At some point, nearly everyone who spends time outdoors finds a baby bird—one that is unable to fly well and seems lost or abandoned. Your first impulse may be to help the young bird, but in the great majority of cases, the young bird doesn’t need help. In fact, intervening often makes the situation worse. Here’s how to determine whether or not to take action.
STEP 1: Determine if the baby bird is a nestling or a fledgling.
What Is a Fledgling?
These are young birds that have just left the nest, and can’t fly yet, but are still under the care of their parents. They usually do not need human intervention. Fledglings are feathered and capable of hopping or flitting, with toes that can tightly grip your finger or a twig. These youngsters are generally adorable and fluffy, with a tiny stub of a tail, and are most commonly what people come across and find.
When fledglings leave their nest, they rarely return, so even if you see the nest, it’s not a good idea to put the bird back in—it will hop right back out. Usually there is no reason to intervene at all, except perhaps simply putting the bird somewhere out of harm’s way. The parents may be attending to other babies all scattered in various locations, but they will return to care for the one you have found.
What Is a Nestling?
If the baby bird is sparsely feathered and not capable of hopping, walking, flitting, or gripping tightly to your finger, it’s a nestling. Typically, the nest is almost certainly nearby. If you can find the nest (it may be well hidden) put the bird back as quickly as possible. The parent birds do not recognize their young by smell, so will not abandon a baby if it has been touched by a human.
STEP 2: Get help if needed
If you know the baby bird’s parents are dead, the young bird is injured, you can’t find the nest, or are absolutely certain that the bird was orphaned, then your best course of action is to bring it to a veterinary hospital for wildlife rehabilitation. A sick, injured or orphaned baby bird may need emergency care until you can get it to a wildlife rehabilitator. You can also do a Google search “wildlife rehabilitation” for your location/area to find the closest wildlife rehabilitator near you. Alternatively, you can also reach out to the Calgary Humane Society for support.
Bottom line: remember that the vast majority of “abandoned” baby birds are perfectly healthy fledglings whose parents are nearby and watching out for them.