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What to do Upon Discovering a Baby Bird that Seems to Have Fallen from its Nest?


Spring, slow as it may seem in arriving this very cold winter, is on its way.  Here on the outskirts of NYC I’ve already heard the songs of cardinals and song sparrows (both on February 19th) and, while I’ve not had the chance to check, it is likely that the red-winged blackbirds have returned from their winter retreats.  With the coming season I expect my annual plethora of “abandoned baby bird” phone calls, and so thought this might be a good time to address a few related points.

Feathered vs. Un-feathered Chicks

Most birds leave the nest (fledge) while barely able to fly, and are fed by the parents for a few days thereafter.  If the youngster you come upon has feathers, it has most likely not fallen or been abandoned…usually, the best course of action is to leave it be.

If the chick lacks feathers, and is unable to perch or move about, return it to the nest if you can do so safely.  Contrary to popular belief, the parents will not reject a chick that has been handled – in fact, if they see you near it, even the most timid of species will usually try to drive you away.  Wash your hands well after handling the bird.

If you cannot return the bird to its nest, or it is likely to run into trouble where it has landed, contact a veterinarian, nature center, local zoo or the organization listed below.

A Huge Time Commitment

Raising baby birds requires a good deal of expertise – most need to be fed at 20 minute intervals from sunrise to sunset, and require specialized diets.  If you have the opportunity, check out the Bronx Zoo’s World of Birds.  An exhibit there very graphically illustrates the scores of insects, earthworms, mice and fish that a single chick of various species requires weekly – very impressive.

In my work as a zookeeper and wildlife rehabilitator, I have hand-raised parrots, birds of prey, songbirds and shorebirds, and Australia’s charmingly bizarre frogmouth (please see photo), and can testify that it is more than a full time job – and I was well-supported by various institutions.  To do the same from home can be quite an ordeal.



Locating a Rehabilitator or Obtaining Training

The National Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators (http://www.tc.umn.edu/~devo0028/contact.htm; 320-230-9920) can refer you to local experts who accept birds, and offers advice to those wishing to become trained and licensed as rehabilitators.  Your state’s wildlife agency will also likely maintain a list of licensed rehabilitators.



  1. avatar

    I have dove in my front yard every year and have enjoyed watching three nests. I have two abandoned eggs I’m trying to care for and expect to hatch in a day or two. Help with making crop milk and feeding techniques would be appreciated.

  2. avatar

    Hello Glynn,

    Please see this article for further info and links to commercial formulas and recipes for homemade crop milk replacer. Good luck and pl keep me posted, Frank

  3. avatar

    Hi Frank!

    Thank you so much for having this site! I have raised/rehabbed many wild birds but I’m currently stumped by my latest rescue.

    My husband was given a baby Zebra Dove that had fallen out of the nest and was found on the sidewalk. It did not have its eyes opened at the time so I assume it was only a few days old. We got the bird on Oct 2 and it is now Nov 29. I fully expected it to die.

    I put it on a heating pad for many days and I fed the bird Roudybush with a dropper every hour, then every two hours, then three for several weeks. I slowly converted it over to seed mixed with the Roudybush in a small cup and then finally only seed. It was very slow to wean, slower than usual I feel, though I have always had difficulty with these doves.

    it is now fully weaned and can eat out of it’s seed dish in its cage. I hate caging him but i have to because I now have cats. They found him once before he was feathered and left some large tears in his skin. I used essential oils and dog antibiotic cream on the tears for about a week and they eventually healed very well.

    My problem is that now that he is weaned and very capable of eating on his own, he won’t unless I am with him, even when he is very hungry. I have never had this happen. He is also the youngest bird i have ever raised and I wonder if he has imprinted on me. He seems to have little reaction to the Doves outside which are very close to his cage during the day when I put him outside.

    I do not think he is near ready to be released and I am not sure when/if he will ever be though I would like him to have that choice. But I would like him to at least eat without me being present. He is a very healthy, bright eyed bird although not the smartest—he is a Dove after all.

    Your thoughts and advice? Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  4. avatar

    Hi Bev,

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Imprinting is common, as you know, but I can’t say I’ve ever run across anything similar in a bird that is able to eat on its own, sorry. I’ve seen many species follow parents around begging shortly after fledging, but hunger generally takes over and they feed. Doves are not as prone to rapid decline due to lack of food as are some others,…I suspect if you force it to go longer it will begin to feed…please keep me posted, sorry I cannot offer any useful insights, Frank

  5. avatar

    Thank you so much, Frank for your prompt response and advice. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to have this site and to respond so thoughtfully.

    Much aloha to you,

  6. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Bev…aloha sounds good here in NY – only winter birds about, and most nights below freezing! Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  7. avatar

    Hi Frank!

    Just an update on the non-eating-without-me Dove. By accident a few weeks ago, we had to leave him inside for a day because the weather was too windy and cold. That screwed up his eating schedule and he ate throughout the day on his own and has been doing so since.

    Thanks Frank!


  8. avatar

    Hello Bev,

    Glad to hear – hunger is a much under-used tool! can be tricky with small birds that have no reserves, but doves and such generally figure out what to do. Please keep me posted, happy, healthy holidays, Frank

  9. avatar


    What is your general experience/wisdom on releasing or not releasing wild birds raised by hand? To me, it seems to depend on the nature of each individual bird but I would very much like to know your opinion.

    Thank you so much!


  10. avatar

    Hi Bev,

    Yes , in my experience much depends on the individual – it’s history, imprinting extent etc.; and the species; also locale. Most passerines (NE USA) seem to adapt to natural foraging etc readily; hawks, owls not as easy; ideal situation is a large outdoor pre-release cage stocked with food plants or insects, rodents etc…has worked well here for various small hawks. Social species may also lack appropriate behaviors, responses and be attacked…have seen in herring gulls, some others. Where habitat is limited and species keeps large territories, may be difficult to release birds…Great Horned owls have proven hard to release on LIsland’s north shore…attacked by residents, according to a local expert. best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Thank you so much! This is very interesting and very helpful. I greatly appreciate it! THANK YOU THANK YOU!

    Much aloha to you Frank,


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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