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RSPCA and RSPB advice about what to do if you find a baby bird on the ground that has left its nest including fledglings and nestlings



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Animal charities are bracing themselves for a flood of calls from well-meaning members of the public worried about seemingly helpless baby birds they've found - prompting experts to issue fresh advice.

During May and June the RSPCA and RSPB typically receive thousands of calls from people worried that a young wild bird they've found out of its nest is in trouble.

But the RSPB wants to remind the public that most baby birds found on the ground don't need rescuing and their escape is often part of the natural fledgling process - while also wanting to outline the few instances when the chicks might need someone to step in and help.

It's not unusual for baby birds who have recently braved leaving their nest to be seen on the ground. Picture: RSPB.
It's not unusual for baby birds who have recently braved leaving their nest to be seen on the ground. Picture: RSPB.

In 2020 wildlife centres cared for nearly 3,000 'orphaned' baby birds picked up by well-meaning people but it is believed many were likely to not have been orphans and may have been better left in the wild.

Morwenna Alldis, RSPB spokesperson added: "At this time of year we get hundreds of calls from well-meaning members of the public about the seemingly helpless baby birds they’ve discovered on the ground. And with the past two years of lockdown spurring us to pay closer attention to our gardens and green spaces, our now expert nature eyes may spot even more chicks than usual.

"But most of the time it’s important that we resist the urge to ‘rescue’ the baby bird – this is a natural part of the bird’s development, so keep calm and step away."

Fledglings are learning to fly and will have all of their feathers
Fledglings are learning to fly and will have all of their feathers

Just before baby birds are ready to leave their nest and take flight, there is a short time between hatching and being fully capable of flying where they leave their nest for the first time and spend a couple of days on the ground or around the nest developing their final flight feathers.

These fledgings, as they are called, will be fully feathered and will hop around gardens and paths in broad daylight - which gives members of the public the impression they need rescuing.

Baby birds are often spotted on the ground at this time of year. Picture: RSPB.
Baby birds are often spotted on the ground at this time of year. Picture: RSPB.

Morwenna explained: "Another common fear is that the fledgling has been deserted by its parents. But fledglings are extremely unlikely to be abandoned. Mum and dad are probably off gathering food or hiding nearby with a beady eye on their young, waiting for you to leave.

"Parents know best and are the experts in rearing their young. Removing a fledgling from the wild significantly reduces its chances of long-term survival – so please don’t accidentally kidnap the baby bird, even in a well-meaning way."

There are just a few situations, however, when the RSPB says the public could step in and lend a hand:

Animal owners are asked to keep pets inside if a baby bird is in the garden on the ground. Picture: iStock.
Animal owners are asked to keep pets inside if a baby bird is in the garden on the ground. Picture: iStock.

Immediate danger

If a baby bird is found on a busy road or path and it is safe to do so, the RSPB advises picking the bird up and moving it a very short distance to a safer place. But this must be within hearing distance of where the fledgling was found because its parents are likely to be nearby.

Equally, if you discover your dog or cat eyeing up a fledgling that may be in your garden, animal experts suggest domestic pets are kept indoors as much as is possible until the situation resolves itself and the bird moves off.

If a fledgling has been injured or caught by a cat, the quickest way to seek emergency medical help is to contact your local vets says the RSPB. Local wildlife centres may also take in fledglings that are suffering from an obvious injury.

Nestlings have few or no feathers and are unlikely to survive outside their nest. Picture: RSPCA.
Nestlings have few or no feathers and are unlikely to survive outside their nest. Picture: RSPCA.

Unfeathered baby birds

While fledglings are normally just hours or days from perfecting their flying, nestlings are very new babies either unfeathered or only covered in their fluffy nestling down.

If nestlings are found on the ground it is most likely they have fallen out of their nest ahead of schedule. Sometimes it is possible to put these babies back, but this should only be done, says the RSPCA, if you can be 100% sure of the nest they've come from. Wearing sturdy gloves is recommended and rescuers should avoid giving them food or water. If their home can't be located people can contact their nearest RSPCA shelter for further help on 0300 1234 999.

Occasionally a parent bird, says the RSPB, will intentionally eject a chick from their nest if they sense it has an underlying health problem or is dying. It's a harsh truth to stomach, says the animal charity, which acknowledges human nature means people want to fix things but sometimes there are occasions were the law of nature does need to be allowed to run its course say animal experts.

Adult barn owls don't tend to rescue their young if they've come out the nest prematurely. Image: Stock image.
Adult barn owls don't tend to rescue their young if they've come out the nest prematurely. Image: Stock image.

Rejected birds

Among the more unusual species that people in more open spaces might come across at this time of year are barn owl chicks stranded on the floor.

It is not normal, says the RSPB, for barn owls to be out of their nest before they're capable of flying so if they're on the ground they are likely to be ignored by their parents and won't survive. Walkers, farmers or anyone who comes across a stranded young barn own should contact an animal rescue charity near to them, or speak to the Barn Owl Trust or RSPCA for help.

Swallow nests can sometimes break away
Swallow nests can sometimes break away

Broken nests

Finding broken house martin or swallow nests is also not uncommon in the spring and early summer - and the chicks can still be inside.

Anyone who comes across a broken nest with its residents inside can use a shallow ice cream or margarine tub or shallow plastic flower pot with some drainage holes in to put the nest and chicks back in. The pot should then be placed as high as possible and if you can't place it back under eaves it will need some sort of lid on to keep the worst of the weather out.

In an ideal outcome, parents will hear the chicks calling and continue feeding them - but if they don't come back they may need to be cared for by a wildlife charity.

Morwenna added: “It’s also really important to remember at this time of year that over half of England’s most threatened breeding birds nest on or near the ground. So we’re asking everyone when out exploring nature, to please follow the Countryside Code by keeping to footpaths, adhering to any signs flagging ground nesting birds, and please keep dogs on leads.

"By watching your step this breeding season you can help save the lives of some very vulnerable feathered friends.”



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