The time is now upon us when the first fledglings of the season are starting to hatch. This is also the time when we all like to go into nature and start exploring the animal life and their environment. There are some things to remember though as we venture into the wilderness and we need to stop and think before we try to help nature out. The best of intentions can prove devastating to young animals and particularly birds so here are some tips in case you come across a young fledgling.
As someone who used to work in the animal charity sector, I would receive many calls from the public who had found a young bird unable to fly, but otherwise healthy, and had brought them home to take care of them until I could arrive to collect it. I always wondered what they thought I would do for the bird. Did they think I would personally hand rear it and replace its mother? Or perhaps take it to a fledgling “hotel” where it can relax until take off? Unfortunately it does not work this way and the stress placed upon the young bird is substantial. When taken from the wild to the home and especially if they could not remember the exact location where they found the bird, I would often have to take the bird away to a local sanctuary. Often the young bird would pass away in transit and in the majority of cases they would die after a few days of hand feeding. So what should be done when a young bird is found?
Most species of bird after hatching will spend a few days on the ground before they start to fly. This is what they are designed to do. During this process the parent birds will come down to feed the young one and at the same time teach the bird vital life skills such as predator awareness and food recognition. By removing a bird such as this from its surroundings will deprive it of this vital education. The chances of the bird then surviving in the wild even if it does make it that far, becomes very slim for it has not had the chance to develop these vital life skills. The parents can leave their young for up to four hours before returning so the chance that they have been abandoned is remote. If the area is busy one can place the bird out of the way under a bush. This is only if absolutely necessary and the bush must be exactly where the bird was found. It is no use taking it a couple of blocks away to the nearest park. It must remain in that area for that is where the parents will be
A nestling bird is one that has few or no feathers and eyes closed. If one is found on the ground it is because it fell out rather than being abandoned. Here the nestling can be placed back in the nest if locatable. It is not true that if you touch a young bird the mother will disown them. Birds have a very poor sense of smell yet have a fantastic sense of hearing and knowing where their offspring is located. So if placed back in the nest, the parents will return though perhaps cautious at first. You can also place the nestling in a branch if there is a secure section in the event that the nest cannot be located. If this is not possible then in a small box with some dry grass to prevent slipping is an answer.
Nature has a remarkable way of caring for its own. The argument I would always hear when giving this advice was “I know it is not injured but there are so many cats around”. Unfortunately the life of any bird is full of predators, whether young or old and that is part of a birds life. You will never be able to protect all birds from predators. That is just a part of nature and a vital part of the selection and population process. All young birds need to take their chance in life. They actually have a better chance of surviving with the skills that their parents will teach them than they would in human captivity where the survival rate is low and the survival after release rate is even lower. The parents job is to teach that young bird how to identify predators, hide in bushes at night fall and use branches to escape while it is learning how to fly.
So with this information we can see that birds are best left alone. If it is injured is obviously a whole different subject and therefore alleviating suffering is a requirement. If you have a local bird sanctuary you can take the injured bird there. Your local veterinary hospital will also be able to help. Unfortunately putting a young bird to sleep if it is badly injured is usually the only recourse and in fact the kindest thing to do. So please be prepared for this.
Nature is a wonderful thing and to function it needs to be left alone. The parents of young birds know exactly what they are doing and so should be allowed to get on with the job. Our best course of action is thus to observe, enjoy and perhaps learn a little.
John Hewitt is a freelance writer and online euntrepreneur . He has worked in many fields including finance, the restaurant industry, film work and as an RSPCA animal welfare officer. One of his websites is http://www.prosperityandfinance.com