Spring means the start of new generations for many kinds of wildlife. It’s only natural to want to help the animals that are a part of our lives, and many of us feel a duty to help when we see wildlife in need. However, it’s sometimes difficult to tell when animals like baby birds are in need of our assistance. Here are a few helpful tips to know when to offer help to young birds, and when it’s best to leave them alone.

If you see a fallen nest on the ground with baby birds or eggs in it, it’s best to carefully place the entire nest back into a tree or bush near where you think it was. You can also secure a dish or basket into a tree or bush and place the nest inside it. Don’t take the nest indoors or remove anything from it. Many birds will return to a nest once it is secured off the ground and you’ve left the area. Birds have a poor sense of smell, so the old myth about a bird abandoning a nest or young because they’ve been handled and now smell like humans is just that, a myth. If you don’t linger or disturb the nest further, many parent birds will return and continue their duties.

If you see a young bird on the ground, take a moment to look closely at it before you attempt to offer help. If the baby bird has few to no feathers and seems completely helpless, it may be a nestling which has fallen from the nest early. Try to identify where the nest is and gently and carefully return the nestling to it. If you can’t find or reach the nest, the nestling can be placed in a dish or basket secured off the ground where the parents can find it and continue to care for it. Just as with fallen nests, many birds will continue to care for a nestling once you leave the area and the nestling is not being further disturbed. Do not take the nestling indoors or attempt to feed it. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to provide the same level of care and attention as a parent bird. Special permits are required to care for native wildlife; trying to do so without one can incur large fines.

If the baby bird has feathers and is making noise, it is likely a fledgling which is learning to fly and fend for itself. In these cases, it’s best not to touch or disturb the fledgling unless it is in immediate danger. You may or may not be able to see the parents nearby, but the fledgling’s calls help its parents find and feed it during this stage of development. Do not try to feed the fledgling yourself or attempt to take it indoors. Keep pets indoors if you see a fledgling in your yard to keep the fledgling safe. The parents will return to feed and care for it once you’ve left the area and the fledgling is no longer being disturbed.

If you find a bird that appears stunned from hitting a window, it’s best to leave the bird where it is if it’s not in immediate danger. Cover the bird with a laundry basket, box or colander, or place it in a loosely closed paper bag to protect it from predators while it regains its senses, which usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. Once you see or hear the bird stirring, release it. In most cases the bird will fly away once it has recovered.

If the bird you have found is clearly injured or sick, it’s best to contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators to help you. Follow the rehabilitator’s instructions on how to get the injured or sick bird into their care. Don’t attempt to care for the bird at home. Many wild birds can carry diseases and parasites that are harmful to you or your pets. Additionally, sick and injured birds require specialized care, skills and knowledge in order to survive and recover without becoming dependent on humans. A licensed rehabilitator is your best choice to provide this.

As we continue to celebrate National Geographic’s Year of the Bird at the zoo, look for more articles and events happening this year that focus on our avian friends. We hope that you’ll come out and enjoy birds with us, whether at the zoo or in your own backyard.


Sarah Colman is general curator at Lee Richardson Zoo.