It is injured such as bleeding, limping, not moving, has difficulty breathing, very thin, weak or deformed.
If it is a nestling, not all feathers opened and not old enough to walk or perch and it is out of the nest.
Is Cold to the touch, wet, shivering.
If the Mother is dead
The animal has been in the mouth of a cat dog or other predator.
It is in a dangerous place.
If the nest has fallen.
If you need to find a local wildlife rehabilitator please use this link. Locating Rehabbers.
What to Do
See age references below
If the nest has just fallen you can make a nest out of a hanging basket with drains, and hang near where found--but out of the elements. Watch from a distance to be sure the parent can find them. If the area is unsafe you can gradually move the hanging basket further away as long as the parents are finding it.
If a nestling has been on the ground long it should be warmed and hydrated first before putting back in the nest. Please call a rehabilitator for instructions on rehydrating, as it will cause harm if done improperly. See more below.
If the bird is a fledgling leave it where you found it if it is safe and unharmed, able to hop. Provide additional camouflage such as twigs or shrub. Move away and watch for mom to feed it. You may move a fledgling a short distance as long as the mom can hear it. You can continue to move it if necessary, as long as the parents are finding it.
Check on the bird and watch for signs of deterioration. DO NOT feed. You want it to be hungry and calling for its parents.
It is a myth that the mother will not return if you touch the baby bird. You may touch it to return it to the nest or help it.
Look for more in the same area if you have found a baby. Baby Birds are found for several reasons. Often because of wind or rain damaging the nest or sometimes because the mother has died and not returned to feed them and they begin to hop around in search of food and fall out of the nest. Cats or dogs may locate the downed babies and bring them to you. If finding a baby in need of help please look and listen for additional ones in the area as there are usually more than one to a nest.
Pick it up using a towel or gloves if you are comfortable doing so. Always use thick gloves with an alert adult Cardinal. Be especially careful with larger birds such as waterfowl and raptors. This section deals with smaller song birds only.
Put it in an escape proof container. For adult birds this can be a shoe box with a taped lid. For nestlingsand hatchlings, first place in a bowl lined with toilet paper making a type of nest. Then put that bowl into the container and on heat.
Get it warm. The baby you find may be very cold, check the temperature by touch and the environment it was taken from. Put the adult bird in a container with an old t-shirt and carefully dry the bird if it is wet. Put the container half way on a heating pad set on low. If you do not have a heating pad place a plastic or glass bottle or rubber glove filled with hot water in the container along with the animal making sure they do not become too hot and the water does not leak.
Handle the bird carefully and as little as possible in case of injury. Very young baby birds do not bite but often do have mites and can transmit other diseases. If in doubt wear gloves to protect yourself. Adult birds such as the Cardinal will bite! The baby may have internal injuries and handling it may cause further damage.
Put it in a dark quiet place away from pets and children. Handling wild animals can cause them to have diarrhea and may also cause shock. Diarrhea is hard to cure and often fatal.
It is not good for the animal's long term survival to become comfortable with humans and predators. Although it may seem like a great learning experience for your children, many things can go wrong and it is best to get help before the animal is in critical condition. Many wildlife rehabilitators need volunteers and may welcome your help with healthy wildlife in care. Ask if you can volunteer and have a positive experience.
DO NOT FEED or give fluids. We believe it is best not to feed or give fluids to wildlife before finding care. Talk to a licensed bird rehabilitator first for directions. If the bird is injured or orphaned it is often cold and dehydrated and will need to be warm first and then carefully rehydrated before feeding it even if it is begging! Baby birds are not given fluids by their parents so when giving water to hydrate a bird you must be very careful that it is swallowed correctly. Feeding any animal milk or food while cold and or dehydrated can cause death. Birds also aspirate very easily when given fluids. The fluids can go into the nose and lungs causing pneumonia which is often fatal.
Baby Birds require special formula and food at different stages of their life in order for them to grow into healthy adults able to reproduce. A baby bird taken from the wild may look healthy but without the proper nourishment it may develop problems as an adult.
Not all adult birds eat insects or worms. Worms can carry a parasite that when swallowed by the bird will cause coughing and breathing problems and the bird will need treatment.
If you have fed the Bird please tell the rehabilitator so they will know how to best help it.
Cat bites are serious. Be sure to tell the rehabilitator if a cat has had the animal in its mouth. A cat's saliva contains Pasturella multocida which is highly infective and can kill an animal quickly. Regardless of confirmed puncture wounds the animal should always be put on antibiotics immediately.
Call a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.
Remember that in all states it is illegal to keep migratory birds as pets or to continue to assist them without a permit.
Baby birds found on the ground. It has been our experience that many fledgling birds come into care needlessly. When this happens it may overburden the rehabilitator limiting care to more critical cases and depleting minimal funds. More importantly, baby birds raised in rehabilitation cannot receive the exact training and food that their natural parents would provide and they may leave rehabilitation less afraid of humans and predators. One of the most heartbreaking reasons we have experienced is that birds are very social and may mourn the loss of a baby or parent. On occasion we have had in care older fledglings taken from the wild that refused to eat and starved. Taking a fledgling from the nest area should not be done without considerable thought to the bird's welfare. If there are cats in the neighborhood consider if a cat has actually seen where the baby bird is living or if you are concerned that it might find it. It is often better to help camouflage the baby by providing additional leaves or branches around them and continue to allow the mother to raise them.
Cats and dogs are significant bird predators so please consider keeping your cats indoors. It is our experience that feral cats kill and eat wildlife such as birds and squirrels while the outdoor pet cat kills them for sport and then presents them to the pet owner. Your cat may only kill a few birds a year, but if all outdoor cats are doing the same, it takes a toll on our wildlife.
Ages and Types of Baby Birds
Two Types of Baby Birds
Precocial baby Killdeer and Mother
Precocial- These are born ready to walk and eat. Like a duck or chicken they need to follow mom and learn to peck at food. These babies are very hard to rehabilitate. The most commonly found precocial baby bird in the Piedmont is the Killdeer. Often the eggs are found in graveled parking lots such as school yards. Please leave the eggs where they are found and protect them from cars and children by roping off the area and using the event as an educational opportunity. Baby Killdeer birds should be left where they are found for the mother to care for when she returns.
Altricial- These are our morecommonly seen baby birds. They are born blind and helpless and remain in the nest until ready to fledge.
How to Tell a Baby Birds Age
Nestling- A nestling has none or few open feathers, can't walk or stand. The eyes may still be closed. These baby birds should be returned to the nest if found on the ground and are warm and uninjured. Parent birds cannot pick baby birds up to return them to the nest. Depending on the type of bird, nestlings will remain in the nest for 10 to 20 days before roaming off the nest.
Fledgling- A baby bird that looks just like the adult but smaller is most likely a fledgling. Their feathers are open; they can stand up and walk around but may not yet be able to fly. The nest has become crowded and the mother has moved them out or they have wandered off the nest. They will be found living near or under the nest and the parent birds will continue to feed them as they learn to fly. This is a critical time when cats and other predators may find them but they are gradually learning to fly by first perching and hopping on nearby twigs and branches. They are also learning to pick up insects or seeds on their own and they are watching and following the parents to learn what to eat, where to sleep and what to fear.
Fledglings may appear to need help because they are not afraid of people and may beg for food. Resist the temptation to feed them or pick them up unless they are injured or the parent has died. The parents are close by watching but are shy and may not feed the baby while you are there.
Adult- An adult bird is fully feathered and its tail is fully formed. They can fly and feed themselves.
Same Grackle as nestling, older nestling and young adult
For Our Veterinary Heroes That Accept Wildlife.
We have found it is best for the baby bird if it is kept warm but not fed before going to a rehabilitator. Once warm, rehydrate orally or SQ every 15 to 20 minutes with LRS until a rehabilitator can be reached. We find it less stressful and harmful on the bird to place droplets of fluid on the outside of the mouth off of a finger or cotton swab and allow the bird to swallow rather than prying the mouth open or risking aspiration.
Often birds may appear healthy but may have large wounds on the body under the wings where cats grab for them while they flutter to escape. Subcutaneous emphysemas can also go unnoticed but are usually treatable.
A cat's oral flora contains Pasturella multocida which is highly infective and can kill a bird quickly. Regardless of confirmed puncture wounds the bird should be put on antibiotics immediately, Clavamox 50-110mg/kg twice daily for 7 - 10 days
Injured birds should not be left to lie on their side but supported in a natural nesting position with towels in a horseshoe shape or smaller birds in a toilet tissue nest.
If at all possible keep all wildlife away from barking dogs, roaming predators and excess noises or handling.
Wildlife will stress easily in loud and unfamiliar surrounding. Open mouth breathing is a sign of significant stress and the bird should be allowed to rest.
If you need to find a local wildlife rehabilitator please use this link. Locating Rehabbers.