Every spring, when the weather starts to get warmer, baby animals pop up everywhere. Bunnies start hopping, deer take their first wobbly steps and baby birds start chirping.
The smell of fresh flowers and the sound of baby birds tweeting are some of the best indications that summer is just around the corner.
Unfortunately, every year many baby birds fall out of their nests and get lost on the ground. When people come across these helpless little animals, they want to help — but most people don’t know what to do.
Here’s exactly what you should do if you find a baby bird on the ground:
First, determine whether the bird is a nestling or a fledgling. Nestlings are too young to be out of the nest, while fledglings are juvenile birds who are learning to fly.
Nestlings look like they just hatched a few days ago — they have very few feathers and cannot care for themselves. Fledglings, on the other hand, have a mix of adult feathers and fuzzy down feathers. Fledglings are learning to take care of themselves, so they are often outside of the nest, hopping around and exploring the world.
While you’re figuring out if the bird is a nestling or a fledgling, you should not touch or disturb the bird. In fact, the very first thing you need to do is just watch the baby bird for half an hour.
“Remember not all baby birds found on the ground need to be rescued as lots of species once fledged will hop around on the ground still being fed by parents for a couple of weeks after fledging. If you find an uninjured baby bird it’s best to leave it alone and watch (out of sight of the parents) for at least 30mins. In that time you should see a parent come to feed it.”
The only time you should try to help a fledgling is if it is injured. According to PETA, “Healthy fledglings can stand upright and will tuck their wings tightly against their bodies.”
If a fledgling looks injured or unhealthy (the bird is bloody, cold to the touch, can’t stand up straight, or isn’t standing properly), you can try to help it.
Second, if the baby bird you found is a nestling or an injured/unhealthy fledgling, you can begin to care for the bird, following the steps listed below:
1. If you’ve found a nestling, you can try to return it to its nest. If you can’t find a nestling’s nest, or you’ve found an injured/unhealthy fledgling, you can transport the bird. Using a clean or gloved hand, pick up the bird and place it into a small paper-towel-lined cardboard box (like a shoebox).
2. Keep the baby bird warm by placing a warm (not hot) heating pad or hot water bottle beneath the box. Put the box somewhere safe and quiet, away from other animals and people.
3. Call a local veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator for help. During this time, don’t try to give the baby bird any food or water.
If you’re unsure of the bird’s age or health, or aren’t sure how to help it, immediately call for help. A wildlife expert will be able to tell you exactly what to do!