What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird on the Ground

What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird on the Ground

Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).

What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird

Many baby birds leave their nest as part of a necessary stage of development. This is especially true of several species, including scrub jays, robins, corvids (crows), and raptors (owls). Parents will tend to their young while they remain on the ground for several days and return to feed them, protect them, and assist them in learning valuable life skills, like flight.

In order to tell if a baby bird fell out of the nest too soon, you will want to know the difference between:

  • Hatchlings: "Naked," eyes closed, fragile (have a hard time holding their neck up); rarely survive impact.
  • Nestlings: Gaping, vocal, react easily to movement overhead; often require intervention.
  • Fledglings: Mostly feathered, look "scruffy," can hop, flap, vocalize. Eyes are often open. May still be gaping. Hide out in brush and shrub. May attempt movement for short flights. The parents are typically surveying them.

Veterinary Advice: How to Save a Baby Bird

How Can You Tell If a Baby Bird Needs Help?

Sometimes, a bird's nest will get disturbed. Either a predator goes after the nest and bumps young or destroys the nest in the process, the nest gets disturbed by tree work or weather, or a fledging accidentally falls for one reason or another (or the parents pushed it out). It is often hard to distinguish the cause of the abandoned fledgling, but there are several steps you can take to handle matters appropriately:

  1. Observe: This is the most important step. Before acting and rushing to pick up the nestling or fledgling, take stock of the surroundings. Are the parents overhead and being vocal? Maybe your presence is scaring them? If so, they are likely watching their young. Is the nestling or fledging seemingly alone or on smoldering hot pavement? You will want to intervene. Watch for several hours (1-2).
  2. Call Someone: Get online and google either bird rescues or wildlife rescues in your area. If all else fails, you can always call animal control (sometimes they can lead you towards the right resource). Call your nearest facility and they can coach you through the questions you may have before you make the decision to intervene.
  3. Rescue: If you have determined that the bird is too young to be alone or that it has been abandoned and the baby has not been tended to, is injured (broken wing or leg), or looks sick (droopy, slumped, lethargic), or is in immediate danger (fell into a construction site or is surrounded by predators), consider intervening. Wear gardening gloves or similar to protect you and the bird. Go slow.
  4. Attempt to reunite: If the parents are nearby but the baby is in immediate danger, you can create a makeshift nest by lining a strawberry basket with toilet paper or cloth or a cardboard box with cloth. You can place this nest in a shaded area nearby where you think the parents might be. You can also create a toilet paper nest (see instructions below).
  5. Collect the fledgling: If no parents are in sight, you are going to want to collect the nestling or fledgling either to hold it in order to transport it to a rescue center or to keep it until someone can come and retrieve it.
  6. Do your research: Whether you have to care for the nestling or fledgling for just an hour, overnight, or longer depending on where you live, check with your state's local laws. In some cases it is illegal to keep native wildlife long-term, even if you are doing the right thing. Also, each species of bird has particular needs and particular diets, so before you do anything specific, take some time to check resources.

How to Take Care of a Baby Bird

First, you will want to triage the nestling or fledgling so that you can take note of any injuries and relay this to the wildlife center.

  • Are there any obvious injuries (cuts, scrapes, blood, puncture wounds)?
  • Are there any broken limbs (droopy wing, neurologic signs—head trauma)?
  • Was it attacked (predator wounds often require antibiotics)?
  • Is the baby gaping (hungry, abandoned if left alone for hours on end)?
  • Is the baby on hot cement or in a cold environment (hypothermia, hyperthermia)?
  • Does the baby have shelter?
  • Are there predators around (cat, dog, crow, hawk)?

How to House a Baby Bird

Collect the baby bird and give it a comfortable place of safety for the time-being. You can use a shoe box and line it with a hand towel, line a strawberry basket with paper towels, or—as I like to do—create a toilet paper nest. Here's how:

DIY Baby Bird Nest

What If You Have to Take Care of a Baby Bird Overnight?

If you need to house the baby bird overnight, depending on where you live, you may want to make sure the baby is comfortable and warm. Most birds are exposed to the elements, so as long as you have them indoors and they are safe and away from children or household pets, keeping them in an open shoe box with a towel and faux-nest will be great (so long as the fledgling is not mobile).

Keep the Bird Safe and "Immobile"

If the baby bird is mobile and you do not have a spare bird cage (sanitized!), you can bird-proof a room. You can use an empty closet, a walk-in shower, or a small room to enclose the baby. You need to bird-proof this room—that means removing anything that the baby can injure itself on or in (close toilet lids to prevent them from drowning!). Also remove anything the baby can get caught on.

How to Keep a Baby Bird Warm Overnight

Heating pads are tricky and should only be used if you have experience with young. In wildlife rehabilitation, we use heating pads and even incubators (sometimes) for hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings. There isn't a particular bird heating pad that we use. Generally, we will run a standard heating pad on low and have a shoebox and a towel on top of the pad.

Note: You can cause thermal burns, overheat a fledging, and seriously injure and wound a baby bird if you are unsure of what you are doing with heat!

Any baby animal that is being subjected to a heating pad should have an escape route—that is, if it's too warm, they can get off or away from the heat source.

What Do Baby Birds Drink?

It is possible for baby birds to drown if they are provided a water bowl and they are too young to be near water. Also, you can drown a gaping baby by simply giving it too many droplets of water (with a dropper). If the baby bird is in your care for several hours, you really need to take it to the humane society or similar.

In wildlife rehabilitation, we use 1 mL syringes and often put catheter tips on them to offer baby birds water. This is drop-by-drop and we calculate the mL based on body weight. I repeat, it is possible to drown a baby bird by offering it too much water. You can also cool off a baby bird too much by feeding it water that is not room temperature or slightly warm. You can also cause crop burns by feeding water or formula that is too hot!

Sometimes you can soak a Q-tip in water and simple let the baby gape and mouth the q-tip to suck some moisture off of it.

What Do Orphaned Baby Birds Eat?

Again, if you are at this stage, you should be researching your nearest wildlife rehab. service. Songbirds, corvids, and raptor diets are extremely complex. Many of these species will eat while being forcep fed. Hummingbirds require a specific solution and can only be catheter-tip syringe-fed.

  • Some baby birds eat insects, seed, and rehydrated cat kibble (soft, fluffy, soaked overnight) in rehabilitation centers. Other birds strictly eat berries, seed blends, and rehydrated cat kibble.
  • Pigeons often get fed specific formula, seed, and get offered oyster shell or grit for digestion.
  • Corvids (crows) will eat rehydrated cat food (soft, fluffy, soaked overnight), thawed mice, seed, and fruit.
  • Owls and hawks (raptors) will eat thawed meat.

Baby Bird Feeding Guidelines


SpeciesStaple in DietMisc. Items


Soaked cat kibble (Science Diet)

Bird seed and berry blend.

Corvids (Crows)

Soaked cat kibble (Science Diet)

Egg (hardboiled), pigeon seed, mice, chopped fruit.


Exact (Formula)

Should be at body temperature. Tube fed by experienced rehabbers.

How Can I Tell What Kind of Bird I Found?

If you are within North America or the United States, these are some of the most common native species on the Western Coast:


  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • House Sparrow
  • Lesser or American Goldfinch
  • Western Scrub Jay
  • Steller's Jay
  • American Crow


  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Band-tailed Pigeon

What Not to Feed Baby Birds

As mentioned, you want to leave the feeding to wildlife rehabbers because each species has a different diet and diets range based on the bird's developmental stage, species, health, place of origin, etc.

Do Not Feed

  • Milk
  • Gatorade
  • Cereal
  • Large seeds or nuts
  • Meat (to songbirds)
  • Bread
  • Anything seasoned or artificial
  • Anything not approved on a reputable site

© 2019 Laynie H

[email protected] on June 20, 2020:

hi im the manager here at 40 hyde park gate I found a young baby pidgeon i have him in a box with some seed and water looked around for his nest could not find it I think he has problem with his wing is there anywhere i send him to be looked after and have his wing fixed

What To Do If You Find A Baby Bird On The Ground

Spring is right around the corner, which means that nature will see the renewal of life. Amongst that new life are all the little baby animals that will be born. And if you have a backyard with trees, there is a good chance that your garden might unknowingly play host to a family of baby birds! W

While we often go about our days not knowing what nature documentary is unfolding in our own backyards, sometimes we actually get swept into the drama. After all, there’s always the chance encounter of finding a little baby bird on that ground that has fallen out of its nest.

If this happens, what are we to do? Do we just leave it and walk away or do we pick it up and help? Most of us would probably ration that we’re supposed to leave it alone because if we touch it, then the mother will abandon it. It’s probably something that we’ve heard growing up from our own family members. But this age-old saying is actually not true at all – for several reasons.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The first is that birds can’t smell humans. The biggest misconception is that a mother bird will abandon its baby after it’s been touched by humans because it’ll be fearful of predators after getting a scent off its baby, but this just isn’t true at all. Plus, it’s not like birds have a particularly keen sense of smell anyways.

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Another reason why this is a misconception is that birds don’t typically abandon their young. For whatever reason, we tend to have this idea that animal moms are quick to abandon their young when quite the opposite is true. The maternal instinct is quite strong in many animals, including birds.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Just check YouTube, if you look for videos showing protective mama birds you will certainly find quite a few. This just proves that mother birds won’t abandon their young at the first hint of danger – if anything, they’ll do their best to protect their young.

So, if you do find a baby bird on the ground, what exactly are you supposed to do? Seeing a baby bird outside of its nest isn’t necessarily an immediate cause for concern. Often times baby birds who are beginning to learn how to fly will spend time on the ground hopping around until they get used to their wings and learn how to properly use them.

Photo: flickr/Hafiz Issadeen

If you see a little bird flopping around on the ground, chances are it’s just starting out learning how to fly. You can tell that it’s ready for this next stage in its life if it has full feathers.

Now, if you see a little bird that still has fuzzy tufts rather than real feathers, then it is most likely still a nestling who happened to fall out. You can offer it assistance to get back in its nest, just be extra gentle if you do offer assistance to a little baby bird since they are fragile.

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What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird on the Ground - pets

Baby northern mocking bird. Photo courtesy of Steve Gifford.

During the spring and summer, wildlife refuges, parks, zoos and veterinary clinics across the country are presented with a problem. People working in their yards, walking on trails or visiting other outdoor sites find a baby bird that cannot yet fly. It seems apparent that there are no adult birds tending to the youngster, so people immediately assume that the fledgling needs help. So they scoop up the bird, put it in a cardboard box, and bring it to the nearest facility they can think of to save the youngster. Sadly, this act of kindness probably does more harm than good. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to help you be prepared and know how to handle this situation for the best possible results.

Fledglings: Leave them be

The vast majority of baby birds brought to these facilities are fledglings. This means that the babies have grown to the point at which they are just too big for their nest and need room to move around, flap their wings, and learn to fly. In addition, because their parents built the nest, laid the eggs and fed the babies for a couple of weeks, predators may be homing in on the nest site by now. If the babies leave the nest and disperse into the surrounding vegetation, they can avoid predators. The parent birds keep track of the babies using certain types of calls. When the baby responds, the adults bring food to the baby.

Nearly everyone has heard the tale that you don’t touch a baby bird or the parents will smell your scent and not return. While completely false, this tale has probably saved countless birds. We must trust the parents to raise the next generation they have been doing this successfully for millions of years.

If they can hop and flutter about on their own, leave them alone. This principle applies to other animals including deer fawns, baby rabbits, raccoons and opossums.

Nestlings: Likely need help

A smaller number of birds found by homeowners are truly nestlings. They are mostly featherless and sometimes the eyes are not yet open. They were probably blown from a nest, or the nest was destroyed. Without assistance, these birds will probably die.

The best thing that could be done is to place the baby back in the nest, if there is one. If you encounter nestlings in your yard, look for a nest within a few yards of where you found the bird. If you can safely replace the nestling, do so as soon as you can. If you are in a natural area, park or refuge, it is probably best to leave everything alone.

Most birds are not 100 percent successful in raising a brood each year. Predators often raid nests before the eggs hatch or while babies are still helpless. Nests can fail if they aren't properly built or they're placed it in an unprotected location.

Licensed wildlife rehabiliators

If you find some nestlings and the nest has blown down in your yard, where can you take them? Most parks and refuges are not set up to be wildlife rehabilitators. It takes very special people with special skills and proper permits to successfully raise infant wildlife to the point they can be released into the wild.

If you want to help nestlings survive, search for a wildlife rehabilitator near you. Many state conservation agencies keep a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators, but it's not always easy to find one. Researching local rehabilitators before you need one is a smart option.

Remember, the best thing you can do for the birds is to not interfere with Mother Nature she will take care of them. Tell your children not to touch them, and if your children bring you a baby bird, help them return it to where it was found.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.

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What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird on the Ground - pets

Often the mother is nearby trying to feed it. It is a natural event for a young bird to leave the nest while learning how to fly. When handling birds use gloves. Do not take wild birds into your home. Mother birds will eventually reclaim their young, and they do a much better job raising their young than we ever could!

• If the young bird is hopping and running away from you, leave it be. His parents will find him.
• If he is in immediate danger of outdoor pets, scoop him up (wearing gloves!) and put in a nearby bush or shrub out of harm's way.
• If you find a baby with little or no feathers and you know where the nest is, then return the bird to its' nest.
• If the baby/fledgling is cold to the touch, take it inside to warm before placing back in the nest.
• Nestle the bird in a warm towel or use a hot water bottle with a towel between the bird and the bottle.
• Place the bird in a warm dark, quiet place away from children and pets.
• Do not attempt to feed baby birds or fledglings.
• If you cannot find the nest or the bird appears to be sick, injured or your pet brought the bird home still alive, then contact a rehabilitator (external link) close to you.

News What to do when you find young wildlife

Media Contact for What to do when you find young wildlife

Marion Larson, MassWildlife



In light of the COVID-19 emergency, Massachusetts residents are spending a lot of time in their homes and yards. Do you know what to do if you find a baby bird, a nest of newborn bunnies, or another young animal in your yard this spring?

The arrival of spring means the arrival of young wildlife. Every year, the lives of young creatures are disturbed by people who take young animals from the wild in a well-intentioned attempt to save them, but this often does more harm than good. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is reminding the public that young wildlife belong in the wild and urging residents to leave young wildlife alone. Finding a young animal alone does not mean it’s been abandoned or needs to be rescued. Adults are often nearby and visit their young only occasionally to avoid detection from predators.

Nearly all wild birds and mammals are protected by law they may not legally be taken from the wild or kept as pets. Most people quickly find that they can’t properly care for young wildlife, and many animals soon die in the hands of people trying to help. Young wildlife removed from the wild are also denied important natural learning experiences which help them survive on their own. Even if these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced. Often, the care given to young wildlife results in some attachment to humans and the animals may return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars. With little fear of humans, once-tamed wildlife may become nuisances or injure people.

Watch the video: What Do I Do if I Find a Baby Bird?