Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Helping Baby Birds

Recently I received an SOS call from a Florida relative.  She and her husband (our nephew) were at her parents’ house in Tennessee helping them with some home repairs and cleanup.  When they took down a birdhouse that was falling apart, they found a nest of baby birds inside (still without feathers).
 At this stage the only help for these babies is to put them where the parents can find them
My niece wanted to know what they could do to save the babies.  Since the birdhouse was all but disintegrated there was no way they could put them back in the nest, nor could they put the nest into the new birdhouse, since it did not have a removable bottom or wall.  I advised them to try suspending a box or container below the birdhouse, placing the nest in the suspended container (see solution #4 below).  Time will tell if this solution will work and the parents find the nest. 

Following are some tips from Sanctuary Manager, Joe Hoffman for what to do if you find yourself confronted with the dilemma of how to help a baby bird seemingly in need of assistance:

Every spring we receive many calls regarding young birds that have fallen from the nest.   Some are in genuine need of our help, like the baby green herons whose nest was destroyed when a tree was felled and parents failed to find the makeshift nest.
 The baby Green Herons were in need of help when the parents couldn't find them
Others are baby birds that you may think need help, but don't always need our well meaning 'help' – like the baby Barred Owl that was admitted.  It was a fledgling and was spending time on the ground learning how to fly, while his parents still cared for him.  Instead he had to learn in our rehab flight cage.
 Baby Barred Owls learning to fly in our rehab flight cage
If you find a baby bird that you think needs your assistance, first follow the guidelines below to determine whether or not the young bird truly needs your help. 

If you find a baby bird that has feathers, its eyes are open and it is able to move away from you:
·      The best thing to do is leave it alone!  The parents will find it and continue to take care of it wherever it is.  Most baby birds do not leave the nest knowing how to fly very well.  They initially flutter out of the nest, and start clinging to branches or brush.  They stay close to the ground for about 1-2 weeks, and start flying with short hops from branch to branch.  The hops gradually get longer, until the bird eventually flies.

If the bird is in immediate danger of being attacked by a cat or dog:
·      When possible, remove the cat or dog from the area until the bird is able to fly (1-2 weeks).
·      Put the bird in a nearby bush, shrub or on a tree limb, out of harm's way.  Most birds have a poor sense of smell, and the parents will not abandon a baby bird touched by humans.
·      Don't stay in the immediate vicinity of the bird – the parents are probably watching and will not approach if you stay around.

If you find a baby bird with little or no feathers and you know where the nest is:
·      Return the bird to its nest without putting yourself in harm’s way.

If the nest is destroyed, cannot be found or cannot be reached:
·      You can make one using a small basket or margarine container.  Punch holes in the bottom and line the container with paper towel (not with grass, as moisture in the grass can cause birds to become too cold).  Secure the 'nest' with duct tape in a branch fork near the old nest.  The parents will find it.  Check out our blog about a makeshift basketball net nest for a family of Cooper's Hawks last year: (link: http://world-bird-sanctuary.blogspot.com/2010/08/sprungs-spring-baby-hawks-from-certain.html)

If you are certain the bird is an orphan:
·      When you are certain the parents have been killed or there’s no way a makeshift nest can be made, prepare to transport the bird to a rehabilitation facility.  Carefully place the baby bird in a small open container lined with paper towel, and place both in a cardboard box
·      Do not attempt to feed or water an orphaned bird.  A bird's diet is very particular and they have a feeding schedule that must be followed.
  Sanctuary Manager, Joe Hoffmann, with baby Red-shouldered Hawks
If you are tempted to keep the baby bird:
·      DON'T.  Migratory birds, including songbirds, are protected under federal law.  Possession of a bird, its nest or eggs without a permit is illegal.

Which rehab facility?
The World Bird Sanctuary’s Kathryn G. Favre Wildlife Hospital admits 300-400 birds of prey per year.  We are unable to do pick-ups or rescues do to staffing issues.  We are open to accept birds from 8am to 5pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.  We accept all birds of prey (hawks, owls, eagles, vultures, falcons etc.) as well as herons, pelicans and swans.  We do not accept songbirds.

If you find a songbird – Cardinal, Bluebird, Bluejay etc. – you can call Wild Bird Rehab at 314-426-6400.

As always, if you are in any doubt and need further guidance, please call our wildlife hospital at 636-861-1392 for more information or advice.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer
Article excerpted from Joe Hoffmann, WBS Sanctuary Manager’s 2009 article

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