Friday, April 24, 2015

So you've found a baby bird PT. 1

A common conception among many people is that a baby bird should not be returned to its nest because its mother will reject it once it has been touched by human hands. This, however, is largely a myth and almost certainly not true. With the notable exception of some species: such as the vulture and the kiwi, most birds do not actually have a good sense of smell and so will not be able to detect the subtle scents left behind on a chick when it is picked up by human hands. Furthermore, birds make very dedicated parents and invest a lot of time and energy in looking out for the welfare of their young. A mother bird is more likely to resume its parental duties after its child was replaced in its nest than otherwise simply because she is genetically driven to do so by nature.

However, not all seemingly lost or abandoned birds need human intervention. So what should one do when one finds a seemingly lost or abandoned baby bird? The first thing one should do is to assess the bird's stage of development. Is it a nestling, or a fledgling? A nestling is a very young bird that has little or no feathers. It will appear very weak and helpless and will not even be able to stand unassisted. A fledgling is an older baby bird that is fully feathered. It is capable of walking and standing unassisted and may even be able to flutter for short distances.

A nestling should always be returned to its nest if possible so the first order of business would be to locate the nest and to return the chick. If the nest was destroyed or had otherwise fallen, it is possible to re-create the nest by gathering as much of the original nesting material as possible and placing it into a plastic container with holes poked at the bottom for drainage. The new makeshift nest should then be nailed as close to the spot the original nest was (it is possible to locate it by any remaining nest fibers) and the baby placed inside. The rescuer can then watch from a safe and un-obstructive distance for the parent bird to return.

A fledgling, however, may not even need to be "rescued". Though they are not competent fliers, fledglings frequently spend large amounts of time outside of the nest learning from their parents and observing other birds. It is during this stage that they are gradually "weaned" from being dependent on their parents for food. It is therefore, not uncommon for parent birds to "ignore" their fledgling young for periods at a time to encourage them to develop food and foraging independence from the adult birds. It is a NATURAL process of their development and just because a parent bird is not in sight when a fledgling is found does not mean it is abandoned.  I am sorry to say but most of the baby birds that were "rescued" by well meaning people and brought to me were very likely in reality "kidnapped" unintentionally during this weaning phase.

The best thing a person can do for a fledgling that seems lost is to cordon the area off so that it is undisturbed by stray animals or other curious, but well-meaning humans (this could scare the parents off) and to wait from a safe and un-obstructive distance for the parent birds to return. If the fledgling is in any immediate harm (for example if it has fallen into a drain or a deep puddle of water, it may be rescued but should not be removed too far from its present location so it may be similarly located from its parents.

A fledling mynah, exhausted from exploring, and taking a rest under a tree not for from its nest. 
A well meaning human may be able to hand raise a baby bird to the point where it is able to fly, but there is more to survival in the big bad world that physical development. Baby birds need to be able to formulate survival strategies and also, to socialize with wild flocks if they are ever going to make it to adulthood and come to raise young ones of their own. These are wild birds, not pets, so very often a baby bird's best bet of survival is to learn the skills and tricks it needs to live in the big wild yonder from its parents and it is the duty of those of us who rescue birds to be able to foster or encourage that as much as possible before the decision is made to "pull" the babies out from under the parent's care.

If you have done all the above and the bird's parents still have not yet returned in a day or so, then it might be necessary to bring the bird in and place it under your care. It may be very tempting to raise a baby bird on your own but hand raising a chick should always be done only by those who are experienced as each bird has its own unique set of dietary requirements as well as conditions for soft-release in gradually socializing it to life as a wild bird in the future. If this is not you, you may wish to hand the bird over to an avian vet, a wildlife rehabilitator, or friend who is. However reluctant you may be at giving up "your baby", do remember, you are rescuing the bird for its sake, not your's and so you owe it to the baby to give it the best chance of survival by surrendering it over to someone whose experience better qualifies them to function as the bird's foster mother.

If you have no other options however, you may have to attempt raising the bird yourself. This is a complicated business for the uninitiated and perhaps warrants a post on its own. Until then.

picture source: wikimedia.commonsare. 
edited and distributed under license 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike of Creative Commons

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