The Fall and Rise of Icarus (Caring For Baby Birds)

This is my little blue jay buddy Icarus in 2009. He was found in my neighbor's yard and they didn't want their dogs to get him so gave him to me. I fed him every 15-20 minutes until he fledged, each day bringing him outside to call for his parents. He grew quickly and started getting more independent outside, but would always fly down onto my shoulder for food. After a couple weeks, much to my relief, his parents took over feeding in our yard. He remained in the neighborhood all year and would come to me for a treat anytime I called for him. There were many blue jays around, but he had such a distinctive voice to my ears—even when he was far up in a tree. I continued seeing and hearing him the following spring but by then he was completely independent and didn't want to be held. I of course had empty nest syndrome.

Icarus was a success story, but statistically he's in the minority when it comes to human rescues of baby birds. While it seems cute and fun to raise a wild baby bird, it's very difficult and stories like this lead inexperienced people to believe they'll have success. Not the case. Please read and share the following myths and tips:


Baby Bird Rescue Myths & Tips


Myth: I found a baby bird on the ground, it must be in trouble.

Truth: Finding a baby bird on the ground does not mean it has been injured or abandoned. It is common for wind or a misstep to land a hatchling on the ground before it's ready to fly. More often than not the parents will feed the baby on the ground. Monitor the area for parents for awhile. If necessary to protect the baby from foot traffic or predators, it's okay to move it a short distance from where you found it. If the parents can hear it peeping, they'll find it.

A 'fledgling' is a baby bird that has developed wings and feathers and is therefore ready to leave the nest. Fledglings often look fuzzy because they still have preflight feathers—and they're often seen with their mouths gaping open, screaming for food, and their little wings vibrating like crazy. They don't need human help. They are hopping and flopping because they're practicing flight and building up their flight muscles.

Myth: Once I touch a baby bird its parents won't take care of it.

Truth: A baby bird will not be orphaned due to the scent of human hands. Animal parents are protective and nurturing like human parents. And like humans, they don't give up just because their baby smells funny. (I'm sure it's tempting some days!) If you can reach the nest, it's okay to place the baby back in it so the parents can pick up where they left off. If the parents are around but they're still not caring for the baby, there's probably something else going on. The baby might be sick or injured.

Myth: All I need is an eyedropper and some worms to rescue the baby.

Truth: An overwhelming percentage of baby birds don't survive "rescues" by well-meaning humans. They require frequent feeding, special diet, and proper handling. Many people try to feed the baby water, which causes aspiration and drowning. Many people place the bird in a box full of grass or a piece of old carpet- but their weak and fragile legs get tangled in the materials and break. If you are absolutely sure the baby needs rescue, place it in a small box lined with paper towel. Keep it indoors, warm, but out of direct sun. Do not attempt to feed. Google "wildlife rehabilitation or "wildlife rescue" for your local area. You can often find a list of rehabilitators through your state's Department of Natural Resources or from a veterinarian. Humane societies and most domestic pet vets are not equipped to accept wild animals in their facilities and sometimes make premature decisions to euthanize. Please make the effort to find an experienced rehabilitator. If you are unable to do so, leave the baby as you found it. It has a better chance of survival in the wild, given the fact that parents often return.

Myth: Caring for a baby bird teaches my children about the miracle of life.

Truth: A wild animal is not a cute novelty or a teaching tool for the kids. Of course taking care of a baby is interesting and adorable but, frankly, it's also selfish. That baby deserves the best possible chance at life and that comes at the hands of a wildlife rehabilitator or rescue facility. Let's be honest, a baby bird isn't cute anymore when it's dead at the bottom of a cardboard box. Teach your kids about birth and nature, but do it responsibly. There are wonderful birthing exhibits each spring at state fairs, 4-H exhibits, and wildlife centers.

Since we're talking about baby birds, this is a good place to mention safe backyard birding. Any yard can potentially be bird habitat. While it's fun to attract these visitors, it can have unintended consequences. Cats and window strikes kill millions and millions of birds each year. I love cats, but they should NEVER be outside unsupervised and they have no business devouring wildlife. A fledgling bird doesn't stand a chance with cats around. Even adult birds at a bird feeder are sitting targets for cats. So for the safety of your cat and your birds, leave kitty inside. And while you're in there, please put window clings on the windows to reduce bird strikes. Those two simple tips will help transform your backyard into a wild bird safe zone.


UPDATE: Within hours of posting this blog I found these two fledglings, (one sparrow, one robin) chirping and fluttering across the street in the school yard. Baby birds are everywhere in the spring, so watch your step and be careful with that lawnmower.