Should you pick up a baby bird?

Answered by Jeremy Urbaniak

Should You Pick Up a Baby Bird?

As an avian enthusiast and someone with experience in bird conservation, I can offer some insights into the question of whether or not you should pick up a baby bird. The answer, in general, is yes, it is perfectly safe to pick up a fallen nestling and put it back in the nest, or to carry a fledgling out of danger and place it in a tree or shrub. However, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind.

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between nestlings and fledglings. Nestlings are baby birds that have fallen or been removed from their nests prematurely and are not yet able to fly. Fledglings, on the other hand, are birds that have left the nest but are still learning to fly and are often found hopping around on the ground or perched in low branches. It is crucial to understand the developmental stage of the bird before deciding on the best course of action.

If you come across a nestling that has fallen from its nest, it is generally safe to pick it up and return it to the nest if it is intact and the bird appears unharmed. Contrary to popular belief, birds do not have a strong sense of smell, so handling the nestling will not cause the parents to reject it. In fact, the parents are more likely to be grateful for your help in returning their offspring to safety.

When handling a nestling, it is important to exercise caution and gentleness. Birds are delicate creatures, and excessive handling or rough treatment can cause stress or injury. It is best to use a soft cloth or gloves to carefully pick up the nestling and place it back in the nest. If the nest is damaged or inaccessible, you can create a makeshift nest using a small basket or container lined with soft materials like grass or leaves. Ensure that the makeshift nest is securely attached to a branch or in a sheltered spot to prevent further accidents.

Fledglings, on the other hand, require a slightly different approach. These birds have already left the nest and are in the process of learning to fly. It is not uncommon to find them on the ground, seemingly vulnerable and in need of assistance. However, it is important to remember that this is a natural part of their development. Fledglings spend time on the ground or in low branches as they build up their strength and coordination for flight. Interfering with this process can disrupt their learning and hinder their chances of survival.

If you encounter a fledgling in a dangerous location, such as a busy road or near a predator, it is acceptable to gently pick it up and place it in a nearby tree or shrub. However, it is crucial to do so without causing unnecessary stress or harm to the bird. Cupping the bird in your hands or using a small towel can help provide a sense of security while you move it to a safer location. Avoid handling the bird for an extended period and release it as soon as possible to allow it to continue its natural development.

It is important to note that not all baby birds require human intervention. Many birds, especially those with well-developed feathers, may appear to be alone but are actually under the watchful eye of their parents. These birds are often left alone for extended periods as their parents forage for food or keep a safe distance to avoid drawing attention to the nest. In such cases, it is best to observe from a distance and trust in the natural instincts of the parents.

While it is generally safe to pick up a fallen nestling and return it to the nest or to move a fledgling to a safer location, it is crucial to approach each situation with care and consideration. Understanding the developmental stage of the bird and using gentle handling techniques are key to ensuring the well-being and survival of these young creatures. By being mindful of the needs of baby birds, we can play a small but important role in their journey towards independence and maturity.