok. Thank you for your concern.

      1. We have a bird house in our yard and I believe a baby was recently born. Today I found a blind baby bird on the lawn and it was raining so I put on a glove and put the bird back in the birdhouse. Did I do the wrong thing?

        1. You may have done the wrong thing. If the bird came from a birdhouse, it probably jumped so it was ready to leave the nest in which case you should not have put it back. It’s not likely it fell out of a birdhouse if that’s where it came from.If it had feathers it was waterproof. By the way, you do not have to put on gloves to handle a bird or nest or eggs. Birds will not be repelled by human smell; that’s a myth.

          1. Thank you Dr. Lederer. Will this harm its development or will it simply leave the nest in the bird house again now?

      2. I found a hatchling (bald and eyes shut) while cleaning in my backyard stuck on its back covered in grass. I put on some gloves and found the only nest I knew of which is high up in the carport of my house. I couldn’t get him in the nest but I placed him next to it and I’ve seen birds in and out of that spot since then, was this the right thing to do?

    2. Found a fledgling in my back yard. Think it might be blind. Left it for hours no sign of parents. Moved it out of the direct sun. It can fly. Eyes look cloudy. How do you know if it’s blind?

      1. From you brief description, things seem normal. Parents are likely around somewhere. Cloudy eyes just means that a normal (called nictitating membrane) is over the eye. If it can fly, it’s certainly not blind.

  3. We found a baby bird under a tree. We took it home and only now I know we shouldnt have. We feed it with cats whiskas, eggs, buckwheat. It’s been with us for 6 days now. At the beginning was jumping in the box, tryi b to get out,. Now it isn’t. It doesn’t move much. Has great appetite and reacts when he sees us. Is it too late to bring it back under the tree..?

    1. Sorry I responded so late. I don’t know what you did with the bird but you are correct – you should not have taken it home. If it is domesticated now it will not survive in the wild.

  4. On another subject; I have a hummingbird feeder in my yard, but no hummingbirds this year, However the Baltimore Oreals
    ls really love it. It is such a treat to see them eat from that little feeder. Is this a normal activity?

  5. I found a baby robin who I think may be blind in one eye and cannot fly very well (I’m assuming because the baby can’t see very well). He’s bumped into things a handful of times and I am not sure how to handle the situation. This baby bird also is very slow. Anyone can approach the baby robin and he won’t move takes him a little to get scared or to notice and flies away (does not get very far). He is also constantly bobbling his head, not for food, but I’m not sure if his it’s something with his neck or due to him being possibly blind in the one eye. This baby bird also keeps coming back to find me as well. The parents are still caring for the little guy but this baby is definitely older than 2-3 weeks. This has been going on for the past 4 days or so.

    1. Not sure what this refers to, but baby birds have a very high mortality rate. It is almost always better to leave the birds alone unless you are a trained avian rehab person. Inexperienced people trying to raise baby birds virtually always fail. So sorry about the bird, but nature is cruel.

      1. Hi. I have a Robbins nest in my gazebo. 4 babies about 5 days old. I also have a koi pond. I need to feed koi. Mommy keeps swooping me. I am afraid when they jump they are going to hit concrete floor. Also we have wild cats in my area. I have a nestling bush in front yard currently not in use. Do you think I could move the entire nest before they jump?

  6. Jessica wiliam

    Well, thank for sharing useful information. I have more knowledge from reading your posting. This helps me a lot. Nature has many wonderful things that I want to know. Hope you write more.

  7. With its wings and freedom to explore the borderless sky, we all once imagined being a bird traveling the world. But have you ever wondered, where do baby birds go when they leave the nest?

  8. I opened my back door to covered deck only to find 2 baby birds (I think nestlings) who were in serious distress. I have no idea how they both wound up at my back door (no trees nearby, assuming a cat grabbed them from nest).I know not to mess with them but also knew leaving them be would be a guaranteed death. I brought them in, made a makeshift nest for them. Heated them up with a heating pad under box w/nest in it for about 5-10 minutes on low. I contacted a rehaber nearby but because it’s so late at night (11pm) I didn’t expect to reach anyone. I will be reaching out again 1st thing in morning.
    Both babies appear to be doing very well. I’m assuming since their eyes are not opened yet they are nestling. Can the babies go 8 hrs (at least) without being fed? Won’t they become dehydrated? I doubt I’ll get a response before morning (you need sleep too ?) but I just want to give these babies a fighting chance and hopefully a longer life than what they are facing right now.

  9. A nest was built in the front grill of our truck (separate from the engine) and the birds hatched. We can’t get them out easily – without dismantling out whole front end. We have driven around for a couple of days not even realizing the birds were there so they are completely safe in this location. Mama bird has been flying in and out of the front. Should we leave them for the next week or two and they will fly away or try to move the nest?

  10. We have a nest on our porch and birds that appear to be fledglings, but don’t seem to be able to move much, keep falling/jumping from the nest and dying shortly after. Could this be because of the heat? I live in MA and it’s already in the high 80s but it’s definitely warmer in the nest and the sun is beating down on it. Before one of the birds died it appeared to be panting. This seems like a pattern during heat waves in the past. Another heartbreaking impact of the climate crisis.

  11. When you say that the birds “keep falling” from the nest, does that mean you are putting them back after they leave it? NEVER do that. When they fledge they can’t fly but they jump out of the nest, rarely just fall. Parents will take care of them. If you have been putting them back in the nest, that’s probably the reason they are dying.

  12. We had a bird next above our door, underneath our upstairs neighbor.
    The rain went through their porch onto the next and it fell and broke all over the concrete. It was storming very badly and the mother left. We picked them up and put them on a towel and left them for a while and she never came back. We keep them out where the birds are but the birds seem like they have moved on from these babies. We have been feeding them for 24 hours now. What should I do with these babies? Their eyes are open and they are growing feathers.

    1. Hi. We did not bother the nest. We watched as each bird jumped from the nest and landed on our patio. It poured that night and no sign of mom or dad. In the afternoon wE watched as each baby bird went under a nearby bush. I have a koi pond so I thru fish food , which is dry kale close to the bush. I went upstairs and watch as they came out and attempted to eat. Shortly there after mom and dad showed up. I thru food out everyday and it was gone in the early afternoon. Eventually I saw mom struggle with the last bird. He was still under the bush yesterday but I have not Seen it. I am tempted to go look under the bush but I’ll wait another day. Is the birds not eating? Did you leave them where they were in the basket? Try fish food? I tried to keep a baby alive. I fed it cat food with an eye drop. He was anxious to eat but eventually stopped eating and passed. How are your little ones doing?

  13. Andrea Michaels

    Hi! I have seen many birds nest, lay eggs, grow up quickly and fledge. What I have never seen is fledglings come back to the nest everyday after flying away, which is happening now, on day 4 of them coming and going. They are red house finches, Mom had 6 babies and Dad is on duty since they fledged, she forced some before leaving, 2 had not left the nest yet though. The nest is on the top corner of my canopy gazebo tent. I began cleaning it after they fledged, house finch babies go to the bathroom often, and form a barrier of BM around the nest, so it was quite a mess. They all came back and started yelling at me. Dad is not scared of me at all, and will fly very close, he appears to be talking and moving his head all over. I let them be and went back to finish cleaning up my favorite lounge area the next day. All 6 babies were in the nest again! Why aren’t they leaving? They stay close to the nest, talk to each other, and come in and out of the nest all day long. Dad does not appear to go near the nest, but stays nearby as the primary caregiver now. If you have any ideas on why the babies don’t want to leave that would be great. It’s getting tight in that little nest, and they are basically full grown now. I’m also sick of getting yelled at in my lounge area while the kids are in the pool. Thanks!

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