What to do if you find a baby bird

Some species of birds leave the nest and spend a few days on the ground before they can fly properly. This is a normal and vital part of the young birds' development. While they are on the ground, the birds are cared for and protected by their parents and are taught vital life skills (finding food, identifying predators, flying).

Taking these birds into captivity denies them the opportunity to learn skills they will need to survive in the wild. Unless a bird is injured or orphaned, it is essential to leave them outside to learn from their parents. Injured or unwell birds can be taken to a vet clinic for treatment.


Nestlings on the Ground

If you are concerned that a bird fell from its nest too early, you may try and return the bird to its nest. If the nest has been destroyed or is unreachable, you may substitute a small basket or box lined with tissue and suspend it from a branch near to where you believe the nest was.

Birds have a poor sense of smell and very strong parental instincts, which means they will usually continue caring for their young. However, adult birds are cautious after any type of disturbance and it may take several hours before they approach the nestling. During this period it is essential that humans not approach the nestling.


Fledglings on the Ground

Fledglings are typically fully feathered, with a short tail and wings. They are able to walk, hop and flap, and they may attempt short flights, but are still being cared for by the parents.

If you find a fledgling, it should be left alone or at the most placed in a nearby shrub. Keep people and pets away so the parents will continue to care for it until it can fly.

Placing fledglings back into nests is typically only a short-term solution, as they will quickly re-emerge. Moving fledglings to entirely new locations is also ineffective, as they are still dependent on their parents for survival and will quickly starve.


Can I raise the baby bird myself?

Raising wild birds in captivity is always a last resort and should only occur when a young bird is known to be injured or orphaned. Although it may seem "safer" to raise young birds in captivity, birds raised without the benefit of learning from their parents have less chance of survival when released.


My neighbourhood is full of cats, dogs, cars and other potential hazards

These are very real hazards and do lead to mortalities; however, all young birds face hazards regardless of whether they live on urban, suburban or wild landscapes. The best thing you can do is to try to reduce hazards wherever possible.


What if I find an injured or orphaned native bird?

New Zealand native birds need to be cared for by someone that is certified by the Department of Conservation. Your vet clinic can check the bird for injuries and contact the right person to continue caring for it.


How do I care for a baby bird if there is no other option?

Most importantly baby birds need to be kept warm, day and night: 32°C to 35°C for new hatchlings, around 30°C at about 10 days old and 26°C to 28°C by the time the bird is half feathered. A fully feathered fledgling can maintain its own body temperature but may need to be warmed initially if it is weak or cold. 

Place the baby bird in a small box lined with tissue or paper towels. Punch air holes in the box for ventilation. A hot water bottle or heat pad can be placed under the box for warmth. The temperature will need to be checked regularly to ensure it’s not too hot or too cold.   

Baby birds need to be fed every half to two hours depending on their age. Young nestlings also require feeding during the night. Insect eating birds can be fed warmed, tinned cat food. Seed/fruit eating birds can be fed warmed fruit based baby cereal or specially formulated bird rearing formula. Don’t give water - enough moisture is provided by the soft food.

As the bird grows it will need more space so it can learn to perch and fly. You will need to teach the bird how to forage on its own by providing the types of food it would normally eat in the wild (worms, insects, seeds, fruit etc). You will also need to provide drinking water at this stage. When the bird can fly, eat and drink on its own it can be released. Release the bird in the morning (in good weather) so it has time to get used to its new surroundings before dark. 

Hand rearing a baby bird can take a number of weeks and a lot of dedication. In many cases hand rearing is not successful, but when it is it can be a rewarding experience. 

AnimalCare 2002 Limited

Animal Care Vets is actively involved in our local community. We support a number of charities, including the SPCA. We also care for the Hawkes Bay Police dogs. Our customers know by experience that they can rely on us for sound advice on treatment options and that their pet is in the very best hands with our team.