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Baby Birds & Eggs

The very best thing to do when you find a baby bird on the ground is to do nothing. Leave it alone. The parents are probably nearby and are feeding it.

Quite often young birds will leave the nest before they can fly. This is normal. These birds often end up on the ground. The baby bird can still move around and it can let its parents know where it is.

In fact, many birds are capable of walking and staying close to their mother almost from the moment they hatch. These species are called "precocial." They hatch with their eyes open and are down-covered. Quail, grouse, ducks, gulls, terns and shorebirds are precocial.

The opposite of precocial is altricial. These birds hatch in a helpless condition and depend on their parents. Robins, cardinals, bluebirds and most songbirds are altricial. These are the birds we usually discover on the ground.

If it is extremely obvious that a bird has fallen from a nest and is far too young to survive, you may place it back into the nest. If the nest blew down, place what is left of the nest and the babies in a small berry basket and hang it near the original nest. The parents may return to feed the young.

Handling a baby bird will not cause the parents to abandon it. Almost all birds have a very poor sense of smell. But raccoons, foxes and other predators have a very good sense of smell. You may be leaving a trail directly to the nest for these hungry animals.

We know you want to take the baby birds inside, put them in a warm box, feed them milk and bread with an eye-dropper and watch them grow up. Mother nature and the U.S. Government don't want you to do this. It is illegal (really!). Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators are authorized to handle wild birds.

If an entire nest blows down, you could try to put it back where it was. Beyond that, let nature take its course. You might also want to read about the life expectancy of birds.

Most songbirds will lay an egg a day. They sit on their eggs for 12-14 days. The baby birds are able to leave the nest about 14 days later and can fly a few days after that.

Robin eggs are a solid pale bluish-green. This is the most common egg you will find in your yard. The book shown below has many color photos of bird eggs. We highly recommend it.

Nests, Eggs and Nestlings
Nests, Eggs and Nestlings
of North American Birds

Did You Know:
The largest bird egg is the Ostrich of Africa (1600 grams and 6.8 inches by 5.4 inches). The smallest is the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba (.2 grams). 
 


 

Question: I am an animal rehabilitator and am looking for helpful tips for feeding young birds so that their diet is full of the nutrients they need.

Answer: As you may be aware, you will need to obtain state and federal permits in order to handle, confine, or raise a nestling songbird. You can contact your state environmental conservation department to find out is requirements and how to apply for state and federal permits. They can also put you in touch with a local wildlife rehabilitator who is licensed and experienced in handling young birds.

Occasionally, active bird watchers find themselves in need of emergency rations for nestling songbirds. Perhaps some bluebirds have been orphaned by a neighbor's cat or a child has brought a fledgling to school. Fortunately, it's fairly simple to concoct an acceptable diet for insectivorous nestlings (and almost every songbird is fed insects as a nestling). Any grocery store or pet shop stocks puppy chow; the dry, high protein brands like IAMS and Eukanuba are good. Grind this to a very fine meal in a blender or food processor. Moisten with warm water to the consistency of yogurt. This is most easily administered with a baby medicine syringe. The tip may be cut off to enlarge the opening. A little cooking oil may be added to the mixture. An especially useful low-volume, high calorie emergency ration is Neutrical, which may be available through a veterinarian. This can be mixed with the puppy chow to provide essential vitamins and sugars.

No nestling will be able to eat until it is warm; supply a jar of warm water and a tissue nest for the bird to snuggle against.

The nestling may be stimulated to gape or open its bill by a soft whistle or gentle jarring of its nest. Administer small amounts toward the right side of the baby's throat (its right, not your right; its left side is its trachea, which it needs to breathe). If the bird refuses to gape, you may gently pry open the corner of its bill with your thumbnail to insert the tip of the syringe.

Puppy chow should be supplemented by live mealworms, which should make up approximately half of the bird's diet. Mealworms are quickly and easily obtained by mail order (Bluebird Connection, P.O. Box 52, Ragland, Alabama 35131, 877-332-0300; Grubco, Box 15001, Hamilton, Ohio 45015, 800-222-3563; Nature's Way, P.O. Box 188, Ross, Ohio 45061, 800-318-2611) or in small quantities through pet shops and bait stores. Be sure to crush the worms' heads before feeding them to the bird.

It should not be necessary to give water to a baby bird; it will obtain water from its food.

The sooner you can get your foundling to an experienced songbird rehabilitator, the better its chances of survival. Raising and especially releasing baby songbirds can be a several week to several month job, which is best left to an expert. He or she can fine tune its diet to its species and make sure that it's trained to come when called, in preparation for its "soft release" in the appropriate habitat.

This was written by BWD contributing editor Julie Zickefoose, a former bird rehabilitator. This is reproduced here with the permission of the editors of Bird Watcher's Digest.


 

Question:  I am writing concerning a baby bird that was discovered in a parking lot near my home. There was no nest around, and no mommy bird to be found. I feel that some children were playing a cruel joke. however, I couldn't let the baby bird just die. It is very young (all skin, no feathers yet) and I am writing to ask any advice you may have as far as feeding/caring for the bird so that I can nurture it until it is able to be returned back to the wild. Thank you for your attention re: this matter. -- Stacey

Answer: A baby bird with no feathers is probably only a day or two old. Feathers for most songbirds start to appear around the third day. By the twelfth day the bird is fully feathered. They leave the nest in about fifteen days. It may take another few days before they can fly well.

Your bird is so young, it is probably not going to survive, no matter what you try to do. If your bird were fully feathered, I would placed it in a relatively safe spot near the location where you found it. The parents are nearby, even if you don't see them,  and it has a good chance of surviving. It is very common for feathered birds to leave the nest a day or two before they can fly. These are the birds most people find. Leave them alone.


 

Question: I have had a flock of Evening Grosbeaks coming to gorge themselves on sunflower seeds for 2 weeks now and I also have a large assortment of finches, sparrows, stellar jays, woodpeckers, morning doves, etc,  I have seen the hawks attack and I know that it is a natural event. Don't get me wrong, I love hawks and don't wish any harm. Is there any thing that can be done or should I not worry and just let nature take it's course? Please let me know Id really appreciate it. Thanks in advance. -- Sandy

Answer: It would be nice to give the birds coming to your feeder a place to hide when Hawks come by. Bushy evergreens like Cedars make good hiding places and may look great in your yard. Vines near the feeders are also nice.

 The Hawks will often get the weakest birds in the flock, since they are the easiest to catch. They may be doing the songbird population a favor -- although the specific bird it catches would strongly disagree.

Here are some typical times for incubation (sitting on eggs until they hatch) and fledging (birds leave the nest):

Bird Name Sit on Eggs Leave Nest
Robin 12-14 days 14-16 days
Dove 13-14 days 12-14 days
Sparrow 10-13 days 14-17 days
Cardinal 12-13 days    9-10 days
Hummingbird 11-14 days 14-28 days
Wren 12-14 days 12-18 days
Pigeon 16-19 days 25-26 days
Quail 21-24 days       0 days
Hawk 30-35 days 45-46 days
Eagle 34-36 days 70-98 days

 

 

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