Baby bird rescue
Spring is always a busy time, not just for the birds, but for wildlife rehabilitators and veterinary clinics. During this time of year birds are busy building nests, laying eggs and feeding hungry chicks. As the nestlings (a bird too young to leave the nest) grow they no longer want to be confined to a nest and start to spread their wings.
When chicks are ready to leave their nest they are called fledglings, unfortunately this is when a large number of them find their way into rescue centres and veterinary clinics. This is not because they are orphaned, sick or injured but because well meaning individuals ‘rescue’ them, when they do not need rescuing. In most cases these chicks on the ground do not require rescuing because they are doing what all children do – explore and play.
HERE ARE A FEW TIPS
It is important to make every effort to re-nest or reunite a healthy and uninjured bird with its parents.
If it has no feathers or very few feathers, this is called an altricial chick, and will require the parents to feed and keep it warm in the nest.
If you have found a chick with fluffy down on it this is called a precocial chick. They still require the warmth of the parent birds but they are born with eyes open and can feed themselves soon after hatching.
Do not ‘birdnap’ healthy fledglings. These young birds usually have a significant number of adult-looking feathers; they hop, jump and flutter but do not usually fly at this stage. They are still getting used to operating their wings, becoming coordinated and strengthening their muscles. These babies do not need ‘rescuing’ unless they appear to be in danger, at which point they should be picked up and placed in a nearby bush. If you can remove the ‘danger’ such as your cat or dog, this would give the fledgling and parents time to move away.
If you decide that the baby bird can be re-nested one of the first things you need to do is identify the type of bird it is, because if you try place it in the incorrect nest it will perish.
A precocial chick does not need to be placed in a nest unless it has just hatched and the down is wet. Stand at a distance and observe the chick to ensure that the parents do rejoin it.
Healthy, uninjured altricial nestlings with some feathering and whose parents are nearby would be suitable for re-nesting; if you cannot find the original nest you can place them in a makeshift nest. And despite the popular belief that the parents will reject the baby because it has been handled by humans, they WILL continue to care for the chick.
You can craft a makeshift nest from a bucket – 40 to 50cm deep: drill several holes in the bottom to provide drainage in case of rain, place a layer of leaves and grass in the bottom and place a small branch, about 60cm long, in the bucket and secure it to one of the drainage holes. Place the chick or chicks in their new home and as close as possible to where they were found. Make sure the bucket is well-protected from predators and out of direct sunlight; birds can get sun burnt!
After re-nesting the chick please take the time to observe the nest and make sure that the parents do return to care for the nestling. They should arrive at the nest with food and leave with-out; also one of the parents should spend some time sitting on the nest to keep the little one warm if it did not have very many feathers. If the parents do not return within an hour or at dusk, retrieve the baby.
The baby bird should be placed in a box or suitable container with holes in the sides and lid, placed on a soft towel or cloth and kept warm with a hot water bottle or something similar. Use only hot water from the tap NOT boiling water from the kettle. Contact a rescue centre so the proper care can be given.
If the chick cannot be returned to its nest for some reason i.e. the parents have been killed, it is sick or injured or you cannot identify the chick it will need to be raised by a wildlife rehabilitator.
Always remember that although wildlife rehabilitators do their best to care for chicks there is no one better to care for them than mum and dad!