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.