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What To Do If You Find An Orphaned Bird

By Narda Lebo

Juvenile birds are among the most appealing of young animals. One look, and all most people can think about is reaching out to cup them in their hands and pet their downy feathers. Should you come across a nestling, or find what may appear to be an orphaned bird, remember the following.

Very young birds sometimes are knocked or blown out of a nest or pushed out by a sibling. These nestlings can be picked up and cupped in the hands until they feel warm. Once they are warm, they should be placed back into their nest. It is not true that parents will abandon them if they smell human scent. Most birds do not have a strong sense of smell.

Sometimes nests are blown down by windstorms, knocked out of gutters, dumped from hanging plants or destroyed by predators. Sometimes the nestlings cannot be replaced because the nest is too high. If this is the case, a makeshift nest can be fashioned from a berry basket. Line the basket with clean, dry paper towels in a bowl shape. Do not use grass because it contains moisture that will chill the nestlings. Wire the new nest as close to the original location as possible, making sure it is out of direct sunlight. Warm the young birds in your hands and place them into the makeshift nest. Leave the area and watch from a distance, or the parents will not return. They may be skeptical about the new nest at first, but once the young start crying out in hunger, the parents will land and feed them.

Young birds found on the ground that are already feathered and able to hop, but not ready to fly, are called fledglings. These fledglings sometimes are mistaken for a bird with a broken wing, but a bird with a broken wing will hold the injured wing lower than the good wing. A fledgling should not be replaced in its nest, but returned to where it was found or nearby, so its parents can continue to feed it. Fledging is an important and dangerous life phase in which young birds learn how to fly, find food and avoid predators by observing their parents. Many well-meaning people take these young birds in by mistake.

If you know for a fact that the parent birds are gone, or there is no way to put the nestlings back, or the tiny birds are cold and limp, then they need to be rescued. Keep them in a small, dark, covered box with holes punched in the lid. Warm them by positioning a heating pad, set on low, under the box or by adding a sealed plastic bag of warm water or a dish towel microwaved for 25 seconds. Line the box with paper towels. Do not pet or handle the nestlings. They may gape, but do not feed them anything because their stomachs will not tolerate the food. Call a wildlife rehabilitator for help as soon as possible.

To contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, consult a list of volunteer wildlife rehabilitators by county at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/rehab/. Or you can call a local game warden or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Information Line at (800) 792-1112.

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