If the baby you have found shows obvious signs of injury (limping, asymmetrical wings), is bleeding, is covered in flies or other parasites, is laying on its side, lethargic, or if the bird has been caught by a cat or dog, place it in a box with air holes and a soft cloth on the bottom in a warm, dark, quiet place away from children and pets. Place the box half on a heating pad set on low, if you are able. Then contact us immediately.
Otherwise, please read the information below to determine if the baby needs help.
These birds are born with fuzzy down and can walk shortly after hatching. They follow their parents around and are able to feed themselves by pecking on the ground. Precocial babies will stay with their mother for warmth and protection. Birds such as ducklings, goslings, piping plovers, and killdeer fall into this category. Precocial birds do not stay in a nest and instead will be found walking on the ground with parents nearby.
Please note: In most instances both parents care for their young. So, if you find a dead parent that you think was caring for the babies, it is likely that the remaining parent will continue the role in caring for its young.
Baby Red-tailed Hawk
Hatchling, Nestling, or Fledgling?
Hatchlings are baby birds that, as the name suggests, have just hatched. They are completely "naked" (no feathers) and are extremely vulnerable. Nestlings have some feathers, but some skin can still be seen. Sometimes you will see feathers encased in a shaft with feathers poking out of the end called pin feathers. Hatchlings and nestlings are entirely dependent on their parents for food and protection, and remain in their nest until they reach fledgling age.
Fledgling birds have developed most of their adult feathers, but are not yet skilled at flying. They follow their parents about, learning to forage for food and to avoid predators. Some species of songbirds become completely independent of their parents by two to three weeks. Others may be dependent for a full season. Fledgling birds are commonly found alone on the ground, hopping around. They can typically be identified by their puffed up body feathers and short tail feathers.
The baby appears healthy, but it's alone on the ground. Does it need help?
Healthy hatchlings and nestlings will need to be renested if found on the ground. Healthy fledglings are independent and can be left alone. See above for information on how to tell the difference.
How do I renest a hatchling/nestling?
Start by placing the baby/babies in a cardboard box with a small towel on the bottom and airholes poked in the sides. You can pick the baby/babies up by using a small cloth or towel. Blocking the baby's sight will reduce stress.
Put the box in a warm, dark, quiet place away from children and pets. Place the box half on a heating pad set on low, if possible.
If you are able to find the original nest, simply place the baby/babies back into it.
If the nest is on the ground but dry and intact, place it in the closest tree and place the baby/babies back into it.
If the nest is not intact, place the original nest material into a plastic container (poke holes in the bottom for drainage), hanging planter pot, old Easter basket, etc. and place the baby/babies into the false nest.
If the original nest cannot be found, create the false nest by using dry grass, leaves, and small twigs, and place the baby/babies into it.
Put the nest in the tree nearest to where you found the baby/babies. If you cannot reach the branches where a nest could be placed, or if the original nest is too high, secure the nest to the base of the tree, as high off the ground as possible. Plastic containers can be secured by nailing them to the tree. Do not do this with babies inside.
Once the nest is secure, place the baby/babies inside. Monitor the nest from a distance and keep pets and children indoors. People and pets may deter the mother from returning.
If the mother returns to feed the baby/babies, congratulations! You have reunited the family of birds.
If the mother does not return within two hours, contact us.
Won't the mother reject the baby if I touch it?
No, this is a common myth. Birds have a poorly developed sense of smell, and will not be deterred by human scent. Touching the baby is the only way to renest it and return it to its mother!
I don't want to touch it. Can you come renest it for me?
Our rescue/transport resources are very limited, particularly during baby season. Because of this, we cannot pick up every animal we are contacted about, and we can only use our resources to rescue and transport animals who need to come to our hospital. Healthy birds should be left with their parents, as being raised in captivity is extremely stressful. It is critical to the birds' survival that renesting happens immediately. Please understand that our organization is almost entirely volunteer based, with many of our volunteers caring for patients already at our hospital.
I found a healthy fledgling, but I'm scared to leave it alone. There are dangerous animals in my neighborhood. Can I bring it inside/to you?
It is most people's instinct to protect small, helpless creatures- which is wonderful! However, keep in mind that as sad as we may find it, small songbirds are prey to a lot of native species. In addition, many pet cats on Long Island are allowed to roam free in addition to the feral population. As tempting as it is to "rescue" these babies, we have to give them a chance to survive in the wild. Raising birds in captivity is extremely challenging and highly stressful for them. We do not want to raise birds in captivity needlessly. In addition, it is illegal to keep wild animals as pets, or rehabilitate them without a permit- even if you plan to release them.
That said, if you find a healthy fledgling and are concerned for its safety, you may place it in a nearby bush to conceal it from predators. Please keep your cats inside and your dogs on a leash while the babies grow up. It will only take a few weeks for them to fly, and doing this will greatly increase their chance of survival!
Outdoor cats have a devastating impact on wildlife. For more information about why you should keep your cats inside, visit https://www.allaboutbirds.org/faq-outdoor-cats-and-their-effects-on-birds/.
Raptors can be very dangerous, even as babies! Please contact us immediately if you have found a baby raptor that you believe is injured or orphaned. Reuniting the chick with its parents is a very difficult process, and will require the help of experienced professionals.