What to do if you come across a baby bird
You might have heard ‘baby bird’ season – well, we’re right in the middle of it!
Baby bird types currently brought into LAOKO’s care include magpies, currawongs, crimson rosellas, galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, corellas, gang gang cockatoos, kookaburras, Australian Ravens, wood ducks, pacific black ducks, honey eaters, welcome swallows, cuckoo shrikes, red-rumped parrots, tawny frogmouths, barn owls, boobook owls and, recently, a Nankeen kestrel nestling.
There are a few different stages bird growth:
- Hatchling (freshly hatched, featherless, eyes closed)
- Nestling (stays in the nest, starts growing feathers, eyes open)
- Branchling (feathered, perches on the side of the nest or nearby branch, lots of leg and wing stretching)
- Fledgling (learning to fly, growing first flight feathers, still dependant on parents feeding it, leaves the nest – this is when most baby birds are found by humans on the ground)
- Juvenile (first plumage of non-downy feathers, should be foraging for own food)
- Immature or sub-adult (young bird, independent of parents, doesn’t fully have adult feather pattern)
- Adult (mature bird with adult plumage, capable of breeding)
When should I rescue a baby bird?
Before you rescue a baby bird off the ground, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it injured? Can it use it’s legs or wings or is their obvious sign of trauma?
- Or is it ‘playing dead’ (a defence mechanism used by a variety of birds)?
- Does it seem orphaned?
- Are there parent birds close by?
- Or are you witnessing the natural process of baby bird development? That is, is it having time on the ground while it learns to fly?
It’s really important not to rush into bringing a baby bird into care, as often they are uninjured and the parents are close. Ever heard of the term ‘bird-napping”? It happens to baby birds a lot!
Normal behaviour for some fledglings includes sitting on the ground, hopping, stretching and using their legs, flapping their wings – mostly unable to fly. This is how they learn to fly, on the ground, while the parents are still feeding and protecting it. Bird species such as parrots and kookaburras are able to fly directly from the nest. Ducklings once hatched can swim within a few days, flying comes later.
Here are some things to consider if you discover a baby bird you think might need help.
Rescuing an injured baby bird
If you have found a baby bird that appears to be sick or injured – it will need to come into care.
Please call your local volunteer wildlife rescue group (LAOKO in the Snowy Mountains, NSW) for assistance on 02 6456 1313 where a volunteer rescuer can meet you or drop off/pick up point can be arranged.
- Note the breed of bird if possible (Magpie? Parrot? Duck?) and location you discovered the bird (street address, park name etc)
- Place the baby bird into a lidded small box or plastic pet carrier with a towel fashioned into a nest or donut shape in the bottom for the bird to sit on.
- Help minimise stress to the bird by resisting the urge to continually check on it. Cover the box/carrier with a towel to reduce visual stimulation.
- If transporting to a wildlife volunteer, keep your car radio off, voices low.
- The bird will be assessed by a vet, even if the parents are still tending to it, and placed into care (with eventual release planned when old enough).
Baby bird not injured?
Is the bird well-feathered and flapping about like it’s trying to fly? Try not to immediately rush in and ‘save ‘ it. Watch from afar to see if it’s being tended to by its parents. They may even be cranky and protective of their chick. If the chick is in no immediate danger and the parents are attending there’s no need to intervene.
If it’s in danger of being run over by a car, for example, try moving to a safer, nearby spot where parents can still access it. Ideally off the ground if possible or under a bush.
Predatory attack is common with vulnerable baby birds. If you know there are dogs/cats nearby or the chick is being hassled by other birds, it may be best to intervene and rescue the bird. Call LAOKO for further advice.
If you’ve relocated the bird, and if you have time, monitor the chick from afar to ensure the parents know where it is and are feeding it.
We’re lucky to have so many species of birds in our region.
Please call LAOKO on 02 6456 1313 if you require assistance with injured or orphaned wildlife.
Friday 2 December, 2022