The annual challenge of ‘abandoned baby birds’

Martin Jensen

Tuesday 3 May 2016

You might have experienced it yourself. Coming home after walking the dog, you find a confused-looking baby house sparrow in the drive way. Or whilst playing football in the park, you come across a seemingly abandoned freshly-fledged wood pigeon, whilst fetching the ball from under a bush. Sounds familiar?

Well, actually, situations like these are perfectly normal, so there's no need to be worried. These fledglings are doing exactly what nature intended, and left the nest deliberately a short while before they are able to fly. The young of most familiar garden birds fledge once they are fully feathered, but before they are able to fly. These fledglings spend a day or two, sometimes longer, on the ground while their flight feathers complete their growth.

However tempting, interfering with a young bird like this will most likely do more harm than good, even if there are predators like cats and foxes around. Fledglings are extremely unlikely to be abandoned by their parents. Just because you cannot see the adult birds does not mean that they are not there. The parents are probably just away collecting food - or are hidden from view nearby keeping a watchful eye, or even been frightened away from their youngster by your presence. Fledglings should be left where they are, in the care of their own parents. Removing a fledgling from the wild has to be a very last resort, and then only if it is injured or has definitely been abandoned or orphaned, as removal reduces its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction.

If the bird is on a busy path or road, or other potentially dangerous, exposed location, it makes sense to pick it up and move it a short distance to a safer place. Make sure you leave it within hearing distance of where it was found. Birds have a poor sense of smell so handling a young bird does not cause its parents to abandon it. Can you put it back in its nest?

If the young bird is un-feathered or covered in fluffy down (a nestling) and has obviously fallen out of a nest by accident, it may be possible to put it back. Only do this if you are sure which nest the chick came from, and if it appears strong and healthy. Sometimes parent birds sense that there is something wrong with one of their chicks, or that it is dying, and they will eject it out of the nest so they can concentrate on looking after the healthy ones. If a healthy chick cannot be returned to its nest, it will be dependent on humans for survival, and should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible. If you find an injured bird or a nestling that cannot be returned to its nest, the best you can do is to contact the RSPCA (http://www.rspca.org.uk/, phone: 0300 1234 999). The RSPCA are experts and will be able to give you advice. You can also find an independent local rescue centre on www.helpwildlife.co.uk. As the RSPB is a conservation organisation, it does not run bird hospitals or any rescue services, so please do not contact the RSPB about injured and/or baby birds, as they are unable to help.

The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. www.rspb.org.uk

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Garden birds