Many helpful people see a baby bird on the ground and immediately think they should do something. But before you try to rescue any baby wild bird you need to be sure the bird needs help.
The first thing to remember is that some birds nest on the ground, especially precocial birds. Precocial birds are birds that are covered with down and can move about when they are first hatched. Gallinaceous birds, shore birds and ducks are precocial. So if you see baby quails, turkeys, shorebirds or any ducks on the ground before they can fly, remember, they belong there.
The second fact you need to know about are fledglings. Fledglings are baby birds that have left the nest, but are not fully feathered. Quite often they can make short, low flights or long hops. Don’t worry if you see a fledgling in the ground. This is a normal part of their development. Parent birds will coach their young to safety by calling and landing on the ground to lead them to cover. The yougster may be very noisy. They are calling to parents for food much the way a human baby cries for attention. Robin, Towhee and Blue Jay fledglings are frequently seen in backyards and parks. Remember, they belong there.
So now you know that not all baby birds need help, so how do you know if the bird is a healthy happy baby or one that truly needs help?
First, if you see a baby bird you need to know if the parent is caring for them. Clear children, pets and yourself out of the area. This will give the parents time to come to the baby. Position yourself out of sight, but where you can spy on the bird. Wait patiently for at least an hour to see if a parent comes in. Why so Long? Remember, the parents have more than one fledgling to care for and each baby must take his turn to be fed.
Now if you can’t keep your neighbor’s cat away by all means move the bird to cover. This can be done by using a towel to capture the bird and release him in low thick shrubs. DO NOT try to place a fledgling high in a tree, remember, they can’t fly yet. Start timing your hour over again. The parent bird will not abandon the baby because you have touched it. That is a myth! The baby bird will call and the parents will find him and continue to care for him.
Now it has been an hour and the parents still haven’t come back. What should you do? Remember all wild birds are protected by law and the first step is to call a rehabilitation center or the local Wild Game agency. They are the best ones to advice you on local species.
If you can’t reach anyone immediately you may need to take action. Find a container large enough for the bird to be able to stand and turn around in, but small enough so that he can not flutter around and hurt himself. Line the bottom of the container with tissue or paper towel. Carefully pick up the bird with a towel and place it in the container. Cover the container with the towel leaving a small gap for good air circulation. Place the container in a quiet, warm place. Do not play music for the bird or place him on a heating pad. Avoid peeking, that will add stress to the situation.
Continue to try to reach the proper officials. Different species will need different food and feeding the wrong food can be a disaster. Resist the myth to feed bread. Adult birds have gravel in their crop and can grind bread crumbs. The crop of baby birds is often empty. The bread will compact and can cause death.
PLEASE REMEMBER birds are protected by law and it is not legal for you to posses a wild bird unless you are licensed to do so. It is also very hard for the average person to take care of a wild bird. Get the baby bird to a licensed, experienced person as soon as possible.
If you can’t reach the local game warden try the local animal shelter, humane society, police or veterinarian. Hopefully they will be able to provide you with the phone number you need.