Finding Baby Wild Birds: The Hands-Off Approach and When to Intervene?

Scooter Squirrel! Monarch of all he surveys!!

Scooter Squirrel! Monarch of all he surveys!!

It’s a common occurrence. From high atop his Northwood Commons perches in Clearwater, scooter squirrel has seen it time and again. We’re doing a bit of yard work, mowing our lush Florida lawns, trimming some hedges or pruning some palms when we see it; an orphaned baby bird. Floundering on the ground, stretching wing or drifting clumsily from one dense tree line to another, we assume this poor creature to be filled with all sorts of terror and uncertainty as to its dwindling fate.

…And that’s when scooter laughs at us.

Most often, the tragedy we assume to be occurring right in front of our very eyes isn’t tragic at all. It’s a natural process endowed by Mother Nature to ensure a healthy and strong growth process for each adolescent bird. The seemingly abandoned, lost, injured or otherwise “distressed” baby bird is most likely a fledgling just out of the nest, learning to fly for the first time. If you observe carefully, you will find a nearby nest and parents watching their youngster with tenacious regard and, if you venture too near, like a kamikaze mission on a strafing run, these docile beauties will become feathered bullets and think nothing of leaving you with a shocking reminder that they have everything under control.

…And that’s when Scooter laughs at us.

baby birds morguefile-tat

We may look helpless, but we’re really pretty strong!

This, however, is not to say we should not intervene when danger is imminent. But what do we define as imminent and when should we intervene? There are instances where our best intentions are needed in order to ensure the baby bird remains safe against obvious danger. Read further to define when we should lend a hand and what to do with our wild bird baby if we feel we must intervene.

  • Assess the situation
    Is this truly a bird in distress? Check for parents and a nest nearby. If the baby bird has all its feathers, eyes opened and is moving vigorously, this is most likely a perfectly healthy fledgling learning to fly. If possible, carefully place the baby bird back in its nest or under some nearby shrubbery where it may sit undetected. Observe for a few minutes from a distance. If the bird is in danger from household pets, traffic or weather conditions, it may be best to help guard the infant, again, at a distance, until it flies away or moves to an area of safety. If the bird must be moved, do so carefully. Using a soft cloth, drape the wild baby bird and lift carefully, cupping it in your hand. Move the baby wild bird within only a few feet of where you first found it but far enough from whatever danger you have observed. The theory that human scent on a fledgling will make the parents reject it, is not -nor has it ever been- true. Birds have a terrible sense of smell and a mother bird will not reject its baby bird if humans have touched it.  As Florida is host to raptor birds such as hawks and eagles, and since identifying a small bird isn’t usually on anyone’s resume, moving a baby wild bird should come with caveats as the parents may still be near and will defend their offspring.

…And that’s when Scooter laughs at us.Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop


  • When to bring the baby wild bird inside?


    There are times when we must intervene no matter the assumed danger.  Often times hatchlings will fall from nests due to predatory activity, as sibling movements become more vigorous during feeding, or when one of Florida’s legendary storms hits. Whatever the reason, these babies will not survive without assistance and this is where our good intentions are most warranted. Observe the wild baby bird. If the baby is featherless, with large, bulbous eyes, and a translucent appearance of the skin over the abdomen, this baby will need immediate assistance. This is a newly hatched baby bird that cannot survive outside the nest no matter its parents involvement. The priority for a hatchling is warmth. Line a small box with soft fabric, Wild Birds Unlimited’s brand of wool from a woolies bundle, or some other soft but clean padding material. Place a towel over a heating pad set to its lowest heat level. Set the box on top of the heating pad and cover all but one corner with a cloth. Covering the box will help calm the baby wild bird while leaving one corner open will offer ventilation. Place this assembly in a quiet, low activity area of your home with no drafts. (Do not apply heat lamps as these can injure the baby’s eyes or tender skin.) Call a local wild bird rehabber immediately.

General points to ponder when assisting a wild baby bird:

  1. It’s best to call one of Pinellas County’s experienced wild bird rehabbers if in doubt. Check below for a list of great ones here in the Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Tampa and St. Petersburg areas. Wildlife and wild bird rehab centers specialize in the care of wild birds and their young. Luckily for those of us in the Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg areas, we have an abundance of high quality organizations and individuals who can help you.
  2. Do not drip water directly into a baby bird’s mouth. Baby birds can aspirate easily. If a rehabber cannot be obtained immediately and the baby needs fluids, it is suggested to dip your finger in room temperature water and stroke the fluid gently upon the tip of the beak.
  3. Do not touch the baby bird more than necessary. Baby wild birds can exhaust themselves due to stress so the less is more rule should be observed at all times.
  4. Unless you’d like to end up in a cell, explaining your meager arrest record to “Big Jim”, the seasoned criminal  …Do not plan to keep a wild baby bird. It is actually illegal in all fifty states to keep a wild bird. Besides, bribing scooter with seed and feed to keep his mouth shut would be cost prohibitive.

…And that’s when Scooter would REALLY laugh at us!

Pinellas County Florida area wildlife rehabbers:


Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop

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Hammock Bird Banding

A dynamic update on the Migratory Bird Banding Project in Hammock Park, Dunedin, Florida.

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