Amendment: if you rescued a baby bird and it hasn’t died yet

While my previous post, grumpy as it was, is true, I left out some important things. If you find yourself in the possession of a baby bird, the best thing you can do is to get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. There are a few cases, however, where this may not be possible. Some rehabbers don’t accept invasive species (pigeons, Common Starlings, House Sparrows) or domestic species (e.g. domestic ducks). Some places don’t have a wildlife rehabber anywhere nearby (although do check—you might be surprised!).

If you’re in this situation, the internet is your friend. You can find recipes for nestling bird diets and instructions on care posted by people who care for those invasive species. Don’t just try to go with your gut: your intuition is mammal-based, and will mislead you. Search for reputable-seeming internet sources, and ideally find ones where you can contact the people to get detailed advice. There is a community of starling-keepers out there who may be able to help (especially if you’ve found a starling; unfortunately, bird species do differ in the care of their babies).

The most important thing is do not try to force-feed your bird water. Birds have an opening in their throat that leads to their lungs, and it is incredibly easy to drown them. Put the bird somewhere dark and warm and do your internet research before trying to do anything else with the bird.

Also, if you do an internet search on my name, you will find my email address. I am not a licensed rehabber and am definitely not the best person you could contact, but I’d certainly prefer to be asked how to keep the bird alive, rather than asked why it died.

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13 thoughts on “Amendment: if you rescued a baby bird and it hasn’t died yet

  1. NEED ADVISE BY SUNDAY AM-IMPORTANT

    Hi, we were cleaning out our koi pond today, about two hours in heard a bird chirping away, more like yelling really, but didn’t spot it! It began to rain then began to POUR, and we had to work through the heavy rain as our 20 large koi were in a temporary kiddie pool with small pump. The bird continued to be vocal the entire time, then… I spotted him… It was a fledgling right at the foot of the pond in a small ornamental cut leaf maple! Tiny, Rediculously adorable, I believe a sparrow. We have encountered a few fledgling dilemmas in the past so knew to leave it be. I kept checking on it, unfortunately the parents were not coming to feed- which was probably because we were in close proximity. I just finished reading some of your advise, I would have moved the baby if I knew better.
    Well this is where we are at, the rain continued to get worse, the fledgling was now on the ground under the bush, I had place an unbrella to help shelter it from the rain, but the fledgling began to tremble and lay on its side, definitely in distress. I lined a small box with paper towels and brought him inside, got him warm and dry and he has perked up. Standing, eyes open and alert. This was around 11:30 pm. Last I looked about 12:30, his head tucked into his back and comfortably asleep. Thank God! Tomorrow is my concern- I know it’s best to put him back where I found him, but were expecting another stormy,rainy day!!! What should I do?
    Please advise..help.
    Thanks in advance,
    Sophia

    • Hi Sophia,
      Is there a place in your yard where the fledgling could be sheltered from the rain? You really want to get him back out so his parents know he’s still alive and can feed him. (I’ve seen parents feed fledglings in rain; unless it’s a bad downpour, the rain shouldn’t stop them.) But you also don’t want him soaked and cold, as you noticed yesterday! If there isn’t a porch or similar thing you can put him under, could you make a small shelter for him?
      If you put him out and (watching from a distance) don’t see the parents come back for a long time (like, most of the day), you may need to intervene so he doesn’t starve. Comment again if that happens and I can advise.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for responding… I feel confident now that we did the right thing! At 5:30 am the birds started their usual chirping, sleeping lightly with the fledgling on our minds, my husband and I decided that since it wasn’t raining we would put him back in the Japanese maple where we found him. We thought that perhaps the parents might not have realized he went on a little vacation :) we put the box on its side with him in it- and made an additional make shift covered area. Watched for about 30 min, went back to bed. Around 8:30am he was nowhere to be found, not too worried as our property is bird friendly and accommodating. Then it POURED as forecasted.. A few times. Got concerned, , as I was looking around, I heard the same yelling/chirping form a different area in our yard close to the patio as I was looking in this dense large flowering tree an adult sparrow flew down perched itself on a patio chair… Seriously gave me a look then flew into that flowering dence tree:) I believe that was one of parent birds taking care of our overnight boarder… That’s my story and sticking to it!!
    This a a great service you are providing, thank you very much,
    All the best, Sophia

    • Oh good, I’m so glad the birds figured out a solution! I hope the rain lets up soon so they have one less thing to worry about.
      Be a little careful checking up on the fledgling – if the parents think he isn’t safe, they’ll move him again. You’ll have to be sneaky :-)

      • Sneaky is my middle name..lol! I can see from my family room window, and happy to say there are two fledglings- look like little salt and pepper shakers-too cute 🐥🐥 parents coming every 10-15 min in between the crazy downfalls of rain🌈 It’s all good!
        All the best, Sophia

  3. Oh, btw, I will keep looking for him, if I find him and notice he isn’t being attended to, I’ll reach out to you for further advise…thanks, Sophia

  4. Hi – I have a question I hope you can help me with. I have a starling nestling that fell out of his nest that his parents have in a cavity in the eve outside of my sunroom, I thought he was dead at first, because there were two babies that fell out, the first one in the early morning was dead, then I found this little guy right at dusk. He was on his side, I touched him and he started moving slightly, I’m sure he wouldn’t have lasted another hour, I’m so glad I found him when I did as it was about to be dark and he would have been dead in the morning. I brought him in and kept him warm through the night, feed sliced cat food (he loves it). Then next day I made him a nice makeshift nest, put it in a hanging basket and hung it right next to the hole his parents where going in and out of, (I could not put him back in the nest as it was a hole in the eve and I could not see up in it, to where the nest was) so he was in the makeshift basket all day and even over night and not once did his mom go to him, I thought she was a couple times as she stopped and looked a few times but continued feeding the ones in the nest and not him :( I was able to watch all day to make sure, as I could set in my sunroom and watch without her knowing. Fast forward that was 6 days ago, he only had little fusses and was bald in most places. I did my research and started taking care of him right off the bat…every 15-20 mins, in this short time he’s gotten very loud and completely full of beautiful feathers, he’ twice the size now, stretching and flapping his wings. stands up pretty good but still alittle wobbly. I just put him in a cage today for the first time with a nest and a perch because he out grew his box today with all the flappy :) What he has been eating- earthworms (after crushing their heads–YUCK!) grubs, canned sliced turkey & gravy cat food, “Kitten” dry food soaked for 1 hour in water–got this with research and “watching” what his mother was carrying in the hole to feed his siblings. Some not all research says- no earthworms but I watched his mother taking dozens at a time in the hole, so I went with what she said :) besides I did find someone online that said if you feed earth worms, make sure you crush their heads before feeding, so I did. I’ve learned alot about Starlings, they do eat seed, fruits, insects etc. when in the wild but I learned that when their babies it’s all about the protein and that’s what they need in the beginning. I learned that he should be pecking seed in his cage as well as taking his own water before I open the cage for him to leave….my dilemma and I must say the one thing that no matter how much I have searched the web, I can’t find anyone that can tell me what will happen to him, as far as learning to hunt and forage for food, if he was “not” taught this by his parents as a fledge, as I have read that takes place when they leave the nest? I worried about him starving, if he doesn’t learn this before he leaves. I know we will be getting close to this happening, I know his siblings are still in the nest but have noticed that his parents have been coming less often to them, so I figure they must be close. Sorry for being so long winded but wanted you to know the whole story.

    Thank you!

    Linda

    • Hi Linda,
      Great job raising your little bird! You did everything right: gave the parents a chance to take care of him, did your research, and are feeding him a varied diet. (I would be careful with the earthworms, but as long as they’re a minority of the diet and you’re seeing the adults feeding them, it seems okay.)
      In the wild, his parents wouldn’t exactly teach him how to eat. They would gradually feed him less and less; he would follow them and learn through a combination of watching what his parents eat and trial-and-error. (I did a post on fledglings learning to eat, here: https://toughlittlebirds.com/2013/03/15/learning-how-to-eat-like-a-bird/ )
      You can provide a good environment for him to learn how to eat by putting a variety of foods in his cage for him to play with. Seeds, mealworms, even fruits and lettuce – all of those could be left in his cage so he can peck at them and gradually figure out how to handle them. As he gets older, you can also put in some things that *aren’t* food (rocks, twigs) so he learns that those aren’t edible; but start with the edible things so he learns those first.
      Don’t give him the option of leaving until he is *completely* self-feeding. This may take longer than you expect; parent birds may feed their chicks for a month after they leave the nest. You don’t want him to get excited about flying and then end up alone not knowing how to eat yet.
      Good luck!

      • Hi, thank you for getting back to me. When you say mealworms, do you mean “dry” and not live? because all I see is dry and would I need to soak them before giving them to him? I may need to reach out to you, from time to time if that is Ok, since I now know I will need to keep him with me for a while longer :)
        Linda

        • Hi Linda,
          No, live mealworms – they may be available at bait shops, and will definitely be at any Petco/Petsmart or other general pet store. (People feed them to reptiles.) They come in little round plastic tubs and you keep them in the fridge. They’re better than earthworms because they have an exoskeleton, so the bird gets extra calcium (important for growing bones!) and roughage to help digestion. You will need to crush the heads before feeding them to him – don’t want them biting him from the inside! If you leave them in the cage for him to eat himself, he’ll kill them before swallowing – you’ll see him sort of “kneading” them back-and-forth in his bill for a while to kill them.
          Not a problem to keep asking me questions! You can email me at klabarbera[at]berkeley.edu.

  5. Hi again, can I call you by your name? what is it?

    I just tried sending to the email you gave and it would not go through with the (at), it kept rejecting it.

    I really appreciate your time. I have a new problem, he has started coughing, alittle last night I noticed and a little today, not constantly but still doing it off and on, kind of a squeaky cough. I’m afraid it was from the earthworms, which I stopped feeding those on Thurs. however I searched online and it talks about gape worms/eggs, now what?
    I’m really worried he has come this far and now he has this, can they kill him?…..if he does have them, how do we get rid of them?…I feel so bad for feeding them to him but when I googled back when I found him, lots of people said they were fine as long as the heads where crushed, I will tell you he ate them the first day without the crushed head, it was after that, that I read they should be crushed. Before me discontinuing the earthworms on Thurs. he had eaten alot of them, he loved them and seemed to be growing very well.
    I got the mealworms for him today, cut the heads off and feed him those.

    Can you give be any suggestions on how we can get rid of these before it’s too late and what will happen to him if they remain? there seems to be couple things online that say they can treat the eggs/worms with -flubeendazole- flubenvet- (have you heard of this med?) and if this is something that will help. I guess I would also need to know if it could be given to a wild fledge?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    Linda

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