Saving that Baby Bird

Photo of Fledgling American Robin by Skip Russell

Often well-meaning backyard bird enthusiasts mistakenly believe they’re helping a baby bird in trouble, when less interference would be the best course of action.

Here are a few pointers from Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center that may prevent a baby bird from being raised by a poor second choice for motherhood – humans:

1. Put the Nest Back: If a nest falls, secure it with twine near the original site. Tuck a severely damaged nest into a strawberry basket or margarine tub and then wire it to the tree.

2. Create a New Nest: If the nest is not salvageable, prick holes in a plastic bowl for drainage and then line it with tissue. Set that inside a shoebox lined with rags, weigh it down with rocks and tie the corners of the box with strong twine. Suspend this new “nest” from a tree branch near when the nest was found. As long as you get it close, the parents will hear their babies and find them.

3. Ignore Popular Myths: Birds cannot detect the “scent of humans”, and a mother bird’s instinct to feed and care for her young is so strong that it will typically overcome any fear of human interference. One Audubon volunteer tells the story of a baby Golden-crowned Kinglet brought to the Wildlife Care Center because it looked fragile balancing on a tree branch. As a volunteer returned the baby to the branch from whence it was “rescued”, its mother heard the fledgling’s cry, grabbed a moth and landed on the volunteer’s finger to feed the baby.

4. Protect Vaux Swift babies: chimneys are a new nesting site for these birds as old forests are logged and cleared. Days after babies are born, Vaux Swift nests disintegrate, landing baby birds in fireplaces. Hold the bird in the palm of your hand and reattach it inside your chimney. Its Velcro-like feet will automatically grasp the wall as it inches its way back up. If you don’t want to have a Chimney Pot Cowl installed to prevent nesting or birds from falling.

5. Bring Dogs and Cats Inside: Ground feeding birds like robins and jays have fledglings which are not strong fliers at first. This is a key point in their development, as they build wing strength and learn where and how to find food. Keep pets, especially cats, away from nest sites.

6. Less is Best: The “golden rule” is that the less interference by humans that takes place, the more likely it is that a baby bird will have the instincts and learned skills to survive in the wild.