Precocial Birds (Fuzzy and Can Walk - Chicklike)
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 the 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
Sometimes 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 bad 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 the 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. You can make a makeshift nest with paper towels and 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 zip lock 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.
Each spring and summer Wildlife Rehabilitators get numerous calls from people claiming to have found a bird with a broken wing. Most often, what they have is a young bird in the fledgling stage of life. Fledglings are young birds that have already left the nest, or have been evicted by the parents. These babies are usually unable to fly for a couple of weeks. This is a very important time for the young to put the finishing touches on learning about survival by observing their parents. They will learn about finding food, avoiding predators, and how to fly. The parents will still be around helping them.
Fledglings can be as large as the parents (sometimes appearing even larger), and fully feathered. Fledglings are able to hop, but not yet fly. 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, and are fairly easy to identify. Please leave the fledglings alone. They will do fine without your help. All you need do is keep pets and children away from them
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. The following chart will outline the developmental stages of the altricial neonate, beginning with the eggs in a nest. Song birds and other perching birds fall into this category.