I found a baby bird that can’t fly

birdieMost people, who find a bird that cannot fly, assume the bird needs to be rescued. For adult birds, this is usually true, but not always.

An adult bird unable to fly has usually been subjected to trauma. Birds that fly into windows are very common. Birds that fly into a window and fall to the ground may not, however, be seriously injured. If there is an obvious injury: bleeding from the beak, off balance while standing, broken wing, etc., transport it immediately to a rehab facility. If there are no obvious injuries, the bird may only be stunned from the collision. When rescuing one of these birds, place it in a small-enclosed container and put the container in a place that is quiet and warm. After about two hours, open the container and allow the bird to escape. More often than not, the bird will fly away. If it can’t fly away, transport it to a rehabilitation facility.

Cat-caught birds are also common. All cat-caught birds should be transported to a rehabber as soon as possible. The sooner it receives antibiotics the better its chances for survival.

Baby birds are a different story. In the spring, it is very common to find baby birds hoping around on the ground unable to fly. Most of these little guys do not and should not be rescued. To have an understanding of when to rescue requires a basic knowledge of bird development. When a baby bird is found on the ground, it probably fell or jumped out of its nest. Before you make a decision on what you should do with the bird, you must determine what you are working with. Birds in different stages of their development have different needs.

A hatchling is a newly hatched bird and will be featherless and have its eyes closed. These birds cannot regulate their body temperature and need immediate attention. When you find a hatchling, try to locate the nest that it fell from. If you can locate it, put the bird back into the nest. Folklore tells us that a bird that has been handled by humans carry a human scent and cannot be returned to its mother. This is not true. Birds, as a rule, have no sense of smell. Babies that have had human contact are readily accepted back into the nest. If you can’t find a nest, or it’s too high to reach, warm and transport the bird to a rehabber.

Nestlings are birds with open eyes that have either feather traces or downer feathers. These birds also need warmth and care from the parent birds and should also be returned to the nest.

A fledgling is a bird that is almost fully feathered and has short tail feathers, but no ability to fly. They are ready to leave the nest [have fledged from the nest.]  A fledgling will leave the nest on its own as a natural part of its development. It will spend a few days on the ground or in low bushes before it can fly and feed on its own. These birds are very susceptible to predators. You will usually find more than one fledging in the same area. During this time, the parent birds are still feeding the fledglings and showing them where to feed. Most rescued fledglings are erroneously rescued. If you find a fledgling, leave it alone. If someone has already picked it up, return it to the place where it was caught and let it go. Try to get local homeowners to keep pets and children away from the birds and watch from a distance to be sure the parents are feeding them. If no adult bird comes within a few hours, rescue is appropriate. When watching, keep your distance or the adults may not approach the babies.