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Helping Florida's Wildlife: Baby Birds
A guide to help you make the best decision concerning when and when not to assist wildlife.
In nature, young animals sometimes become separated from their parents and need help. If the mother's dead body has been seen or the young one is obviously injured, ill, cold, or starving - intervention is necessary. In many cases, however, when baby birds appear "orphaned" they actually are being well cared for. Over 75% of young animals that are rescued by well intentioned people do not need help.
Before you make any decision to intervene, the most important thing to do is to patiently observe the young bird in its surroundings to decide if the baby actually needs help. Was there a storm with high winds? Could it have fallen from the nest? If the baby bird is fully feathered and hopping around, it has probably reached that age when it is practicing its flying and foraging skills. The parents are still protecting and feeding them at this stage, which only lasts 2-3 days. Confining any cats, dogs, and children and placing the baby bird in a safer area if necessary (up on some branches), is the best way you can help. Wildlife's natural parents are always better at caring for them than human foster parents. Quite simply, a wild animal's chance of survival is greatly increased when left in its natural environment.
If the baby bird has no feathers or can not stand or perch it must be returned to the nest. Human scent does NOT cause abandonment as the old wives' tale says. Abandonment occurs when the parent bird loses visual contact with the baby for a period of time (which is different for some species.) This will happen if you are standing in the area, keeping the parents from their job, so do what you need to as quickly as possible. If you cannot locate the nest or it has been destroyed, simply create a substitute. Use a plastic berry box or a planter with drain holes. Cushion the bottom with natural non-absorbent material such as pine straw. Next, anchor it securely to the shady side of a tree or in shrubs close to where you discovered the baby. Parent birds have a strong urge to feed and will locate and tend their young if given a chance. Gently place the baby bird in the new nest and observe it from a good distance, checking periodically to make sure the parents return. If the nest is in an awkward place and must be moved, move it a few feet each day to a safer position.
If the parent does not return within 1 hour to the nest or 2 hours to the baby on the ground, and you decide to take responsibility for the young bird, it is important to get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. They are permitted by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide care for wildlife. Keep the bird in a warm, dark and quiet place where they can't move around much, such as a small box and don't attempt to feed it.
Always keep in mind that it is illegal to harass, harm, or possess wildlife. Enjoy observing wild animals in their natural surroundings, but don't try to touch them. If you observe someone harming or harassing wildlife, contact your local Fish and Game department immediately. Your quick actions may help save a wild life!
(A portion of this information is taken from the Florida Audubon Society brochure October 1993)
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