The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Monday, June 30, 2003


Photo by Mary Curry

Birds and Beyond
Don't Mess with Baby Birds
Claire Curry, June 2003, Wise County Messenger, © 2003

You may find it on the ground, in a path, on a sidewalk, or in your dog or cat’s mouth. You could find it while taking a walk, while gardening, or letting out the pet. What is this? It’s a baby bird, seemingly helpless and orphaned, hopping around on the ground.

At this time of year, many young birds are getting ready to leave the nest. Some, like the familiar Killdeer, hatch covered in down (precocial) and depart their nest almost immediately. Others, such as the Blue Jay, hatch helpless and naked (atricial) and stay in the nest for a while. Once they have become feathered, the still-flightless birds hop out of the nest. This is perfectly normal. However, people sometimes find these birds on the ground, and try to “raise” the bird.

If you happen to discover a young bird on the ground, first determine if it actually needs help. If it is a nestling (helpless and naked or with some down), find its nest and put it back in. Parent birds do not care about human scent. If you can’t find the nest, make a substitute out of a small container, and line it with grass or leaves. More often, though, fledglings (the feathered but flightless young birds) are found. They should be left alone. The parent birds will feed them, even though they are on the ground. The young birds will make sure that Mom and Dad know they are hungry! If the young bird is in imminent danger from a cat or dog, keep the pets in house, locked up, or away from the bird until it can fly. If the bird is in danger of being trampled, you can set it in a bush or a tree.

For more information, please visit www.tallgrasstexas.org and click on “Found Baby Bird”. The American Bird Conservancy’s website www.abcbirds.org/cats/ is also useful concerning the dangers of outdoor domestic cats, which can prey on young birds.

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