First, get to know your local Wildlife Rehabilitator or organization. Keep their number on your refrigerator. If you can’t find one in the phone book, call your state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, local SPCA, or avian vet.
In the springtime, hastily built nests sometimes fail. Windstorms, predators, children, tree trimmers – all take their toll. Nestling babies (those without fully developed feathers) may end up on the ground. First priority is to locate the nest and return the baby. This may require a ladder and some ingenuity. Make sure the other babies in the nest look like the one you are replacing. Watch the nest from a distance to confirm that the parent bird returns. This could take several hours. Be patient. A common myth is that mother birds will reject babies handled by humans. This is not true. Birds have a poor sense of smell, and cannot tell if you have touched their chick. If the nest is on the ground with babies or eggs, tie it back to a nearby tree with string or wire as close to the original site as possible. Place the nest in a little box or margarine tub (with drainage holes) to make it easier to secure. Don’t use a berry basket because bird legs may get caught in the mesh. Watch from a distance to make sure a parent returns.
Fledglings are young feathered birds with feather casings still present. They do not fly well, if at all, but mostly hop and can jump to low branches. This period of being on the ground is a normal and necessary part of a bird developing the ability to fly. Keep cats and dogs inside while the fledglings are learning to fly. Watch from a distance to make sure their parents are feeding them. If the parents don’t return or the baby is injured, keep it warm and take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area as quickly as possible. Cat-caught birds will probably die if not medicated within 24 hours.
Unless the rehabilitator has told you otherwise, it is best not to feed orphaned or injured birds. However, if you can’t get the bird to a rehabilitator within a few hours, this may become necessary. Follow the rehabilitator’s instructions. Never give bread or milk to wild birds. Don’t handle the baby – their tiny bodies can be easily damaged. Keep it away from household pets and wash your hands before touching your pet birds. As tempting as it is to try to raise a wild bird, please remember – rehabilitators are trained in the proper diets, techniques and medical issues, and Federal law prohibits unpermitted individuals from possessing native wildlife.
Be prepared for Baby Bird Season. Keep on hand a few shoeboxes, a heating pad, margarine tubs lined with unscented tissue for temporary nests, “Exact” hand-feeding formula and popsicle or coffee stir sticks (only use if the rehabber tells you to), and the phone number of your closest rehabilitator. And when the inevitable knock on the door comes, take a deep breath, smile, and know that, to this child, you are a hero.