WILDLIFE 911: Baby Birds on Ground
Baby birds can be on the ground for many reasons:
- They are fledglings learning to fly which can take up to two weeks
- Fallen, blown or knocked out of nest
- Dropped by predator
- Damaged nest
- They are injured or sick
Baby Bird on Ground
There are two types of baby birds – Altricial or Precocial.
Altricial birds are born naked or with patchy down. They often have patches of skin visible even through their newly grown feathers. These birds stay in the nest for 1 – 3 weeks. Parents feed them while in the nest and, for a period of time after they jump out. Examples of altricial birds are: all song birds as well as hawks, owls, crows etc. They leave the nest as soon as they are able to hop around but, before they can fly.
Precocial birds are fully covered in down when they are born. They are able to walk or run within hours of hatching. These birds do not need their parents to feed them but do rely on their parents for protection, warmth and waterproofing. Examples of precocial birds are geese, swans, ducks, killdeer, etc. Please refer to the duckling page for information on this type of bird.
Never give food or water to a baby bird. Many birds have specific food requirements and feeding them the wrong thing may cause severe side effects or even death.
Fledgling or Nestling?
A nestling will be partially bald and unable to stand or perch on its own. If it cannot grip your finger and stand it is likely a nestling. Most birds have a poor sense of smell and will not reject a baby if it is returned to the nest. The nest is often very near the area the bird was found in. If you can safely reach it, put the bird back in the nest and watch to see if the parents return. If it is impossible to reach safely, you can try and fashion a new nest out of a margarine container. Click on the nest on the ground scenario for instructions on fashioning a new nest.
If the bird is very cold you may have to bring it in first and warm it up with a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel before putting it in the nest.
The bird should be brought to a rehabilitator if any of the following apply:
- The parents show no signs of returning
- The parents abandon the nest or are not looking after the second nest
- It looks injured or has come into contact with a cat
- You are unable to locate the nest
Do not offer it food or water unless otherwise instructed.
Fledglings are basically teenagers. They will get into everything, beg for food constantly and have not yet learned what they should be afraid of. Fledglings will often spend up to two weeks on the ground before they learn how to fly. During this time they are very vulnerable.
A healthy fledgling will be able to hop around easily. They often appear similar to adults – sometimes even bigger – but are unable to fly well or at all yet. They have shorter wings and tails than adults and sometimes have bits of down sticking through their feathers.
If a fledgling has been removed from the parents, it can often be reunited if too much time has not passed. Place the bird back outside and watch to see if the parents return when it starts calling out. There are often several siblings in the neighbourhood so, likely the parents are still nearby. Be patient and watch from a distance for them to return.
A fledgling should be brought to a rehabilitator if any of the following apply:
- It has come in contact with a cat
- It has been sitting or lying in one spot for a long time and makes no attempt to move when you approach
- It has a sleepy/lethargic look with eyes half closed
- It has visible wounds
Call the hotline at 306.242.7177 for further instructions.
Crow fledgling courtesy Wild and Cared Free – Note the blue eyes.
You can help fledglings survive by keeping cats and other pets inside during baby season, looking before you mow, and teaching children about the growth cycles of birds. If a fledgling is in direct danger such as being on a roadway, it can be moved a short distance to safety.