Each year, especially during springtime, we get many calls from well-meaning and caring individuals who assume they have found an orphaned baby bird. They may have come across a bird that is partially feathered sitting on the ground below a tree and automatically assume that they fell from the nest and need to be helped. At this stage in a birds development, such birds are considered “fledglings”. Fledglings normally will jump or fall out of the nest. This is their flight training stage. The mother bird will then continue feeding the bird on the ground until the bird is able to fly, which usually only takes a few days. Unless it is injured or nearly naked, in which case it may die from hypothermia, these birds should be left where they are. A young animal’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural mother. There are many critical survival skills we can never teach them, including the times and locations to hunt or forage for food, how to avoid natural predators, or flying skills that are impossible to learn in even the largest aviary.
General Bird Info
Many times it is the nesting habits of birds that get them in trouble or at least raise questions with homeowners. For instance, starlings and house sparrows (being cavity dwellers) are attracted to dryer and stove vents and sparrows to gutters. They may also nest high up in chimneys or even in attics. Starlings are able to slip under vent flaps and build nests inside the vent if the vent is not covered with screen. Most calls about birds trapped in vents are really birds that have built nests there and are not trapped. Occasionally a bird or nest may slip too far down in the vent and becomes trapped.
Back yard feeding can be both helpful and dangerous to birds. Many people feed in the winter and pull the feeders in the spring, but seed can be very helpful to birds in the spring and early summer when natural foods are still scarce and their babies are making great feeding demands on them.
- Altricial birds are hatched totally dependent – not feathered, unable to walk, and unable to feed themselves. Songbirds, crows, pigeons and birds of prey (raptors) are altricial.
- Nestlings are young altricial birds who still cannot eat on their own; their beaks are not fully formed, and they cannot walk.
- Fledglings are older birds who have fledged – that is, left the nest. They have feathers, short tails (1/4″-1/2″), and can walk, hop and fly a little.
- Precocial Birds, goslings, ducklings, and killdeer are slightly more independent when born. They are down feathered, but not yet waterproof, able to walk, and are self-feeding.
If you do find a bird on the ground, every effort should be made to keep cats, dogs and children away from the animal so the parents can continue to feed it. Only after all efforts to reunite the bird with its parents have been exhausted, or it is clear that the baby is injured or orphaned, should the baby be removed from the wild. If you are unsure if the animal is a true orphan, look over the information below and contact a licensed rehabilitator in your area.Please do not try to raise the baby yourself:
- It is illegal.
- Proper care and nutrition are crucial to the survival of the baby and any deficiency will more than likely cost the animal its life. We frequently have people bring in babies they have been trying to raise themselves that are now having problems from an improper diet. What is good forone bird may kill another.
- Baby animals easily imprint on whoever is feeding them and steps are needed to prevent this. An animal that is imprinted on people can never be released back into the wild.
Handling Wild Birds
The most common misconception about birds is that if babies are handled by humans the mother will
abandon them. In fact, birds have a poor sense of smell and minimal handling of the babies will not cause a problem. Prolonged disturbing of the nest, however, may cause a parent to abandon it. The following information sections describe the most common type of bird rescue situations.
Raptors are birds of prey and protected by federal law. If you do find a bird of prey in distress, keep in mind the following guidelines and contact your local wildlife rehabilitator immediately:
If the bird is approachable:Passive or subdued place a towel over it covering its head and body. Gently folding the wings into the body lift the wrapped bird keeping your hands away from his talons (feet) and put it in a cardboard box with holes punched for ventilation. Get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible; the longer the delay, the less chance it has of surviving. Do not attempt to raise these birds on your own they require specialized diets and handling.If the bird is not approachable:Behaving aggressively and not able to fly off. Have someone watch the bird while you call a rehabilitator pick the bird up. If a large cardboard box can be safely placed over the bird, then do so. Your safety at this point is crucial.
Southern California Raptor Rehabilitation Contacts:
- Simi Valley: 805-581-3911
- South Bay: 310-378-9921
- Santa Barbara: 805-966-9005
How to rescue a seagull, cormorant or other seabird:
If the bird is acting weak – a normal healthy pelican will not let you approach closely:
- Grasp the bill with one hand. enough to keep it closed but not tightly. It’s very important to not hold the beak tightly closed as the bird does not have notrils, “nares” the pelican could suffocate.
- Calming the bird is important. Cover the heads of pelican, seagulls, cormorants and grebes; they do bite so keep them away from your face and eyes.
- With your other hand, scoop the bird up, holding the wings close to the body. Place in a box large enough for the bird and with air holes and transport to a wildlife care facility.
- They will be frightened; talk softly, be gentle and keep dogs and if possible people away. Weakened pelicans may have avian lice – when a bird cannot or does not have the energy to preen the lice multiply. Lice are a nuisance to the rescuer, but they do not bite people.
If you see an injured pelican or sea bird, call a wildlife rehabilitation center immediately:
Regional Wildlife Care Facilities in Southern California
- Santa Barbara: 805-966-9005
- Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol: 805-564-5530
- After business hours in Santa Barbara/ Ventura, call 805-967-1028
- Pacific Wildlife Care, San Luis Obispo: 805-543-9453
- Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz: 831-462-0726; 831-438-8380
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)
- Northern California: 4369 Cordelia Road • Fairfield, CA 94534 • 707-207-0380
- Southern California: 3601 South Gaffey St. • San Pedro, CA 90731 • 310-514-2573
S.B. Avian Wildlife Veterinarians and Emergency Care Facilities
Christine Sellers, DVM • 101 W. Mission St. • Santa Barbara, CA 93101 • 805-569-2287
CARE (California Animal Referral & Emergency Hospital)
301 E. Haley St. • Santa Barbara, CA 93101 • 805-899-CARE (2273)
24 hours emergency service
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association for rehabilitation information
1) Is the bird bald or feathered? If bald, blue eyed with a crimson mouth it is a nestling crow. Crows make their nest too high up to actually be able to place the baby back in the nest. Crow parents will not care for two nests at the same time, so making an alternate nest is not an option. This baby will need rehabilitation.
2) If developing sleek feathers, what is the tail length; very important to determine. In crows, if less than 4″ they need rehabilitation. If in doubt measure the tail.
3) Do not leave a nestling crow on the ground or put it back up in a bush or tree. If the bird is not within a few days of flying (refer to tail length), it will probably starve to death even if the parents are nearby.
4) Place the baby in a box that is lined with a soft material. If he is bald, he is not thermoregulating so he will need an external heat source. Double bag two ziplock bags and fill with warm water and place under the soft lining with in the box. Place box in a warm quiet area away from kids and pets.
5) If the baby is gaping (opens his mouth and begs) you may soak dog kibble until it is soft and moist and drop size appropriate pieces into his mouth until he stops. This may be offered every 30 minutes. Do not force open his mouth.
6) Do not offer water as he may aspirate (choke). He will get enough moisture from the soaked kibble. This will hold him temporarily until a rehabilitator gets back to you.
Answering “yes” to any of the questions below will necessitate bird rehabilitation.
- Is the tail less than 4″ in length?
- Is the mouth color pale pink to white (indicates anemia) or is it a healthy red?
- Is there any crusting, discharge, or white/yellow patches or warts in or around the eyes or mouth?
- Does the breast bone feel sharp, like the breast bone of a chicken with out the meat? You need to put your fingers through the feathers to feel the bone. The breast should feel plump on either side of the bone. If too thin, could indicate parasites, illness, or spending too long a period on the ground.
- Are there any sores or warts on the beak, eyes, joints or feet?
- Is it missing any feathers ?
- Do you feel mites on your hands when you handle the bird? Can you see mites in between his feathers on his skin? Mites will appear as very small red dots if they have already fed on the bird.
- Is he lethargic and staying in one place or non-responsive?
- Is he injured, limping,dragging a wing, stumbling?
Healthy Fledgling Crows
- Tail length is a determining factor in the age of crows. You can place a bird with a tail length exceeding 4″ in a high bush, or the branches of a tree with a thick-set canopy.
- Get the bird up off the ground and the parents will continue to care for him. In most situations the parents will not feed him on the ground, they will stay around making a lot of noise and may fly to the ground but generally will not feed him. If they do feed him, will not be able to feed enough to sustain him and he will starve.
- Be certain that his parents are there. They will be the ones making all the noise.
Injured Adult Crows not able to fly or visibly injured require immediate rehabilitation.
Healthy Bird Observation
Birds found on the ground that pass all of the criteria below with a responsive of ‘No’ and have a tail length exceeding 4″ can be placed back up as high into the trees as possible, where they were found:
- Is the bird attempting to fly up at least 3-4 feet or at least able to fly parallel to the ground?
- Is it holding both wings equally to its body when it is standing? Does it use both wings equally when it tries to fly?
- Does it use both legs equally when standing or walking?
- Does he have a strong grip with his feet? The bird will need to hang on to a branch when put back into a tree.
Southern California Crow Rehabilitation Contacts:
- Calabasas: 818-591-9453
- Orange County: 714-637-8355
- Santa Barbara: 805-966-9005
- Simi Valley: 805-581-3911
Read more about Crow Behavior
Feeding Geese and Ducks
The feeding of ducks and geese is not recommended. However, it is fine to feed in special circumstances such as when a mother is brooding or when a bird is injured. Both geese and mallards will eat dry corn, whole or cracked (whole has less waste and is less messy). These products can be obtained at a bird store, pet store, or feed store. Although birds eat bread, it does not provide the nutrition that is needed, particularly during cold weather or when brooding.
Catching an Injured Canadian Goose
In most instances an injured Canadian goose that can still fly should be left alone, particularly if the injury is an old one and the goose is getting by. Just observe the goose for a while and if it seems to be getting along all right, leave it alone.
There are circumstances when catching it is more important. These circumstances include, a fresh injury (particularly one showing infection) or when it is entangled in constricting material, fish line, six-pack ring, etc.
There are many pitfalls surrounding catching a Canadian goose, including attack by the mate and possible injury. Please call licensed rehabilitator in your area to talk through the process and determine what action should be taken.
Non-migrating Wintering Individual Goose
Sometimes a goose with a broken wing or angel wing who is unable to fly will stay behind in the fall when other geese migrate. Winters in this area are not usually severe and the goose should survive; many geese in this area do not migrate. Its greatest problem could be inability to find food sources and attacks by predators if the water freezes over. This is a situation where supplemental handouts of nutritious food may be helpful.
Ducklings Fallen Through Grates
If the mother and some of the babies are still around, they should be detained if possible (put them in a box) so they can be reunited after the rescue.
Anyone can make a makeshift tool quickly that will pull ducklings back up through grates or other areas where they have been trapped. Use two slim poles, broomsticks, golf clubs, PVC pipe, even fishing poles, and attach a hammock of netting between them with duct tape or, (less desirably, masking tape. The netting may be bird netting or even fabric, as long as the holes are small enough that a duckling won’t fall through. This can be gently lowered down and scooped under a duckling, then the duckling brought straight up through the opening in the grate. In a pinch, a scoop net can also be made using a pillow case on a long handle.
Family of Ducks/Geese Trying to Cross a Busy Highway
This situation is dangerous for the waterfowl and motorists alike. Be advised to contact the local law enforcement and have traffic stopped and the family herded across. If it is a local or residential road, several neighbors may be able to accomplish this. Ducks and geese will normally return to the nest for one or two days, so it may be necessary to do this more than once until they settle in at the water.
Nest of Ducks/Geese Hatched and is Trapped Away from Water Source
To relocate the family, several people should move quickly so as to stress the birds as little as possible. If there is water within walking distance but streets must be crossed, stop traffic and herd the family across, fanning out to keep them tightly bunched. Herd the chicks, and the parents will follow.
If necessary, such as when the babies must be taken down in an elevator, or if it is a farther walk, they should quickly put the babies in a cardboard box and carry it, lid open, so that the parents can hear the cheeping. The parents will stay with the chicks as long as they can hear them. They must go slowly so that the parents will follow. Rescuers should wear long sleeves and gloves, as the parents may start getting agitated when the babies are put in a box.
If it is impossible to walk to water and the family must be driven, frequently a mallard mother can be placed in the box with her chicks. If all precautions have been taken and the parents refuse to follow, or there are other complications, call a licensed rehabilitator in your area.
Rescue Phone Numbers in Southern California
|Crows & Ravens:
Simi Valley: 805-581-3911 / 805-428-7105
Orange County, Susan Doggett: 714-637-8355
|Hummingbirds:||Anne Stratton, Huntington Wetlands:
Mobile 1 (714) 454-7707
Cyndi John Gayley, Huntington Wetlands:
Mobile 1 (714) 580-1793
Christine Mih, Project Wildlife San Diego:
Mobile 1 (858) 610-3312
Vanessa Jones, Project Wildlife San Diego:
Mobile 1 (760) 889-9587
Chula Vista Hummingbird Rescue Center: 619-420-5156
Teresa Micco, Redondo Beach: 703.307.8350
|Raptors & Birds of Prey:
Orange County: 714-637-8355
Orange County Bird of Prey Center: 949-837-0786
Simi Valley: 805-428-7105
Lake Forest (949) 837-0786
Ranch Palos Verde (310) 378-9921
San Pedro: 310-514-2573 – International Bird Research and Rescue Center – IBRRC
|Shore Birds and Wild Ducks:
||San Pedro: 310-514-2573 – International Bird Research and Rescue Center – IBRRC|
|SMALL Songbirds (i.e. finches and wrens):
Vicky, Huntington Wetlands:
Fountain Valley (714) 964-0666
Laguna Niguel Pacific Wildlife Project: 949-831-1178
San Dimas: 909-592-4900
Susie/Granada Hills 818-903-5467
Chatsworth, Lindsey Brooks: 818-620-6061