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.

Bird Stages

  • 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.

Will it give me rabies? No. Birds do not carry rabies.

How can I catch it? It is almost impossible to catch a bird that can still fly. If it seems weak and you would like to try to catch it, use a pool net or a makeshift net such as a wire coat hanger bent into a circle and run through the hem of a pillowcase. This will provide adequate control.

A sick or weak bird that is on the ground can easily be caught by throwing a towel over it. If possible, approach the bird with the towel between you and the bird so that it does not see your face. Once it is in the dark, it will be easy to handle.

Why does it keep running into or attacking my window and how can I stop it? There are generally two possibilities for repeated window strikes:

  1. Territorial birds who see their reflection in a shiny surface (window, car windshield, even shiny car surface) will attack the reflection believing it to be an intruder. Generally, they do not seriously hurt themselves when they do this, and fly away immediately. This generally happens during the spring mating season. The solution is to eliminate the reflection for several days. Drawing drapes or putting paper inside the house is not good enough as there will still be a reflection. The paper must go on the outside of the window.
  2. Some birds seem to be particularly persistent, particularly when a car is involved. In that case, another alternative might be to hang a mirror from a nearby tree to distract the bird’s attention for a few days while covering or moving the car.
  3. Birds may also strike windows (with more force, frequently hurting themselves) because they can see through the window to green space and do not realize the window is there. Sheer blinds or closing doors to eliminate the view, strips of tinfoil, hawk silhouettes, stained glass decorations, tape strips and other tactics may be necessary to eliminate this risk. It may also help to plant bushes in front of the windows.

Bird trapped in house. Birds will always fly toward the light. Walk through the following rescue steps:

  1. Confine the bird to one room if possible. Cover mirrors and close curtains in that room.
  2. Open windows and doors and turn off the lights.
  3. Keep people and pets out of the room until the bird goes out.
  4. If there is no way the bird can get out, lead it toward a door or window by closing off or darkening the house, except for a path to the exit.
  5. If the bird is hurt and hiding in the room, give it an hour or so (staying out of the room) to come out in the open. Try putting out birdseed, water, or a piece of apple to tempt it. If it can’t be reached or cornered, call a licensed rehabilitator in your area. for advice.
  6. A healthy bird should be released in its own neighborhood. If the bird is obviously injured or won’t fly away, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Bird trapped in store. Occasionally large grocery or department stores call about birds (usually a starling or sparrow) is trapped. This is extremely difficult because frequently the suggestions you offer cannot be done (particularly in a 24-hour store). You can offer suggestions, but if they cannot turn out the lights and open a door to the outside, they may need to call a local wildlife company with proper equipment and pay a fee to have the bird caught and released.

Birds trapped in ductwork or tight spacesA bird that has fallen into a deep or tight place may climb out on a rough branch or knotted cloth rope carefully lowered to it and fastened at the top.

Birds do occasionally get trapped in oven and dryer vents, heating and cooling systems, walls, or between chimney and chimney flashing. Sometimes (as in the case of between the chimney and flashing or behind a built-in microwave) there is nothing that can be done to rescue it unless the homeowner is willing to have a handyman cut into the wall or vent, or remove a piece of the ductwork or equipment.

A bird behind an oven may be rescued by pulling the oven away from the wall. The bird, if not injured, will most likely fly into the room. It will then have to be moved to the outside. If nestlings are rescued uninjured, they can be renested outside using a milk jug near the opening that led to the nest. Fledglings can be put in a shrub nearby. Weak or injured birds must go to a licensed rehabilitator in your area.

After rescue, any nest debris should be cleaned out and the hole in screen or vent should be repaired using ½ – ¾” hardware cloth.

Bird with oil or sticky material on its body. Birds that have oil or sticky material on any parts of their body are severely hampered and may be unable to fly, eat, or breathe properly. Sometimes birds in their search for insects may become attached to insect or mouse pest strips; in their struggle to get free, they can become seriously injured. Although sometimes the manufacturer will recommend removal techniques, removal of any of these materials is a delicate, lengthy process and must not be attempted by anyone other than a federally licensed rehabilitator.After the material is removed, the removal process may actually destroy the bird’s waterproofing, and it may have to be re-waterproofed before it can be released.

Any large oil or chemical spill or a spill of any size in progress should be reported to 911 immediately. Established, non-active spills of any size should be reported to the local jurisdiction’s Fire Marshall Hazardous Materials section.

Late migrating birds. In general, birds follow their own timetable and will migrate when they feel the time is right. Many waterfowl no longer migrate. If the situation seems very unusual, such as an individual bird that did not migrate when others of its species did, refer to a licensed rehabilitator in your area.

Birds with eye problems. Sparrows and finches may be seen around the feeder with conjunctivitis, a crusty-looking eye condition that eventually closes the eyes and blinds them. This is highly contagious to other sparrows and finches. Although in the early stages of the disease the bird is not ill enough to be caught. At some point, however, an infected bird will no longer be able to fly and can be easily caught. Conjunctivitis is not known to be contagious to humans, but a towel or gloves should still be used to handle the bird. The bird can be successfully treated by a licensed rehabilitator. Remove the bird feeder for several weeks to stop the spread of the disease and follow a rigorous cleaning protocol.

Birds with fishing hook, twine, or other debris twisted around them. This is a potentially lethal situation, but in most cases the bird cannot be caught until it is too ill or weak to fly any longer. If it can be caught and is in poor condition, the bird needs to be examined carefully by a rehabilitator or veterinarian before it is released, and possibly receive supplemental feeding for a few days to regain its strength. Sometimes birds get caught in a tree, and tangled in string. This is usually because string has been used as a nest-building material, although sometimes kite string (frequently fishing line) is caught in the tree. If the bird can be safely reached with a ladder, try the following instructions to free the bird:

  1. Hold the bird or put a light towel or cloth around it so it can’t fly away, then cut the string.
  2. Immediately place the bird in a covered box in a warm, dark, quiet place until it has rested and is less stressed, about an hour.
  3. Take the box into a confined area (powder room is good) where the bird has no place to go if it escapes.
  4. Cover the bird with a towel and gently pull out the string-wrapped limb. Cut the string off with the smallest scissors (nail scissors are good) possible. If the flesh is broken or swollen, or the string will not come off, is imbedded or has a hook attached, contact a rehabilitator immediately.

If you cannot reach the bird with a ladder, there may be nothing that can be done unless you are willing to hire someone to reach the injured animal such as your local Animal Control agency. Anytime a raptor is in distress, it should be referred immediately to animal control and/or a raptor rehabilitator.

Escaped or released pet birds. We receive a lot of calls about pet birds, particularly in the fall. You may wish to find a local pet bird club who usually has someone specializing in retrieving pet birds. This is not something with which we are generally able to assist.

Nest appears to be abandoned
It is rare for a nest to be abandoned. The older and more feathered the baby bird becomes, the less often the parent is sighted, and the quieter the babies are. When approached, the babies will get down and remain still and quiet. The parents zip in and out very quickly to feed. Someone must watch the nest constantly (from a distance) for a least 45 minutes to see if the parents return. If you know that one or more parents have been killed, contact a licensed rehabilitator in your area.

Children disturbing a nest
Try to Replace babies and/or nest. Warn children to stay away. If problem persists, refer to rehabilitator as the parents may abandon the nest.

Predators disturbing nest
House sparrows often will go into a nest box and eject inhabitants to take possession of the box. Sometimes putting up a another nest box will solve the housing crisis.

Black snakes, raccoons, crows, blue jays and many other predators raid nests and eat nestlings and eggs. There is usually nothing that can be done and nature must take its course. If a nest box is being used, there may be alternatives or design modifications – suggest the caller contact a bird store.

Unhatched bird eggs found
If an egg has fallen from the nest it may be returned if it has not been out too long. In general, if the mother has disappeared or a nest has been down for a while, dispose of the eggs. Eggs can only be left at most a couple of hours without brooding. There are 3 factors to proper egg hatching, and there is not much known about the successful combination of these factors:

  1. Rotation: the mother turns the eggs several times a day
  2. Humidity: a proper range must be maintained
  3. Temperature: ???

If you are not convinced by above, know that even if the egg should hatch, the baby bird is not likely to live. Birds that are not raised by their mothers during the first three days have a very high mortality rate. This is because during the feeding process the saliva of the mother transmits natural immunities to the babies. Without this immunity transfer from the mother, it is unlikely the baby will live more than three days anyway.

Nest in an unsafe or undesirable place
In general, remember that bird nests may not be disturbed if there are eggs or babies in them (Federal law). The only exceptions are pigeons, European starlings, and English sparrows. If the eggs are not yet laid, it is fine to tear down the nest. The bird will attempt to rebuild it but eventually should give up and build elsewhere.

Nest in parking lot, on sidewalk, rooftop, etc.
Killdeer like pavement for nesting and will build nests in parking lots, construction sites, etc. Other birds which nest various places on the ground include quail, ducks, and geese. The nest must be left alone, but may be protected by barricades or signs.

Canadian geese in particular frequently build nests on top of parking structures, on balconies, or across busy streets from water. They will build where they can see water, but may have difficulty getting the unflighted goslings to the water after they hatch. Get a group together who will assist the family in getting to water (approximately 28 days after the mother begins to sit on the nest). See duck and goose information.

Birds in vents and gutters
Birds in vents and gutters are most likely to be starlings and house sparrows. Mothers build nests in these locations; they are rarely trapped. If possible, encourage people to wait approximately 3 weeks until babies leave the nest, clean out the debris, and screen the vent.

If the nest has to be moved, or falls out, they can make a new nest in a clean one gallon container (preferably with cap on) with a hole cut in the side for the mother to get in and drainage holes in the bottom, filled with the old nest or grass, etc. They should hang it near the entry hole outside of the house (out of direct sun), where the mother will pass by, and watch to make sure the parents return. If nest not accepted, refer to rehabilitator.

Birds in chimney
These occur in late July through mid August. They are chimney swifts, often mistaken for bats. Because they cannot perch like songbirds, chimney swifts must have deep shafts in which to raise their families and roost at night. They make a chattering or hissing noise which is sometimes mistaken for rats, bats or even snakes. Swifts eat mosquitoes and other flying-insect pests, and assure them that the noise will be gone within three weeks when the youngsters fly away. It is illegal to remove nesting swifts (even for chimney cleaning companies), but swifts migrate out in fall. Adults look like cigars with wings when flying.

Chimney swifts make a nest of saliva and sticks on one side of the chimney; the nest often falls down. The caller can make a nest from a basket and place it back up on the ledge above the flue, closing the damper. If the babies are cold, they must be warmed before replacing. The parents will come all the way down the chimney to feed. If babies can cling to side of chimney, they can stick the baby back up, close the damper, and the babies will work their way up the side of the chimney. If birds get into the house from the fireplace and can fly, follow instructions for birds trapped in the house, or corner the bird, pick it up and stick it back up the chimney.

Bird nests in hanging baskets
Water carefully around edges of basket, or allow ice cubes to melt around edge in hot weather.

Rescue Phone Numbers in Southern California

Crows & Ravens:
Malibu: 818-222-2658
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
Anaheim: 714-635-3368
Chula Vista Hummingbird Rescue Center: 619-420-5156
Ventura: 805-320-2438
Teresa Micco, Redondo Beach: 703.307.8350
Temecula: 951.551.5208
Raptors & Birds of Prey:
Malibu: 818-222-2658
Ojai: 805-798-3600
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
Temecula 951.551.5208
Seabirds: Malibu: 818-222-2658
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:
Mobile 1 (714) 222-6817

Camarillo: 805-482-4127
Fountain Valley (714) 964-0666
Laguna Niguel Pacific Wildlife Project: 949-831-1178
Malibu: 818-222-2658
San Dimas: 909-592-4900
Susie/Granada Hills 818-903-5467
Temecula 951.551.5208
Ventura: 805-320-2438
Chatsworth, Lindsey Brooks: 818-620-6061