“I found a baby bird!”
If you teach young people, it’s likely that at some point a student will come to you asking what to do for a baby bird lying helpless outside of its nest. Worse, they might even walk up to you with a chick or unhatched egg in their hand. Perhaps they have questions and misconceptions about baby birds and want to know “the truth” from you. Knowing the facts about what is truly helpful for baby birds (and what isn’t) will help you handle these situations and offer you teachable moments!
Here is a list of baby bird FAQs for you to share with friends, family, and students:
Q. I found a baby bird on the ground, should I take it in and feed it?
A. When there’s a helpless baby bird lying on the ground, most people’s first instinct is to take it in and try to raise it. Many people don’t realize that the vast majority of “abandoned” baby birds are perfectly healthy fledglings that don’t need your help at all! Fledglings are usually fluffy and able to hop around and tightly grip your finger or a twig. If the baby bird you’ve found fits this description, it’s completely normal for it to be hanging out on the ground and you should just let it be.
In some cases, younger baby birds, called nestlings, fall out of the nest before they’re ready to leave. These birds usually have only a few sparse feathers and are incapable of hopping around or grabbing on to a twig. In this case, the nest in surely close by and you should carefully place the baby bird back in it. As long as the bird isn’t injured, it should be just fine once it’s back in the nest.
Under no circumstances should a baby bird be fed things like milk or bread.
Q. If I handle a baby bird, won’t its parents pick up my scent and abandon it?
A. Fortunately, that’s just a myth. Parent birds don’t recognize their young by smell—most birds don’t even have a good sense of smell.
Q. Why do birds leave the nest before they can fly?
A. Usually, it’s to their advantage to leave as soon as they can. Predators can easily find a nest full of squawking baby birds, and nests can host parasites. Parent birds work very hard to get their young out of the nest as quickly as possible.
Q. I accidentally spooked a nesting mother. She flew away and hasn’t returned. Should I try to hatch the eggs myself?
A. In addition to being illegal to posses bird eggs from birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, hatching eggs is a very delicate process! Unless you’re an expert with the right equipment, achieving the conditions essential for hatching eggs is nearly impossible. The temperature and humidity must be exactly right and the eggs must be rotated periodically. If you tried to hatch them yourself, the hatchlings might have grave deformities, if they even survive at all. For these reasons, many wildlife rehabilitators and nature centers don’t even try to hatch eggs, so you should check to see about this before bringing eggs to potential helpers.
Luckily, mother birds usually return to the nest eventually, but it might take a little while. They have a lot invested in their eggs and are unlikely to just abandon them altogether.
Teachers often hope to use nests that are old or abandoned for use in the classroom, or find that students will bring these “goodies” in. You should know that possessing the nest of a migratory bird is not legal without the proper permits, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is best to just leave nests in nature, where they belong.
The good news is that you and your students can observe nests and nesting birds without even leaving the classroom! During nesting season, you can stream video from our high-definition “Bird Cams” and use our accompanying Life in a Nest activity series to teach about nesting behavior. Additionally, the May lesson of our Feathered Friends lesson series is all about nesting and learning about this subject with the real life examples seen through the Nest Cams.
Want to know more?
- For an extensive list of FAQs not only on baby birds, but on sick and injured birds, migrating birds, and more, check out the All About Birds FAQ page. This page is full of great information to share with your students so that they can go home and teach their families how to make decisions that are good for birds.