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Chicks, Nestlings & Fledglings - When to rescue that bird on the ground

Spring is in the air, and so are the chirping sounds of baby birds. It’s during this season that we often see lots of nestlings and fledglings found on the ground by caring and concerned animal lovers, but what are the best things to do when you find a little bird out of its nest?

First off, let’s address one of the most common myths – that if the babies are handled by humans they will then be rejected by their parents. This isn’t true.

Bird parents (like so many other animals) have strong bonds with their offspring, and they will be more concerned that their chick is back safely in their nest than if they have been handled.

That having been said, it’s best practice to handle baby birds as little as possible. They’re fragile little creatures, and we don’t want to accidentally hurt them or cause them stress.

Magpie nestlings screaming for food in their nest
Magpie Nestlings haven't yet grown their flying feathers

The first thing to decide when you see a baby bird on the ground is whether it is injured.

If it is, the best thing to do is to ring Fauna Rescue of South Australia on (08) 8289 0896 for advice as to what to do next.

But if the bird’s not injured, you’ll need to ask a few more questions to find the right steps to take.

Has the bird got feathers?

If it doesn’t it is a hatchling or a nestling. These extremely young birds cannot survive without their parents, and they are better of being returned to their nest as quickly as possible. If you can see their nest, carefully and gently place the chick back in its nest and keep watch to make sure the parents return. If they do, you’ve successfully rescued them – well done!

If you can’t see their nest, you can make one out of an old bucket (see below) and place the chick carefully and gently in their new makeshift home.

Place the bucket somewhere off the ground near where you found the baby, and again, keep watch for the parents. Most times they will return and keep tending to their chick in their new home.

If they do, you’ve rescued them!

But what if the bird has feathers?

Baby birds with good feather coverage are fledglings or juvenile birds. They have to spend some time on the ground as part of the process of growing up.

If you find an uninjured fledgling or juvenile the best question to ask is whether it is in immediate danger or not.

If it isn’t, it’s best to leave the chick where it is. You might want to keep a watch on them to make sure they stay out of danger, but being on the ground is part of growing up for most birds we encounter.

If the fledgling you’ve found is in immediate danger though, whether from predators, traffic or other perils, the best plan is to gently place them on a branch of a nearby tree and let them handle it from there.

Again, you can keep watch to make sure it stays out of immediate danger, but remember, being on the ground sometimes is all part of a chick growing up.

If at any time you are unsure of what to do, or need more advice, the best plan is to ring Fauna Rescue SA on (08) 8289 0896.

They are experts at how to handle and help our native species, including birds, and can provide you with practical information about how to handle the unique situation you and your rescued chick are in.

If you follow these steps, you can go a long way to keeping our native birds and their chicks safe, and you might even get a thank you from a happy feathered parent!


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