Baby birds: To help or not to help?
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Baby birds: To help or not to help?

May 25, 2021

Spring has sprung! This means there are plenty of baby animals of all shapes and sizes being welcomed into the world by their anxious parents throughout the province, including birds, who are in their nesting season.

Baby robins in nest with blue egg
Photo credit: Joanne Miller

From March through July, our feathered friends are busy caring for their young and it’s important for us to help keep them safe.  As these baby birds grow up, there may be situations where you encounter them, and it’s hard to tell if they need help or not. Some stages of their development will naturally look a little awkward – and while you may want to help, it’s best not to intervene unnecessarily.

A baby bird will always need help if:

  • They have an obvious injury (e.g., visible blood or broken bones)
  • There are other dead birds in the nest
  • They are caught by a cat or the nest is discovered by a cat
  • The babies appear lethargic, instead of bright and alert

baby bird infographic“While we may have the best of intentions, lending a hand could actually cause more trouble for baby birds in some cases,” says Andrea Wallace, BC SPCA manager, wild animal welfare.

“Knowing what to look for when you see a baby bird is key to decide whether or not you need to intervene. Is the baby a nestling or a fledgling? The answer to that question can determine what you do next.”

Nestling or fledgling?

A hatchling is a featherless, downy baby bird, where a nestling is an incompletely feathered bird. Nestling and hatchlings shouldn’t be outside the nest. If you find them on the ground, you can try to return the bird back to his nest, which could be in a nearby tree, shrub or on the outside of a building.

If you can reach, return the young one back home. Rest assured, your scent won’t cause the baby to be rejected. If the nest has also fallen to the ground and you can’t secure it back in its original position, call the BC SPCA at 1-855-622-7722 for advice.

Fledglings are older, nearly fully feathered birds who are learning to fly and live out of the nest. When encountering these young birds, it’s important to be certain whether they truly require assistance.

Young pigeons in care at Wild ARC

“Fledglings are often clumsy and can appear to be hurt when they’re really just practicing their flying skills,” says Wallace.

“When they are first out of the nest, the parents still keep track of them and feed them for several days. So, unless they are in immediate danger from predation or traffic, it’s best to leave them alone.”

The fledgling stage is when baby birds are at their most vulnerable. Make your backyard safer by keeping cats indoors and dogs leashed and out of the area to help protect them during this stage. Another important factor in keeping baby birds safe is to never attempt to care for or raise them yourself.

“You should never try to give food or water to a baby bird. In fact, it is against the law in B.C. to keep any indigenous wildlife without a permit,” says Wallace.

If you ever have any doubts about a bird’s safety, contact the BC SPCA at 1-855-622-7722 or your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre for advice. They can help you determine if the bird needs help, and what you can do for them.