Column: So you've found a baby bird?Imagine this: You are grilling in your backyard, enjoying the spring air, the shady trees, the chirping birds .... Suddenly, you spy a little bird hopping across the yard, squawking loudly.
By: Grace Moores, For the Budgeteer News
I’ve found a bird!
Imagine this: You are grilling in your backyard, enjoying the spring air, the shady trees, the chirping birds .... Suddenly, you spy a little bird hopping across the yard, squawking loudly.
He looks almost adult, but still has some babyish features — a few wispy feathers on the top of his head, a shorter tail, and a squawky baby voice. On high alert, you scan the nearby trees, but find no sign of a parent bird or nest anywhere.
At this point in the story, most people are moved by compassion to help the little guy. He’s a baby! He’s supposed to be in the nest, right? In the thrill of a lifesaving moment, you scoop up the bird and march off into the woods on a quest for a nest!
Unfortunately, this compassionate impulse may not benefit the bird at all. In fact, moving the baby bird may separate it from its mother, its food source, its safety, and interrupt a critical stage in its development.
Baby songbirds hatch naked, blind, and completely dependent on their parents. Gradually, as the little nestlings grow, they open their eyes, develop feathers, and become increasingly alert and active.
After a few weeks, there isn’t enough room in the nest anymore, and the young birds “fledge,” or leave, the nest, though they cannot yet fly. Their first “flight” is an exhilarating few seconds of barely controlled falling. The young bird, now known as a fledgling, will spend the next several days on the ground, in low branches, or in the bushes — a much better position from which to learn to manage its flight equipment.
During this stage, while the fledgling works on its flight skills, the parents continue to care for it, feeding it every hour or so. Since fledglings are not yet able to fly, they are incredibly vulnerable — to predators, to free-ranging pets, and to well-meaning but uninformed humans, who often kidnap them, thinking that they are orphaned.
So those behaviors that were red flags of alarm for you — young bird chirping on the ground, no mother or nest in sight — could actually be signs of a healthy young fledgling. He may be chirping away at mother, reminding her, “Mom! I’m hungry! It’s been forty minutes!”
On the other hand, if you see a fledgling in obvious danger — in the direct path of a bicycle, harassed by a pack of kids, or endangered by a pet, please help it!! Disperse the kids, put the pet indoors, or move the bird a few feet away into a nearby bush.
If the bird is clearly injured (broken wing, limping, bleeding, attacked by dog or cat) or has not been visited by its parent in more than 2 hours, call a wildlife rehabilitator. They have the knowledge, equipment, and experience to care for the bird in a way that will keep it healthy and wild.
So, if you find a young bird on the ground, enjoy it! You have a front-row seat to a wild miracle — a healthy young bird learning to fly. After enjoying this spectacle from a respectful distance for a few minutes, walk on, leaving the baby and its parents to themselves.
For more information on wildlife and how you can help, please visit our website at www.wildwoodsrehab.org.
If you find an animal in distress you may phone (218)491-3604.
Grace Moores studied at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Currently she works with Wildwoods, a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth.