It’s that time of the season. Many birds are now brooding clutches of eggs, which soon will produce many gaping, hungry mouths. Some have fledged already.
What should you do if you happen upon a baby bird? For an answer, I asked an expert in the field of wildlife rehabilitation.
“People are doing a really good thing by caring,” said Ann Rivers, director of the Acadia Wildlife Foundation on Mount Desert Island. “The trick is to convince them to take the next step.”
That next step is consulting a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and turning the bird over should it indeed be in need of care.
Rivers said she has a specific set of questions she asks when someone calls about a baby bird. After determining what kind of bird it is, the behavior it’s exhibiting, how it was found and its condition, she will advise the person how to proceed. Sometimes, it is only a matter of putting the bird back where it was found.
Robins are most often in this scenario, as they will jump out of the nest before their flight feathers are fully developed. Although not capable of sustained flight, they will flutter about on the ground and up into low bushes. Their parents will feed them as they continue to grow – this is a natural situation for them.
Many people believe that parents abandon babies once humans have handled them.
“That is the biggest myth going – the parents want these babies, they have put so much effort into raising them,” Rivers said emphatically. This is especially true of many birds, which have a minimal sense of smell. However, even baby mammals can be returned without fear of rejection, she said.
If the bird is injured, or if its parents have been killed, Rivers asks that the youngster be transported to her or to another rehabilitator located conveniently to the good Samaritan. She has several reasons for this.
“The amount of care is huge,” Rivers said, adding that baby birds must be fed and cleaned every 15 minutes for up to 18 hours a day. Their diets must be “perfect” – a diet without sufficient calcium, for example, will cause bone deformities within 24 hours, she said.
Keeping or housing a wild animal without a license is also illegal, Rivers said. People who want to care for wildlife need to take steps to obtain state and federal permits.
Unless the bird is in imminent danger, Rivers advises people to call before they act.
If you do need to rescue a baby bird, place it in a quiet, warm place, such as a ventilated box or a paper bag with holes punched into it. Do not attempt to give food or water to the bird. Then call a rehabilitator.
Avoidance of unnecessary stress for the bird ensures its chances of survival and its return to what it was meant to be – wild.
If you have questions about a bird you have found, you can call Acadia Wildlife Foundation at 288-4960. Another good rehabilitation center is Avian Haven, located in Freedom, at 382-6761. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife office, your local veterinarian or humane society can also refer you to a rehabilitator in your area.
Chris Corio, a volunteer at Fields Pond Nature Center, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.