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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.


How Birders Can Contribute to Conservation, Part II: The Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feederwatch


Last time I highlighted the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, the nation’s oldest wildlife survey.  Although it is easy for one to become involved, the count is run only at a specific time.  If you are a casual birder, or even someone who only occasionally takes notice of our avian neighbors, you can still participate in conservation efforts.  Even the “Hey, I haven’t seen northern orioles here before” – and similar sporadic observations – are welcome!

The Great Backyard Bird Count, managed by the National Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology, offers casual birders a wonderful opportunity to be heard.  The information generated by over 100,000 volunteers has been especially valuable in documenting the appearance of birds (i.e. snowy owls) outside of their usual ranges.  You can learn more at http://birds.cornell.edu/pfw/.

In association with several Canadian groups, the aforementioned organizations also sponsor Project Feederwatch, a winter-long assessment of birds visiting feeders throughout the USA and Canada.  Assisted by nearly 20,000 volunteers, the project has generated information that has made its way into scientific journal articles dealing with avian feeding ecology, population trends and disease.  Participant information is posted at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.



How Birders Can Contribute to Conservation: The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count


Several conservation organizations have hit upon simple ways to turn the observations of casual birders into valuable conservation data.  If you enjoy birding, why not also ensure that your hobby helps to preserve your favorite creatures….it really is very simple to become involved.  As one who has been involved in this and related programs for years, I can assure you that it is quite gratifying to know that your efforts will be put to practical use in helping to conserve local birds.  Enjoy!

The Christmas Bird Count

At 109 years old, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is the nation’s longest-running wildlife census.  Each year tens of thousands of “citizen scientists” count birds in their neighborhoods and submit their observations to the Audubon Society for use in assessing avian health and population trends.  This information has also helped to support the passage of protective legislation for the black duck and several other species, and has been used to document the spread of West Nile Virus and other health hazards.

Bird count data has also been incorporated into two government reports, both of which have direct bearing on future conservation initiatives.  Common Birds in Decline has established that populations of many formerly abundant birds have plunged by 65-80% over the past 40 years, while Watchlist 2007 documents 178 mainland and 39 Hawaiian bird species in need of immediate protection.

You can learn how to become involved at:


To help make sure that there are plenty of birds around to count, please check out our wild bird foods, feeders and other supplies.


Feeding Wild Birds: Products for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees and other “Avian Athletes”


Some of the most entertaining birds that come readily to winter-time bird feeders are those that cling, crawl and climb…many are more reminiscent of parrots than of the typical perching birds (i.e. robins) with which they co-exist.  Chief among these are the woodpeckers, with the downy, red-headed and red-bellied being particularly common feeder visitors, and they are quite comical to watch as they jockey for position at suet feeders.

Acrobatic Insect-Specialists

Many specialized products are advertised as “woodpecker feeders/foods”, but there are actually a number of equally entertaining birds that relish the same foods and are able to cling, often upside down, to “woodpecker feeders”.  Tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, brown creepers and red-breasted nuthatches are common in much of the country, and are all likely to show up if you put out foods designed to attract woodpeckers.

Most of these forage for insects by clinging to tree trunks and branches with highly specialized feet.  They search below the bark, peering intently into holes and crevices and scurrying about in the manner of tiny rodents.  All favor high protein diets (in winter they subsist largely upon hibernating insects and overwintering eggs and pupae) and relish suet bars.

Feeders for Woodpeckers and Similar Birds

The log jammer, wire suet basket and similar products are specially designed for these acrobatic little birds, and largely exclude other species.  Attaching them to a small swivel or thin, wind-blown branch will challenge the bird’s abilities (don’t worry, they are up to it!) and bring you many hours of bird-watching pleasure.


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