|Tree Swallows are nesting at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine.|
Callers flood the telephone lines at local wildlife centers this time of year asking the same question: “I found a baby bird on the ground, what should I do?”
Most of the time, the immediate answer is “nothing.” It’s actually best to watch for the parents before rushing to help because it can be tricky to determine if a baby is actually orphaned.
Bird parents fly in quickly to feed and fly away in a matter of seconds to avoid attracting the attention of predators. So observe the baby closely for 60-90 minutes from about 50 feet before assuming it’s orphaned.
It’s actually common for some songbird fledglings to spend a couple of days on the ground after leaving the nest. Fledglings have defined feathers and are learning to fly, a process that can take up to two weeks. The parents continue to feed grounded fledglings and guide them into bushes to hide from predators.
But those tiny naked or pin-feathered babies that have fallen from a nest will need help. Forget the tales about the mother bird abandoning the nest if you touch one of the chicks. The parents will continue feeding their young.
“Usually, if you can put the bird back in the nest, that’s the answer,” said Jamie Pavlat, supervisor at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.
If it’s not possible to reach the nest, use a small basket or a tissue-filled plastic margarine bowl with drainage holes cut in the bottom and nail it near the original nest, she said. Avoid using cloth material, which can catch on tiny bird feet.
And keep the bird warm during this process.
An injured bird will need to be rescued if it is falling over on its side, appears weak or shivering, unable to flutter or if the wings are drooping or tweaked upward and of course, if it has been attacked by a predator and bleeding. Do not give any food or water. And keep the bird warm in a dark, quiet place. And avoid handling.
Taking the bird to a rehabilitator should be the last resort. “All we can do is keep them warm and feed them; the mom shows them how to find food and teaches survival skills,” Pavlat said.
For more information on bird rescue, call the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center at 714-374-5587 or go online to www.wwccoc.org.