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Wild Bird Care

First - it is illegal to rehabilitate or keep wild native birds in the United States without a permit.  That said, what does one do if a bird needs help?  Read on...


Baby birds on the ground – are they in need of rescuing?

Fledglings:   Baby birds that are beginning to leave the nest are called ‘fledglings’.  Their flight feathers haven’t fully developed, but they can flutter from branch to branch.  Don’t be alarmed if you see a fledgling on the ground.  It could be taking a rest from its first flight or it could be waiting for one of its parents to feed it.  A chirping baby robin on the ground, for example, is most likely telling its parents that it is hungry and it is letting them know where they can find it.  Parents coach their fledglings to find suitable cover and feed them even after they are able to fly.  Like all parents, adult birds can’t be everywhere at once, so if you watch a grounded fledgling for a half an hour you’ll probably see one of its parents bringing it several snacks.  A fledgling that is not injured should stay in the wild — even if it is on the ground and appears to be abandoned. As long as it is fully feathered, mobile, and alert, a fledgling that shows no bleeding, disfigured/injured body parts or weakness should be left alone. Living on the ground is a natural and dangerous stage of life for baby birds but in most cases they are being cared for by their family and living in the outdoors where they belong.

Ground-Nesters: Don’t forget that many species of birds, especially precocial birds, nest on the ground.  Precocial birds are birds that hatch from the egg already fluffy, with their eyes open, and ready to follow their mother.  Sandpipers and killdeer are examples of this type of bird and if you see one on the ground and a parent is anywhere nearby, leave it alone.  It is supposed to be on the ground and its chances of survival are low if it is taken away.  If the peep of the bird is weak, however, and it can’t stand it needs attention.

Touching Babies:  If a baby bird is vulnerable and it appears to be in danger, then by all means, return it to its nest or to some sheltered branches.  Parent birds do not abandon their young if they have been touched by human hands.  That is a myth.  Birds have a poorly developed sense of smell but strong protective instinct.  Make sure you complete the ‘rescue’ quickly, distance yourself from it, and the mom and dad bird will find it in no time.

Fixing Nests:  Nests that have fallen from a tree due to wind or rain can be replaced.  Put the nest in a small natural-fiber basket and secure it to the tree with wire.  Make sure the ends of the wire are covered with tape to protect the babies from sharp edges.  Broken limbs containing the young of ‘cavity-nesters’ can be tied to nearby trees.  If the nest is destroyed make a new one.  Line it with natural materials from the general area such as grasses, fur or moss.  If parts of the original nest are available, you might utilize some of that.  Replace the nest as quickly and quietly as possible so as not to alarm the parents.  Once the nest is back in the tree, watch it so see if the parents return.  If they don’t come back after two hours, bring the babies a rescue center.

Extra Protection for Fledglings:  Since fledging is such a dangerous time for young birds it is more important than ever to keep not only your cat indoors, but to control your dog as well.  You may want take Fifi out on a leash for a few days to protect the pre-flight/post-fledged youngsters.

Dangers to Wild Birds

Cats are a huge problem for birds and other wildlife.  Keep your cat(s) indoors for the safety of birds - and cats.

Window Collisions

Window collisions kill upwards of a billion birds each year!  If you've ever found an injured or stunned bird on the ground under your window, chances are it crashed into said window and chances are, it will happen again.  There are solutions!  American Bird Conservancy sells window tape - some of which is almost invisible to our own eyes.  Window decals can have some success as well but quantity and spacing are critical.  The ABC link above gives great advice.

If you do find a stunned bird, place it in a paper bag with the top folded securely down.  Do not put anything else in the bag - just the bird.  Give it a couple hours to recuperate.  If it starts flittering around in the bag, it is probably ready!  While you are waiting, look for a licensed rehabilitator and if after two hours it is not ready to fly, bring it to a rehabber.


Thousands of birds are injured or killed each year as the result of becoming tangled in a variety of man-made materials. If birds become entangled they are essentially trapped and cannot free themselves without assistance. They are prevented from flying, walking, feeding and avoiding predators. Prolonged entanglement can cause permanent physical damage to skin, feathers, muscles, nerves or bones.

What to do if you find an entangled bird:

Call a wildlife rehabilitation center for help and advice if you encounter a bird in an entanglement situation, particularly if it involves a bird that would be dangerous to safely handle (e.g. herons, bitterns, cormorants, owls, hawks). If you are unable to reach a rehabilitation center, call the CBCM hotline for help: 773 988-1867

Critical step: hold the bird while you cut/untangle the material that is restraining it. It may seem the most urgent thing to get the bird free from restraint but containing the bird is more important. If you cut/remove only enough material to free the bird — it may escape with hooks and string still attached to its body which will continue to harm it and in many cases eventually cause the bird’s death.

Do not just cut a bird free!!! Capture — then cut!

Entanglement Hazards include:

Fishing line and its associated hooks and tackle that have been improperly disposed of along beaches, lakes, and ponds is the leading cause of wildlife entanglement.

Kite or balloon strings caught in overhead branches or bushes can fatally trap a bird.

Plastic six-pack rings for cans or plastic bottles or any other plastic ring from a container should always be cut apart before they are disposed of so there are no openings that could get stuck on the head or limb of an animal.

Soccer goal netting can trap nocturnal wildlife such as owls or cottontails that do not see the netted barrier as they run or fly through an open field at night.

Holiday decorations, landscape netting and netted covers for trees all pose an entanglement hazard.

How do you rescue/capture an injured bird?

Information adapted from Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

Catching an injured bird is not usually a problem since the bird is often incapable of moving and is too weak or shocked to put up any sort of resistance to handling.  You will handle it only long enough to get it to a licensed rehabilitator.

Pick the bird up by grasping it gently around the shoulders so that the wings are held against the body and cannot flap.  At this point the bird can be placed in a cardboard box with a soft towel on the bottom and a cover on the top.

If you are having trouble catching the bird, or you are afraid to touch it, a towel can be used.  Simply drop the towel lightly over the bird.  The darkness will calm and immobilize the bird so that it is easier to pick up.

Follow These Steps:

Place the bird in a clean unwaxed paper bag or cardboard box of appropriate size, with paper toweling flat on the bottom.

Fold the top of the bag down 1 inch, then fold again and secure the top with a paper clip. Secure the lid of the box with tape.

Place the bag or box in a safe, dark, quiet place, away from extreme heat or cold. Contact a licensed rehabilitator or call the CBCM hotline

773 988-1867 (they are licensed) to arrange help for the bird. 

  • DO NOT put food or water in the bag or box.

  • DO NOT poke holes in the bag or box.

  • NEVER open the bag or box to check on the bird.

  • NEVER take a bird that is not in a closed bag or box into a building

  • As soon as possible, transport the bird to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center.

Do not attempt to rescue a raptor (hawk, owl, falcon) or large wading bird (heron, egret, bittern) on your

own. These birds can inflict serious injuries with their beaks or talons.  Call CBCM or another

licensed wildlife rehabilitation center for help.

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