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‘I found this baby bird. What should I do?’

May 31, 2013 at 01:00 AM

Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges


During the spring and summer wildlife refuges, parks, zoos, and veterinary clinics across the country are presented with a problem.

People out working in their yards, walking on trails, or visiting other outdoor sites will find baby birds that cannot yet fly. Apparently, 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.

The vast majority of baby birds brought in 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 numbers of 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 principal applies to other animals including deer fawns, baby rabbits, raccoons and opossums.

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 fail because the parents did not properly build it, or they placed it in an unprotected location.

So you have some nestlings and the nest has blown down in your yard. Where can you take them? Most parks, refuges, etc., are not set up to be full-time wildlife baby sitters. It takes very special people with special skills and proper permits to successfully raise infant wildlife to the point at which it can be released into the wild.

It is illegal to keep wildlife in your possession. For help with wildlife conflicts, visit Living with Wildlife in Illinois: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife.

To search for a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by county, visit: http://tinyurl.com/wildrehab.

These folks are licensed and dedicated to the wildlife. Most do it out of the goodness of their hearts on a shoestring budget and donations are gladly accepted.

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 bring it back to where they found it.

Robert Barry is the manager of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, including Chautauqua, Emiquon and Meredosia NWRs and the Cameron Billsbach Unit.

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