Q. I found a baby bird that has fallen out of the nest. What should I do?
A. First things first, if you have found a baby bird, you want to be absolutely certain it has in fact been abandoned or injured before you bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
There are essentially two types of young birds, nestlings and fledglings. Nestlings are pink and featherless and too young to be out of the nest. Fledglings are juveniles that are beginning to leave the nest. While they are not yet able to fly, they do flutter among branches.
If you have found a nestling it is important to try and locate the nest. It is likely that the baby bird has either been blown out of the nest or that the whole nest has been blown down. If the nest is on the ground, collect the nest material and place it in a small plastic container with holes cut in it to allow for drainage. If you can’t find the nest, place some nesting-type materials such as dry clean wash clothes or paper towel in a small plastic container (again don’t forget to poke holes in it for drainage). Nail this as high as possible to the tree you believe the nest had been in – often the closest tree to the young bird. Then place the bird in the box or nest. Do this quickly so you don’t agitate the parents. Finally step away, keeping all people and pets away from the area. But make sure to watch from a safe distance to ensure one of the parent birds returns.
If you’ve found a fledgling, don’t rush to “rescue” it. Fledglings are young birds that are able to leave the nest. They have not yet perfected the art of flying and often land on the ground. In fact, some fledglings may spend several days to several weeks on the ground learning to hunt and forage from their parents. While it may seem like its parents are nowhere in sight, they are likely within ear-call distance and will probably return within a half hour with food. Again, you should probably keep the area safe by bringing all people and pets inside. Moreover, there are also some species of birds that are ground nesters, such as killdeer. These are birds that are meant to be on the ground. So why not check online to identify what kind of bird it is – it may end up being a ground nester after all!
However if no parent returns after two hours, if there are visible signs of injury, blood, or if the bird is weak, debilitated or cold, then it is important to contact your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can usually find one by contacting your local provincial wildlife department.
In the interim, carefully pick up the young bird and place it in a shoebox that is lined with a soft cloth for warmth. Keep the bird warm in a quiet area. Make sure you do not feed the young bird. Different species have different dietary requirements and you can actually do more harm.
It is important to note that the parents will not abandon their young if you touch them. Birds have a poor sense of smell and strong protective instincts.