It’s that time of year when young birds are beginning to leave the safety of their nests to experience the world for the first time. Usually, nestlings ‘fledge’ or leave their nests on their own schedules, but sometimes they find themselves out of the nest prematurely due to natural causes (e.g. the wind) or because of a predator (e.g. a cat). Each spring and summer, HawkWatch International receives plenty of phone calls from concerned citizens asking for guidance after stumbling across a seemingly helpless bird that has found itself out of its nest.
Here are some key things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation:
- Avoid intervening if possible
Often, the parents of the birds people try to rescue are still caring for them. The best thing is to leave them alone, provided there is no immediate danger.
- Determine if it's a nestling or fledgling and whether the parents are nearby
Nestlings are sparsely feathered, can’t stand on their own, and can’t hop or fly. Because they are mostly immobile, nestlings probably aren’t far from their nest. Look above you for a nest, and return the nestling if you can safely do so. And don’t worry, it’s a myth that parent birds will abandon their nestlings if they have been touched by a human. Just make sure to be quick to avoid additional stress to both the nestling and concerned adults who may be watching nearby. Fledglings are mostly feathered, can stand on their own, and can hop/fly short distances. Fledglings likely left the nest on their own and won’t stay put if you return them. They are just learning to fly, and this is their first step. It’s best to leave them alone or to move them to a nearby shaded area to avoid sun exposure.
- Check whether it's injured
Look for blood or other signs of injury. If there are visible injuries, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
- Protect nestlings or fledglings from cats
Outdoor cats are one of the leading causes of bird mortality. If you know that cats are an immediate threat to a bird you’ve found, try asking the owner to keep them inside for a bit or
move the bird to a safer spot nearby.
Check out our Found an Injured or Young Bird page for additional details, and thank you for keeping an eye out for the next generation of birds!
(Image: Edged Feather Photography)