Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.
South Vermont Hill Road, Holland, N.Y.

Help I Found a Baby Bird...What You Should Know!
What You Should Know!

Most baby birds are of two main types:

Altricial Birds (Born Showing Skin, Without Feathers)

Baby Altricial BirdOne main type is called "ALTRICIAL". Altricial birds are hatched without feathers, their eyes are closed, and they rely totally on their parents for warmth and food. Baby birds must be fed every 15 – 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Robins, Blue Jays, and Cardinals are altricial type birds.

To view a Quick Reference Guide to Baby Bird Development, check our online gallery of photos and descriptive narrative.

Precocial Birds (Fuzzy and Can Walk - Chicklike)Gosling and Duckling...Precocial Birds

The other main type of baby bird is called "PRECOCIAL". Precocial birds are hatched as soft downy chicks. These babies can follow their parents around shortly after hatching and do not have to be fed by a parent at all. These babies can peck at the ground for food while following its mother and stay with her for warmth and protection. Ducks, Geese and Killdeer are precocial birds. These babies usually require help when they are separated from their parents. Call a Wildlife Rehabilitator for help as soon as possible.

How to Return Babies to the Nest

Young "altricial" birds, (those that are born with their eyes closed, look pink, and are featherless), sometimes are knocked or blown out of a nest, or are pushed out by a sibling. They may have downy feathers (like peach fuzz), or some feathers on their bodies. These babies can be picked up and cupped in the hands until they feel warm. Once they are warm, they should be placed back up into their nest. It is NOT true that the parents will abandon their babies if they smell human scent. Most birds do NOT have a strong sense of smell.

Nests that are Destroyed

Makeshift Nest Constructed from Berry BasketSometimes nests are blown down by windstorms, knocked out of gutters, dumped from hanging plants, or destroyed by predators. Sometimes you cannot replace the babies because it is too high to reach their nest or the tree that their nest was in has been cut down. You can manufacture a make-shift nest with a berry basket or plastic butter tub (if you use a butter tub, punch holes in the bottom for drainage). If you can save the nest, place it in the plastic container. If the nest is gone, line the berry basket with clean, dry paper towels in a bowl shape. Do NOT use grass because it contains moisture that will chill the babies. Wire the "new" nest up as close to the original location as possible. You may have to put it on another branch or a nearby tree or bush. Make sure it is out of direct sunlight, or weather. Then warm the babies in your hands and put them into the make-shift nest. Leave the area and watch from a distance (or use binoculars) or the parents will not return. They may be skeptical about the new nest at first, but once theCup Baby Birds in Your Hands To Warm Them! young start crying out in hunger, the parents will land to feed them.

How to Rescue A Baby Bird

If you know for a fact that the parent birds are gone, there is no way to put the babies back, or the babies are cold and limp, then they need to be rescued. Remove the babies from the nest. Keep them in a small, dark, covered box with holes punched in the lid. Warm the babies by positioning a heating pad, set on LOW, under the box. Other ways to warm the babies are to fill a ziplock bag or rubber glove with warm water and place it in the box, or microwave a dish towel for 25 seconds (only warm enough that you can place the towel over your face) and use that.  You can also hang a 40 watt light bulb over the box to produce warmth.  Do NOT put fresh green grass in the box because the moisture in it will chill them. You may line the box with paper towels. Do NOT pet or handle the babies. They may gape (open their beaks) but do NOT feed them anything including milk, water, honey, egg or homemade formula because their stomachs will not tolerate these items and it is easy to drown a baby bird with fluid. Call a Wildlife Rehabilitator for help as soon as possible.


Fledgling BirdBaby birds that are found on the ground, are already feathered, and are able to hop, but are not yet ready to fly, are called "fledglings". These young birds are sometimes mistaken for a bird with a broken wing. A bird with a broken wing will hold the injured wing lower than the good wing. Most broken wings will droop very low. Fledglings can be as large as the parents (sometimes appearing even larger), and are fully feathered. Fledglings are able to hop, but not yet fly. These birds should NOT be put back into the nest. They should be put back where they were found or close to it so their parents cFledglings May Appear Larger Than Their Parentan continue to feed them. This is a very important time for the young birds to learn by observing their parents. This learning stage is probably the most dangerous time of a bird's life, but is a very natural step. They will learn about finding food, avoiding predators, and how to fly. Many people who mean well, take these young birds in by mistake. If you want to help, keep people and pets out of the area. It will take about 5-15 days before the baby can actually fly well.

Cat Attacked Baby Birds

Any bird that has been caught or attacked by a cat must be brought to a Wildlife Rehabilitator. Cats have bacteria (germs) in their mouths that will cause a bird to die, usually within 3 days, if left untreated.

Visual Aids for
Determining The Stage of Development

To assist you in determining what stage the bird you found is in, please follow this link to visual aids for determining the stage of development of a baby bird.

To View, Print and/or Download a copy of Rescue Techniques for Baby Birds and Baby Bunnies in .PDF format, click here.  To save the .PDF file to your hard drive, right-click your mouse on the link above and from the pop-up menu choose "Save Target As" (Internet Explorer) or "Save Link As" (Netscape Navigator). 

To view a .PDF file, you must have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed on your computer.  If you do not have Acrobat Reader, you can download it from the Adobe website by clicking on the icon below which links to Adobe's download site:

Return to the Trail

Copyright 2000 Messinger Woods.  This article, in full or in part, may not be reproduced without the express permission of Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.


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