Here’s the good news: over three quarters of the “orphans” brought into wildlife clinics don’t need help at all. Most of the time, the best thing you can do for a baby bird is leave it alone. If you spot one, watch it for a while without intervening. Decide which of these three situations you’re dealing with, and proceed accordingly:
1. If it appears to be unhurt, and if it’s mature enough to have some feathers, it’s probably a youngster learning to fly. At this age, birds often jump or tumble out of the nest. The mother will continue to protect and feed it on the ground for a few days while it learns to use its wings. You can help by staying away, and by keeping children and pets at a distance. If the mother doesn’t appear within several hours, or if you’re sure she’s dead, phone your local wildlife rehabilitation clinic (see below) for advice on what to do next.
2. If the bird is a nestling-a baby too young to have feathers-see if you can spot where it fell from. Pick it up gently and put it back in the nest. Don’t worry that your scent will cause the mother to reject it: the truth is, most birds have a poor sense of smell. If the nest is out of reach, create a makeshift “nursery” out of a strawberry box, margarine tub, or similar container. Punch drainage holes in the bottom, and line it with a piece of towel. Then fasten the “nursery” to the tree, as close to the original nest as possible, and tuck the bird into it. Once you’ve left, the parents will reappear and begin feeding the baby, just as if it were at home.
3. An injured bird will need more active help. If it’s been attacked by a cat, it should always receive professional care, even if it appears unharmed. Gently pick it up in a towel, and put both bird and towel into a well-ventilated box. Keep the patient warm and quiet while you contact a wildlife rehabilitation clinic. Never try to feed a wounded bird. Above all, don’t try to treat it yourself. Professional wildlife rehabilitators are trained and equipped to give the bird its best chance of recovery. To find a rehabber near you, check the Yellow Pages under “animal services”.
You can help wild birds even more by making a donation to your local clinic. Money, food, old towels, kitchen equipment-gifts from caring people like you are always appreciated. Without them, our wildlife hospitals could not exist.