SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU FIND A BABY BIRD?
by Whit Gibbons
May 25, 2008
should I do if I find a baby bird on the ground? I have seen two in our
neighborhood recently that were in danger of being run over by a car or
caught by a dog. Is there some group that takes care of homeless birds?
A: This question
and ones like it are common during spring and early summer. My answer
is a simple one. In most instances the right response is to leave the
bird alone. Exceptions arise, but more often than not you do more harm
than good by getting involved in a rescue attempt of a little bird.
for intervening in a baby bird sighting include removing it from a road
where it could get run over (consider your own safety first in regard
to traffic). A second reason is to rescue it from an overfed pet dog or
cat that is responding to a kill instinct not based on hunger. In either
case, simply pick up the bird and release it nearby, and in the second
instance put the pet inside. The oft-stated belief that if you touch a
baby bird its parents will abandon it has little substance. I know someone
who puts recognition bands on dozens of baby bluebirds each year, yet
the parents continue to care for them. Abandoning a baby simply because
another animal touched it would not be a particularly adaptive response.
not to rescue a baby bird are far more numerous than are the reasons to
do so. A little bird could be fluttering around on the ground because
it attempted flight too early and launched itself prematurely. It may
be being watched from the trees by its parents who are prepared to teach
it to feed. Meanwhile, the parents may be trying to guard against predators
that might harm the helpless baby while it is learning to fly. Many people
and pets have experienced the wrath of a blue jay or mockingbird protecting
its grounded young.
a baby bird alone after an initial rescue may seem unacceptable to some
people because it provides potential for further exposure to a world of
predators, cars, and other hazards. But your continued involvement in
the process will probably not benefit the species nor, unless you are
really good at bird-raising, the individual bird. Plus, for most U.S.
birds a permit is required for keeping them in captivity.
reason, an ironic one to be sure, is that you might keep a baby bird alive
for longer than the parents intended. The bird may be helpless for a reason.
Maybe it was intentionally ejected from the nest by the parents or a sibling.
Birds have a variety of strategies to deal with limited food resources.
One of them is to feed and raise fewer young than the number of eggs they
lay. So, in "helping" a baby bird, you may not be fulfilling
the preferences of the parents who have assessed that they have too many
mouths to feed. They may have intentionally ejected, or allowed a sibling
to eject, the baby from the nest.
of nest siblicide, the killing of a brother or sister, has been documented
for some bird species. Siblicidal birds are not cannibals. They do not
eat their brothers and sisters, they just kill them, or force them from
the nest, which results in the death of the rejected bird. Siblicide has
been documented in eagles, egrets, pelicans, and other large birds, and
some smaller species may also force their nest mates to the ground before
they are ready.
of any animal species, whether we judge them as cooperative or cruel,
are generally those behaviors with the highest probability of passing
an individual's genes on to the next generation. The next time you see
a baby bird that's too young to fly, it may not represent an accident
but a deliberate act condoned by the parents. If you would feel better
rescuing the baby from an immediate danger, do so. But leave the bird's
ultimate fate up to nature.
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