What to do if you find a baby bird alone and out of its nest

The woman stood at the front desk of the shelter with a young hummingbird in a shoe box. “I didn’t know where else to bring it,” she shared as she relayed to the staff member that her landscaper had given it to her earlier in the day.

He had worked with a crew where they knocked down a tree. The young bird had fallen to the ground. Her home was his next job and he brought it to her because he knew she cared about animals and thought she could help the bird.

She explained that the bird didn’t eat despite multiple attempts to feed it. Concerned that it was going to die, she brought it to the shelter.

“Do you know where the original location is? Maybe your landscaper can return it?” suggested the staff member, knowing that its mother was probably somewhere nearby. Unsure how to reach the landscaper, the well-meaning woman shook her head no and the bird was taken into the shelter for care.

“Any animal care staff to the front for a bird intake,” was what Joan, the animal care coordinator, heard over the intercom. This was the fifth baby bird today and it was only noon.

As she walked to the intake area, Joan wished more people knew that it was best to leave baby birds where they were found unless they were injured or ill. As she walked into the office, the woman at the front desk asked, “Will the bird survive?” Joan explained that the shelter would do its best, but a bird this young did not have a great chance of survival without its mother.

“You have to save it,” the woman said with tears in her eyes. “I will do my best,” she said. And the best she did.

Jumping to action, Joan immediately consulted with the wildlife team. They gave the bird an exam and appropriate food. But there was still the issue of overnight care. Feeling emotionally connected to the bird now and wanting to make good on the promise she made to the customer, Joan volunteered to take the bird home overnight until another wildlife rehabilitator was found. A wildlife rehabilitator is a person licensed by the state to care for, rehabilitate and release wild animals. The shelter has a permit that allowed Joan to take the animal home overnight.

Much like having an infant in her home, Joan tended to the baby hummingbird’s needs round the clock. Feeding it with a syringe every few hours, she was exhausted when she returned to work the next day. She was relieved to hear that the wildlife team had found a facility to transfer the bird. “All in a day’s work,” she thought as she moved on to the next animal in need.

Hundreds of baby birds enter shelters during the months of May through September. I want to reiterate some information from a previous column to remind you what to do if you see a baby bird in distress:

  • Give the parents an opportunity to care of their young. Observe from a distance before removing the baby bird.
  • Check nearby for a nest and return the baby if possible. Yes, a momma bird will care for their baby even after a human touches an animal. However, it’s always best to wear gloves.
  • Make a substitute nest if needed. Poke a few holes in the bottom of a plastic tub, line it with grass or pine needles and hang from a tree or bush making sure it’s safe from people or other animals.
  • Ensure cats are kept indoors and children are kept at a distance to give a fledgling bird the time it needs to learn to fly. It can be a great family experience to watch and take pictures from a distance.
  • If you find a baby bird and are unsure what do to next, visit pasadenahumane.org/wildlife. The “Help! I’ve Found a Baby Bird” flowchart will guide you to the best course of action. If a bird is truly abandoned or injured, contact the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA at 626-792-7151.

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