Rescuing Baby Birds

With new bird babies born every day, Spring brings inevitable avian tragedies; babies falling from nests. Humans, for some mysterious evolutionary reason, want to help. At the Fat Finch, we are often asked about what is the best way to help a baby bird in distress.

The best response depends on how old the baby bird is. If it is a “hatchling,” an unfeathered baby, about the only thing that will save it is to find the nest from which it fell and put it back. Don’t worry about its parents rejecting it because your odor is now on it. Unless you smell like a ferret — and maybe even if you do — the parents will take care of it.

If you can’t find the nest or it is too high for you to reach, the best thing to do is make one for the baby — out of cardboard and kleenex and put that nest as close to the point where the baby must have fallen. Remember the law of gravity: It has no feathers; it didn’t fly. It fell like an apple, straight down.

Then watch for an hour or so. If the parents return, the baby will survive unless it was irretrievably injured in the original fall. If the parents don’t come back, call for help. And help is your local Audubon Club, Fish and Wildlife Service, wild life rescue organization, or local bird store.

If the baby has feathers, it is a “fledgling.” If it is on the ground and has no apparent injuries, it is fine as long as you and your pets keep away from it. Its parents will be back. Secure the area and watch. If, after a couple of hours, no parent comes to help it and you see the nest, it is OK to put the bird in the nest. If, even after that, the parents don’t arrive, call for help.

If you have to attempt a rescue yourself, about all you can do is prepare a small container for the bird which you can cover so the bird is in the dark. Then put the container somewhere warm until you can get further help. The sad reality is a parentless little bird is likely to die.

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33 Responses to “Rescuing Baby Birds”

  1. Baby Roadrunner -RIP « Fat Finch–Birds, Birding & Blogging Says:

    […] As we have told you before, a baby bird that gets hurt is far more likely to die than to live.  Infant mortality among birds is enormous and any injury makes it far less likely that a baby will survive.  It is why Greater Roadrunners and many other birds often have two clutches of babies a year.  Survival requires abundance. […]

  2. Desirae Says:

    Me and my father raised four little baby song sparrows, and truly, it was a difficult task. Preparing food, having a warm place for them to sleep, cleaning up after them, and making sure they were always safe and taken care of. These babies were very young, still pink, and eyes that wouldn’t be opening for another week or two. In the beginning there was five babies, but one was choking and flopping around dying, so as sad as it was, we decided to put the baby out of its misery and feed it to our bearded dragon, who ended it quickly. Once the hatchlings started growing feathers and flapping their wings, we decided to take them outside for their first time. They enjoyed the warm sun, and flying a good four feet and returning. Once the little fledglings came back later and later each day, we stopped taking them in. One sparrow was taken by a Red-Tailed Hawk, and it was quite sad, because once you get so attached to them, its hard to see them leave for good:(
    Raising baby birds, or any other baby animal for that matter, is a hard job and should not be taken easily. Remember that the best thing to do always is to put it back in its nest, or to take it to a rehabilitator.

    • denise Says:

      I have a nest of house finches and I have not seen the mother. the babies are about a week old. how long can a mother be away before the babies die? It is 9:30 pm and the mother is not in the nest. is that normal?

      • Desiree Says:

        I have a nest of house finches as well, and I haven’t seen the mother for about four days. I’m getting worried now, and the longer I wait, the more likely it seems that they could just… Die. I’m trying to get help, but it seems more likely we should call for help then do it ourselves. I’d be really sad to see them die after all the excitement my mom and I’ve been through in finding the nest placed in our home.

  3. jetz Says:

    Hi, im not sure that i agree with what you are all saying. I’ve worked as a wildlife carer for around 4 years now, i do alot of hand rearing and i am very sucessful with it, ive lost the odd few, but i have released way more than ive lost. All you need is a little knowledge of that particular species and away you go. When i first ever started wildlife work we had a fire in the hospital, so i was asked to take all the baby birds home, i had 53 cages, 80+ birds all in all. They were all lined up in my living room and was feeding them roughly every 10-15 mins (their parents fed every 6 minutes on average), out of all those birds i lost 4 goldfinches, the rest were released safely. The trick is to learn when to intervene in the birds life. obviously remove any danger to the bird, ie cats etc, then sit at a safe distance away and watch for a while, if no parent bird comes down then you know its been abandoned, so then you can intervene. Its always good to try and help the birds, as they have enough of a struggle as it is.

  4. Kix Says:

    Hi, My cat brought in a fledgling finch, I put it back outside, but no parents came all day, so tonight we brought it in, and got it to suck a lil water from my fingertip, but it’s leg is hurt, it won’t stand on it, how can i tell if it is broken? Our area has no wildlife recsue at all, and I will have to care for it myself, but if by tomorrow it is not standing on its leg, then it is probably broke, so what should I do then?

  5. Brittney Says:

    A few years ago i found a cardinal baby bird on the road and couldnt find the parents so i took it in. I took care of the bird, i even traveled with the baby and when it started to get older i let it out in the back yard to adjust to the outdoors. I had no problems with it, except at the beginning i wasnt cutting up its worms and they would wiggle their way back out of the bird and be crawling around the next time i look. I let her go one day and shes been fine ever since. She actually comes back to my house every year.

  6. renimar2 Says:

    I just found a baby cardinal on my pool deck. It is feathered and appears it may have a broken leg. Mom and Dad are both around and chirping at it. It can fly a few inches off the ground and a few feet. It got trapped, as we have a chicken wire type fence and Mom and Dad were chirping on the other side, but baby could not get past the fence. I picked it up in a clean towel and put it on the other side of the fence. Should I take it in, or will Mom and Dad help it. I think the nest is in the woods – I don’t know where it is. What should I do??

    • fatfinch Says:

      You did the right thing by putting it where Mom and Dad can care for it. Keep an eye on it to see if they are feeding it. If it’s leg is broken, it might survive anyway. We had a one-legged Great-tail Grackle that lived here for a couple of years. If Mom and Dad aren’t feeding it about the only thing you can do is see if you have a local wildlife rescue facility that can take the bird in or give you some advice about feeding it.

      But you’ve already done about all you can do for it. It needs Mom and Dad to care for it. And remember, if the bird doesn’t live, you did everything you could.

  7. TK Says:

    we just found a baby road runner and the nest is all torn apart. We’ve placed him in a box and are waiting to see if the parent comes back to care for him. If he’s not being cared for in another hour or so, what do we do? I can’t figure out who to call in my area. We live near Austin TX. thanks for any advice.

  8. Samantha Says:

    Today me and my dad found a bird and his girlfriends dog was trying to get it and it started to storm so my dad told me and my friend to go ahead and walk home and before that he told me to throw it up and try to help it fly well it wouldnt so i said what do i do with it and he said to take it home because i have three other birds but they are doves and a cockitale well when i got home i tried keeping it in a cage but it wloudnt stop making noises so i put it in the cage with my cockitale and so far they are getting alone but they are staying away from each other right now but tomorrow i have to go find worms for it and im hoping to save it and keep it alive until it can fly and hoefully im a lucky person and can keep it alive 🙂

    • fatfinch Says:

      Good luck. We hope the bird makes it, but don’t feel too badly if it doesn’t. Often little birds die without their mothers, even if the dog didn’t hurt it before you rescued it. You’re doing the best you can unless you have an animal rescue center where you could take it.

  9. spydervenym Says:

    Hi There

    I think I found a baby grackle. I saw him outside my window earlier on the front lawn. He was rolling over on the ground. As I approached he did not move. I picked him up and loosely examined him (since I am no animal specialist, I am not really sure what to look for). His neck is strong but crooked. His wings are strong but he seems uninterested in flying (think he is flying age) and his does not stand on his feet though his toes are quite strong (he was gripping my finger). I put him in a large box with the lid off, spread some leaves in foliage inside the box and put him under the tree. I go and check every little while and he seems alert but still not moving too much. I have been feeding him worms and grubs from the yard. How much should I feed him per feeding and how often (have been checking on him every 1/2 hour or so and in the last feeding he up-chucked a couple of the last worms I fed him – did I overfeed him?)
    I have put in a call to the Animal Rescue centre but wanted to make sure he was well cared for until I heard from them.



    • fatfinch Says:

      WE just saw your comment but it sounds as if you did everything right. Hope the little bird made it. Last year we had a baby grackle fall from a tree. We were alerted by great squawking from several adult grackles. We put the baby as close to the nest as we could get it, also accompanied by squawking from every adult around, and left it. Sadly none of the birds ever figured out how to feed it and it died.

  10. MomofG&C Says:

    Since you replied to such a recent post, I’m going

  11. MomofG&C Says:

    36 hours ago I took in a baby sparrow that couldn’t have hatched more than 36 hours earlier…no feathers anywhere. It had been found in a driveway many feet away from trees. Initially it was put under the closest tree, then I took it in. I got baby bird food from the local pet store and have been feeding about every hour or so, except thru the night. Yesterday “Avery” was doing very well, but this morning she seemed weaker despite being somewhat vocal. She didn’t open her mouth as much as I had hoped, but still got about 2ml in. How long thru the night can she go without food? While I love my sleep, I want her to live, so will relive newborn baby schedule if I should. Additionally, how long until they fledge? I read info on a chipping sparrow, but am not sure what variety Avery is. Also, is it possble that she will be delayed somewhat in getting feathers and fledging due to her tough start? I really want her to make it as my kids and I have grown to love her.

  12. Haden sowder Says:

    I found one in my yard it was flying low and not very far not sure what it was though i tried to help it but it seamed to be hurt on its wing it had a big big chest and a purity small head it looked almost like a turkey but not a turkey

  13. Desiree Says:

    I have a nest of house finches, and I haven’t seen the mother for about four days. I’m getting worried now, and the longer I wait, the more likely it seems that they could just… Die. I’m trying to get help, but it seems more likely we should call for help then do it ourselves. I’d be really sad to see them die after all the excitement my mom and I’ve been through in finding the nest placed in our home. What do I do? The mom has been gone for about… Two through four days. We did put one of the babies back after it fell out. Could that have possibly warded them off? I’m not completely sure if the parents were watching us drop the baby back into its nest. Any help would be appreciated! (Do I call for help or try to save them myself?)

  14. dinah Says:

    okay i just found a aby bird with feathyers but its leg is broken please tell me what i need to do

  15. Bryan Says:

    Just found a fledgling baby finch on the ground the only nests are 20 feet away in some bushes and a tree about 30 feet away, I put the bird in a shallow container under the tree. If a parent does not appear, what can i feed it?

    • Iris Says:

      I’m not an expert, but once I cared for a baby Robin and I fed it small bits of peaches, as a wildlife website said to. It was very strong and healthy, but again it was an American Robin not a finch. Based on the other comments, I would also try to feed it small bits of worm?

      • fatfinch Says:

        If you are talking about the house finch, it is a seed eater, not an insect eater. Worms are the wrong diet for it. That’s why it’s best to get any bird into the hands of a knowledgeable wildlife rehabilitator. Also, it is illegal to keep any protected bird in your care and house finches are a protected species.

  16. Bris Says:

    my dog brought a baby grackle in the house, and its a baby, about to go into adolescence. i know its illegal to keep it but i have to, the shelter in town just reccomends i leave it to die outside. the mother attacked it when i put it back out because it was bleeding slightly, but io now took care of that. is it possible that i can keep it untill it can live on its own?

  17. Day Says:

    I am deeply saddend and cannot sleep tonight! My husband found a baby bird and tried to feed it a rescue the tiny feathered creature. I told him to place it back into the nest or call for help but he did not. We all fed the bird for about 4 days. At times the bird was hungry and tweeted and was just precious and then at times it barely wanted to open its beak. While my husband was at work I tried to feed.the bird bit it seemed week and the bird did not want to eat I knew the bird was not doing well so I called for help but 45 min later the bird shook and opened its beak I was excited and rushed to feed it but then realized it was its last breath. I was too late and I feel horrible. I am so mad at myself.

    • fatfinch Says:

      It is very hard to rescue baby birds. Even experienced wildlife rehabilitation people lose birds and often it’s right around Day 4 that is the hardest. These tiny birds need special hydration and nourishment. If you have a wildlife rescue center anywhere nearby it’s always best to take wildlife there as they have the expertise to deal with these babies. I’m sure you did the best you could and I know how hard it is to see these little birds die. Don’t beat up on yourself. I’m sure you did as well as anyone could have.

  18. Lily Says:

    I just found a baby finch that my cat possibly caught or found and was about to eat for dinner. I rescued the bird and it didn’t seem to be hurt. It is fully feathered but its eyes are still closed. I put him in a clean towel and set him outside where (I think) mama finch was chirping from a tree. I looked out the window a few minutes later and he had gotten up from the towel and hopped over to a crack between two fences. I tried to get him out to place him in his mother’s view again but I can’t quite get him out and don’t want to hurt him. What should I do?! I don’t want him to get injured more or die. I don’t know what else to do…

  19. Taylor Says:

    i found a baby bird on the sidewalk in front of my house just sitting there with his beak cracked with bubbles of drool coming out
    what should i do?

  20. jessica Says:

    How do you feed a baby bird and what? The baby birds nests was attacked by a Ferrell cat and only 1 is alive now. Mothers been gone for days. I need help fast as there is no rescue around!

    • fatfinch Says:

      It depends on what kind of bird it is. Google Wildlife Rehabilitator in your area and call them. They’ll tell you what to do with the bird until you can get it to them.

  21. Iris Says:

    In the last paragraph about fledglings it says about if it has no injuries it will be fine. I just found a baby house finch and it has a hurt eye. Even though it is a fledgling, it’s eyes are not open yet and her/his eyelid is bloody. What should I do? I know where it’s nest is and the parents are coming back for it, should I leave it alone? What do I do at night?

    • fatfinch Says:

      Hi, If the parents are coming back for it, it may be okay, but try to keep an eye on it and see if it is still in the nest or near the nest in the morning. If not and if you live near a wildlife rescue center, you should take it there so it can be examined.If you decide to keep the bird inside tonight, just keep it in a box in a warm place overnight. You do not need to do anything about the eye or worry about giving it any food or water. In the morning if it is still alive, take it to the rescue center. They can determine what the injury is. Hope that helps!

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