Songbirds (passerines) are hatched naked, blind, and helpless. Both parent birds work all day to bring their young food. When the nest is disturbed, the young will "gape," signaling the parents to feed them. At 3-4 days of age, the young begin the period of their most rapid growth. Branch-nesting birds are capable of leaving the nest in a fluttering flight at about 11-12 days of age. Cavity-nesting birds will leave the nest at about 16 days old. However, it may be another 2-3 days after leaving the nest before the birds are fully flighted and starting to self-feed.
It is during this critical fledgling period of fluttering flight that most unnecessary "rescues" of birds occur. It is also during this time that these youngsters fall prey to cats and other predators.
Baby songbirds are rarely orphaned since in most species, both parents care for the young. Remember, it is an old wives tale that if you touch a baby bird, the mother will reject it. Ask the following questions:
Is baby injured?
Was baby in the mouth of a cat?
If yes, baby does need help. Contact us for advice. If no, re-nest as follows:
Does the baby have feathers, down feathers, or is it naked?
Feathers - If bird is able to hop on the ground, leave it alone, it is a fledgling. If the bird is not able to hop on the ground, look for a nest and place it in the nest. If no nest is found, use a substitute nest (berry basket with pine needles). Affix it to the nearest tree or branch.
Down Feathers - Look for a nest and place it in the nest. If no nest is found, use a substitute nest and affix it to the nearest tree or branch.
Naked - Warm baby or babies in your hands. Look for a nest. If nest can be relocated, place it in the nest. If the nest is too high, try to send an R/T volunteer who has a ladder. If no nest is found, use a substitute nest if there is more than one baby. If one single naked baby, do not use substitute nest. If nest with siblings cannot be located, call us for advice.
If you are unsure if the parents are feeding the bird, bring the bird inside in a small cardboard box with a towel on the bottom and check for a bowel movement. If an hour goes by and there is no stool, call us for advice. You can also drip some water on top of the beak (not in it) to prompt it to defecate.
Cats Threatening Babies
Frighten the cat away. Shake a coffee can filled with rocks or spray the cat with a hose. Do not attempt to re-nest while a cat is nearby. Remember, it is illegal to remove a baby bird from the wild when it is uninjured. There are cats in almost every yard and it is impractical to expect a wildlife center to take in every bird that is near a cat. Birds raised by humans have very little chance at survival once released. Do everything possible to keep cats indoors.
Prepare an appropriate sized box. Line box with a lightweight towel and cut holes in the box for ventilation before placing the animal inside. Gently throw a light towel over the bird and place the towel and bird inside the box. A net with small-size mesh works well too. Call us for advice.
Do not bring to our Center yet. Birds need darkness and quiet for immediate first aid. Contain the bird as described above. Leave the box with the bird in a dark quiet spot for an hour. Test flight in a small bathroom or in a contained fenced-in yard.
Birds Fluttering and Striking Windows/Trying to Enter House Through Window
This usually happens during nesting season when the male bird sees his reflection in the glass and is having a territorial dispute with himself. Drawing blinds or using decals on glass may help alleviate this problem. The problem should stop by itself within 1 to 2 weeks.
Bird Inside House
Ask how long has the bird been inside the house. If longer than a day, the bird probably needs to come in for rehabilitation. If not, close off all pathways to other parts of the house. Open one window and darken other windows. Leave the room. The bird should fly out by himself. In the case of skylights, call us for advice.
Bird Trapped in Fireplace/Chimney
Ask how long has the bird been inside the chimney. If longer than a day, the bird probably needs to come in for rehabilitation. Close off all pathways to other parts of the house. If there is a door or window nearby, open it and darken all other windows. With a small towel in one hand, open the door to the fireplace. Gently grasp the bird and release it outside. If bird escapes into the room, it should fly out a nearby open door or window. Birds are rarely trapped in a chimney since they are usually able to fly up and down chimneys. If you hear noises in the chimney, it may be another type of animal. Contact us for advice. Note: Chimneys should be capped.