When do wild birds need help?

Last week I wrote about the Wild Bird Care Centre needing our support.

This non-profit centre helps wild birds in distress. It receives 25,000 telephone calls a year from people like you and me who have discovered an injured bird, and wonder how to help it. The centre takes everything from baby birds through to owls that have lost a wing. Whatever the trauma, the centre attempts to help birds regain their strength. It’s goal is re-release into the wild though some of the centre’s patients have become permanent residents.

Spring is the centre’s busiest time because this is when birds are nesting and rearing young. Inevitably, fledgling birds tumble out of nests, cats bring home a partially-dead bird for your inspection; or birds crash into windows.

But when do you know when a wild creature needs human intervention?

The website at www.wildbirdcarecentre.org helps explain this by telling us about the nature of baby birds.

“Baby birds that are beginning to leave the nest are called fledglings. Their flight feathers haven’t fully developed, but they can flutter from branch to branch. Don’t be alarmed if you see a fledgling on the ground. It could be taking a rest from its first flight or it could be waiting for one of its parents to feed it. A chirping baby robin on the ground, for example, is most likely telling its parent that it is hungry and it is letting them know where they can find it. Parents coach their fledglings to find suitable cover and feed them, even after they are able to fly. Like all parents, adult birds can’t be everywhere at once, so if you watch a grounded fledgling for a half hour you’ll probably see one of its parents bringing it several snacks.”

In other words, if you glimpse a baby bird scurrying around or even sitting still on the ground, don’t rush over. Indeed, never, ever “rush.” Anyone who loves animals knows that they should be approached quietly and calmly, without quick movements, and birds are the same.

But also pause: observe and be patient. Take the time to see if the parent bird is feeding and caring for the fledgling. Just because a situation “appears” to be dangerous for the bird, doesn’t actually mean it is.

The website emphasizes this by pointing out that many species (such as Canada geese, killdeer) nest on the ground. Therefore, fledglings of these types of birds will naturally be right on the ground and hence, there is nothing unusual about it if you see a little killdeer or a gosling nestled on the ground.

Another tip to note is to ask yourself: does this baby bird have feathers yet? If the answer is yes, the youngster is often just learning to fly and is actually okay. If the answer is no, this is the time when it’s okay to pick it up, ever so gently, and return it to its nest (assuming you’ve found it in the tree).

Touch the bird? Really?

Probably most of us know that it’s never wise to touch wild animals. First of all, you can be bitten or else cause the parent to attack you. And even being close to a nest can set parental alarms off: A good friend of mine in Wakefield was repeatedly attacked by a pair of hawks. Unfortunately, they built their nest beside the path leading from her house to her garden, so this painful occurrence continued until the hawks realized she wasn’t going to bother their chicks. It took several days and my friend was startled and hurt.

But what do you do if you find a baby bird that needs to be returned to its nest?

The website suggests, “If a baby bird is vulnerable and it appears to be in danger, then by all means, return it to its nest or to some sheltered branches. Parent birds do not abandon their young if they have been touched by human hands. That is a myth. Birds have a poorly developed sense of smell but strong protective instinct. Make sure you complete the “rescue” quickly, distance yourself from it, and the mom and dad bird will find it in no time.”

Another rescue is putting entire nests back in trees if they’ve blown down. Again, the website tells us, “Put the nest in a small bread basket and secure it to the tree with wire. Make sure the ends of the wire are covered with tape to protect the babies from sharp edges… If the nest is destroyed, make anew one. Cut a four inch hole in a plastic juice container and punch some holes in the bottom to let water drain away. Line it with a soft cloth for warmth. Replace the nest as quickly and quietly as possible.”

And, the site notes, retreat but watch the nest from a distance. If the parents don’t return in two hours (not half an hour, mind!) then bring the nest into the Centre.

“To carry and house the bird during the trip to the Centre, use a cardboard box lined with a soft towel. Cardboard causes less feather damage than a wire cage when transporting an excited bird that might be jumping around inside the container. Do not use shredded paper or cotton to line the box, as these can easily get caught in the bird’s toes or get wrapped around its neck. As well do not use green grass cuttings, as the dampness could give the bird a chill…”

For these and other tips, contact the wild bird care centre’s website else chat with them at 613-828-2849.

And don’t forget that the Centre needs members, needs food, bedding. - and even large house plants and indoor trees so perching birds can recuperate in trees, as they would in the wild. Contact them either by phone or on the web, at e-mail mojo@wildbirdcarecentre.org.


Note that last week I encouraged you to contact them by e-mail. However, do try telephoning them if you don’t hear back on e-mail, because last week, they were having trouble with it. Want to make a donation? Call them at 613-828-2849, or fax them at 613-828-2194.

! (The number is a local call from Quyon…)

Katharine Fletcher is a keen birder and writer based north of Quyon. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com