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Help! It’s Baby Bird Season

by Tereza Marks


Every spring, wildlife rehabilitation centers are inundated with calls and visits about baby birds.  It can be difficult to know what to do and where to go when trying to save a life. Here are some quick pointers about how to know if a bird needs to be saved and some of the issues that you might encounter.

You should never attempt to raise a baby bird on your own for a variety of reasons.  It is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to raise almost all species of birds.  The state gives you 48 hours under the good Samaritan laws to get a baby bird to a qualified, licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Other reasons not to try to raise baby birds yourself include:

1.     Baby birds need to be raised with others of their species and age in order to properly develop socially and learn survival techniques. Often, a surrogate mother can be provided to help them learn those survival techniques.

2.     Each species has different nutritional needs and babies must be fed frequently, some as often as every hour.

3.     Most wild animals do not do well in captivity.  According to animal shelter sources, 60% of all wild animals who are kept as pets die within the first month of ownership; of the remainder 20% die within the first year, and only 10% are still alive at the end of the second year.

4.     An animal that is not properly rehabilitated or transitioned to the wild is doomed if it is turned loose to fend for itself.

Help! A Nest Has Fallen Out of a Tree

If the nest is still relatively intact and no babies seem to be injured, you can replace the nest in the tree or place it nearby. To make sure the nest stays together, use a berry basket, a straw basket, or a plant pot with lots of holes. If you can’t find anything else, use a Tupperware or margarine tub, but drill holes in the bottom so that any water can escape. Place the nesting material and babies inside your container of choice, and place in a secure location. You can place a nail through the bottom or side of the container or use duct tape to secure it in place if you need to do so.  If you can’t reach the tree from where the nest fell, place it in another tree or bush nearby.  In either case, observe the nest from afar for a couple of hours or until dusk. The parents should hear the babies and return to the nest.  If they do not, take the babies to a nearby wildlife rehabilitator.  If the nest has eggs and not babies, you can try the same technique but it is unlikely the parents will return or that the eggs will hatch.  You cannot hatch the eggs yourself, there is a complicated process that requires turning of the eggs and not even science can duplicate it.

Help! A Baby Bird Has Fallen Out of a Nest

The biggest myth that exists in the wildlife world is that you cannot touch a baby bird or the parents will abandon it.  This is totally not true. Most species of birds smell about as well as we do so they don’t have any idea that you have touched their baby. 

If the baby is warm, has no signs of trauma, and is not covered in insects, pick up the baby and put him back in the nest. Always remember that a baby bird’s best chance of survival is when she is with mom and dad. A bird should never go to a rehabber if she can be reunited with her family. She will learn how to survive from mom and dad, as well as get better nutrition. A baby must go back into the same nest, the parents cannot care for two nests.

You should wear gloves, if possible, when handling the baby and covering the baby in a towel or cloth, while moving her, will keep her calmer.

If the baby is cold to the touch, has trauma like bleeding, or is covered in insects or maggots, the baby needs to go to a wildlife rehabber. 

Pick up the baby and place him in a shoebox or other similar container, you can use tissue or paper towels on the bottom of the box. If the baby cannot stand, you can make a doughnut out of paper towels to prop up the baby. Be careful of using cloth as they can get caught in loose threads.  While awaiting transport, the box should be placed in a warm, dark, quiet place.  You can take a heating pad on low (or warmed rice bag or warm water in Ziploc covered with a sock) and place it under (or in) half of the box. The baby has to be able to move away from the heat. Do not attempt to feed or give water to the baby. Feeding an injured or cold baby may actually kill it. Some species have to be tube fed and can aspirate on the food.

During transport, keep it calm, warm, and quiet in your car.  Make sure the box is placed somewhere where it will not move around.

A Caveat to Help! A Baby Bird Has Fallen Out of a Nest

A fledgling bird should be on the ground. He is basically a teenager and learning from mom and dad how to survive on his own.  It is very easy to tell if a baby bird is a fledgling—fledglings move quick and you can’t just reach down and pick him up.  You will end up chasing a fledgling for a while during which time the parents will most likely scream bloody murder at you.  Fledglings are also fully feathered and have a short, squared tail. 

If you see a fledgling, leave him alone. If he is in a dangerous place, like a street or yard with a cat, chase or move him out of the area and into a safer location like a hedge or bush.  He will not stay there so you might have to keep an eye on him. However, you can continually move him to a better location.

A Caveat to Help! A Baby Bird Has Fallen Out of a Nest and Looks OK

Any bird, adult or baby, that may have been in the mouth of a cat needs to go to a wildlife rehabber immediately. The bacteria in a cat’s mouth will cause death and it happens very quickly. The bird will need to be treated with antibiotics. You do not need to see any open wounds, and even if you merely suspect a cat got the bird, get it to a rehabber.  This is not the case with a dog.  Dogs will often gently pick up baby animals in their mouths, so unless there are wounds, these animals don’t need to go to wildlife rehabber.

A Caveat to Help! A Nest Has Fallen Out of a Tree

The procedure given above for how to recreate a nest can also be used to move a nest in a bad situation. For example, starlings love to nest in dryer vents. The nest can be moved outside of the vent using a tub attached to a nearby location. Just make sure that the nest is not in an area where it will get extremely wet in a rainstorm. If this cannot be done, you can use a milk jug with a hole in the middle for mom and dad to enter, and holes in the bottom to drain water. If the nest has no eggs or babies, you can tear it down and they should move elsewhere.

For some species like swifts who nest in chimneys, you cannot move the nest. These birds have to nest in an enclosed location. It is federally illegal to remove them.  Just wait until the end of nesting season and hire a chimney sweep to clean the chimney and cap it.  While they are in the chimney, the sounds are often mistaken for rats. Many people don’t even know swifts are in the chimney until they hear the sounds. If a baby swift or the nest should fall into the fireplace, just push him back up and close the flue. Do not use the chimney while birds are nesting in it.

It’s Inevitable—A Duck or Goose Has Nested in a Really Bad Place

If it is possible, get a group of people together to herd the babies toward water. You may have to briefly stop traffic to cross a road (see note below).  Walk quickly herding the babies and the parents will follow. If the nest is on a balcony or somewhere where the babies have to be picked up, put them in a cardboard box and walk slowly with the parents following.  As you pick up babies, the parents may become agitated and bite so wear long sleeves. You can prepare in advance for this as it will take approximately 28 days for Canada geese to hatch. If there are ducks/geese crossing or injured wildlife on a highway or major road, State Patrol may help. The number for the Bellevue office is 425-401-7788.  Stopping traffic to help wildlife is apparently illegal in Washington and people are ticketed for it.

A Note About Raptors, Herons and Big Birds that Can Hurt You

Before trying to handle any larger birds or birds of prey, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. These are experts that can provide you with specific advice on what to do so that you and the bird both don’t get hurt. Even a baby hawk or owl can cause serious injury. 

Who Can You Call for Help?

Wildlife Rehabilitators

King County

Puget Sound WildCare 
28727 216th Ave SE
Kent, WA 98042 
Notes: Most species; no large carnivores; no elk, or moose

They take very limited numbers of birds during the summer months. Please call first. They may or may not be able to help.

PAWS Wildlife Center 
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98046 
Notes: All species including large carnivores

Hours: 8-5 during Winter; 8-8 April 1-October 1

During the summer months, they may not be able to take non-native species (house sparrows, rock doves/pigeons, European starlings).  They will if space allows so call first.

Kelley Ward - Featherhaven 
Enumclaw, WA 98022 
Notes: Songbirds only

Limited space and home-based so please call first.

Snohomish County

Shirley M. Shumway - 2nd Chance Wildlife Care Center 
6512 61st Pl SE
Snohomish, WA 98290 
Notes: Small mammals, birds, birds of prey initial care only

She takes in very limited amounts.

Sarvey Wildlife Care Center 
13106 148th St NE
Arlington, WA 98223 
Notes: All species except large carnivores; coyote, fox, and bobcat okay

A good bet if you are willing to drive the distance. About 1 hour from Kirkland.


Kitsap County

West Sound Wildlife Shelter 
7501 NE Dolphin Dr
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 
Notes: All species

Because they are on the island, they do not get the numbers of animals that everyone else does so often have room when no one else does.

If you need resources outside of these areas, you can find everyone licensed in the state at



American Robin by Mick Thompson

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