Friday, March 14, 2008

What To Do With Young Birds

It's that time of year again . . . nesting time and foundlings!

Every spring, people will be seeking help in handling nestlings (young birds from the pink and naked stage to the not fully feathered stage) that have fallen from the nest. Fledglings are fully feathered but still short-tailed or have no tail at all and are scraggly. They probably have been guided to the ground by the parent birds.

Wrens, mockingbirds, cardinals, brown thrashers, towhees, doves are already building nests. This means that in less than a month babies probably will be falling out of their cradles because of severe weather such as high winds and hail, or other hazardous situations.

If you find such a baby bird, the first thing you must do is try to put the nestling back in the nest. If the nest was destroyed, you might call an experienced wildlife rehabilitator. The Department of Natural Resources can put you in touch with one.

Don't try to raise a bird because the law does not permit anyone to possess any bird, dead or alive, without a permit. This includes feathers, nests and eggs. In other words, by law you are not supposed to try to care for the bird yourself. The possession of a house sparrow, starling or pigeon is excluded.

As far as the fledgling is concerned, leave it alone. It was probably placed where you found it by its parents. This sounds harsh, and although it may be tempting to rescue what you think is an "abandoned" bird, don't do it. Position yourself to watch nature takes its course and watch as almost without exception the parents will return to feed the little one.

They might guide it to a nearby shrub or tree where they will feed it. Just another phase of the difficult transition period of becoming an adult.

Evidently, it is time for the young bird to leave home and unlike many homo sapien parents, concerned avian parents make sure their offspring "go" when the time comes.

They do, however, feed them for a week or two until they learn to feed themselves and become strong fliers. Sometimes fledglings become restless and hop from the nest and climb into the branches of the tree or bush where they were hatched.

When young birds fall from the nest prematurely, they usually perish.

And just remember, it is natural for some nesting attempts not to succeed. It has been determined for most birds that a nesting success rate of just 20 percent for the season is considered a banner year.

If you have cats, keep them in the house and ask your neighbor to do the same until the birds are safe in trees and shrubs.

It is a sobering thought to realize when we try to rescue fledglings from the wild (our years and neighborhoods) that we might become an accidental predator. To best help these young birds leave them where you find them . . . in the wild. In our rush to help, we can do more harm than good because most of the time our best efforts fail!

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