Animal Writes
16 May 2001 Issue
From the Beakly News

by [email protected] 

Each spring and summer orphaned altricial birds are brought to me by their so-called rescuers ("kidnappers" is a more appropriate term, in many cases). Frequently, young birds and mammals leave the nest before they are able to fly or fend for themselves and spend many dangerous hours --
sometimes days -- on the ground. During this time, the parents are watching out for their fledglings, feeding them and teaching them by example. This is necessary time, when they learn the call, song and behavior of their species, and to find appropriate food.

One method to determine whether or not a fully-feathered youngster has left the nest on his own is to note the length of its tail feathers. This is a good indicator of the bird's age and maturity. If the tail feathers are 1/2" long or more, the bird should be treated as an adult -- leave it alone. If a fledgling with this stub of tail is hopping on the ground and unable to fly, the best thing to do is to place it up on a tree branch or high in a shrub in the immediate area. The parents are watching and are ready to go to it as
soon as you leave. Don't worry about getting human scent on the fledgling -- songbirds have an under-developed sense of smell.

A tiny unfeathered bird should be placed back in its nest if at all possible. If you don't know where the nest is, keep the bird warm and safe until you make arrangements with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for its continued care. Do not attempt to feed a tiny nestling. It is surprising to note the number of people who mash worms and attempt to feed baby birds. An unfeathered nestling's immediate need is warmth -- minimum of 90 to 100 degrees ambient temperature. The normal body temperature of a small bird is 106 to 109 degrees, and hypothermia is the biggest threat to survival, not starvation. Dehydration is the second life threatening problem. Drops of Pedialite can be placed at the side of the beak with a toothpick only if the tiny bird is thoroughly warmed. These tiny drops offered every 5 to 10 minutes will help prevent dehydration.

It is illegal to keep a federally protected bird without the proper permit. Introduced species such as the house sparrow, European starling and pigeon (rock dove) do not fall into this protected category. The feathers, nest and eggs are treated as the bird itself and are illegal to have in one's possession. If you find a baby bird that has truly been orphaned and is too young to fend for itself, placement with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is the best course of action. A rehabber in your area may be found through this website.

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