What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird on the Ground

Updated on May 17, 2020
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).

Baby Bird Care
Baby Bird Care | Source

What to Do If You Find a Baby Bird That's Alone or Orphaned

Surprising to many is the fact that many baby birds leave their nest as part of a necessary stage of development. This is especially true of several species, including scrub jays, robins, corvids (crows), and raptors (owls). Parents will tend to their young while they remain on the ground for several days and return to feed them, protect them, and assist them in learning valuable life skills, like flight. In order to tell if a baby bird fell out of the nest too soon, you will want to know the difference between:

  • Hatchlings: "Naked," eyes closed, fragile (have a hard time holding their neck up); rarely survive impact.
  • Nestlings: Gaping, vocal, react easily to movement overhead; often require intervention.
  • Fledglings: Mostly feathered, look "scruffy," can hop, flap, vocalize. Eyes are often open. May still be gaping. Hide out in brush and shrub. May attempt movement for short flights. The parents are typically surveying them.

Is the Baby Bird in Danger?

Nestlings often need rescue—these birds have left the nest too young. Contrary to popular belief, so long as you do not spook the parents, you can return a nestling to its nest and the parents won't be bothered by your smell.

Veterinary Advice: How to Save a Baby Bird

How Can You Tell If a Baby Bird Needs Help?

Sometimes, a bird's nest will get disturbed. Either a predator goes after the nest and bumps young or destroys the nest in the process, the nest gets disturbed by tree work or weather, or a fledging accidentally falls for one reason or another (or the parents pushed it out). It is often hard to distinguish the cause of the abandoned fledgling, but there are several steps you can take to handle matters appropriately:

  1. Observe: This is the most important step. Before acting and rushing to pick up the nestling or fledgling, take stock of the surroundings. Are the parents overhead and being vocal? Maybe your presence is scaring them? If so, they are likely watching their young. Is the nestling or fledging seemingly alone or on smoldering hot pavement? You will want to intervene. Watch for several hours (1-2).
  2. Call Someone: Get online and google either bird rescues or wildlife rescues in your area. If all else fails, you can always call animal control (sometimes they can lead you towards the right resource). Call your nearest facility and they can coach you through the questions you may have before you make the decision to intervene.
  3. Rescue: If you have determined that the bird is too young to be alone or that it has been abandoned and the baby has not been tended to, is injured (broken wing or leg), or looks sick (droopy, slumped, lethargic), or is in immediate danger (fell into a construction site or is surrounded by predators), consider intervening. Wear gardening gloves or similar to protect you and the bird. Go slow.
  4. Attempt to reunite: If the parents are nearby but the baby is in immediate danger, you can create a makeshift nest by lining a strawberry basket with toilet paper or cloth or a cardboard box with cloth. You can place this nest in a shaded area nearby where you think the parents might be. You can also create a toilet paper nest (see instructions below).
  5. Collect the fledgling: If no parents are in sight, you are going to want to collect the nestling or fledgling either to hold it in order to transport it to a rescue center or to keep it until someone can come and retrieve it.
  6. Do your research: Whether you have to care for the nestling or fledgling for just an hour, overnight, or longer depending on where you live, check with your state's local laws. In some cases it is illegal to keep native wildlife long-term, even if you are doing the right thing. Also, each species of bird has particular needs and particular diets, so before you do anything specific, take some time to check resources.

Wear Gloves

Though rarely communicable, birds carry diseases and it is best for you AND them to wear gloves—dish gloves, cleaning gloves, gardening gloves, knit gloves, etc.

When should you help a baby bird?
When should you help a baby bird? | Source

How to Take Care of a Baby Bird

First, you will want to triage the nestling or fledgling so that you can take note of any injuries and relay this to the wildlife center.

  • Are there any obvious injuries (cuts, scrapes, blood, puncture wounds)?
  • Are there any broken limbs (droopy wing, neurologic signs—head trauma)?
  • Was it attacked (predator wounds often require antibiotics)?
  • Is the baby gaping (hungry, abandoned if left alone for hours on end)?
  • Is the baby on hot cement or in a cold environment (hypothermia, hyperthermia)?
  • Does the baby have shelter?
  • Are there predators around (cat, dog, crow, hawk)?

How to House a Baby Bird

Collect the baby bird and give it a comfortable place of safety for the time-being. You can use a shoe box and line it with a hand towel, line a strawberry basket with paper towels, or—as I like to do—create a toilet paper nest. Here's how:

DIY Baby Bird Nest

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The final result.Step 1. Get a roll of toilet paper.Step 2. Wrap several rolls around your hand  (4-5). The looser you make the wraps the larger the diameter of the nest. The tighter, the smaller the nest.Step 3. Vertical view.Step 4. Roll the top of the toilet paper down gentle to create a "lip."Step 5. Fold the undersides of the toilet paper in towards the center (like closing the ends of a gift wrap). Start on one side and work your way around.Step 6. Your finished product. These are great because they can be refreshed often.
The final result.
The final result. | Source
Step 1. Get a roll of toilet paper.
Step 1. Get a roll of toilet paper. | Source
Step 2. Wrap several rolls around your hand  (4-5). The looser you make the wraps the larger the diameter of the nest. The tighter, the smaller the nest.
Step 2. Wrap several rolls around your hand (4-5). The looser you make the wraps the larger the diameter of the nest. The tighter, the smaller the nest. | Source
Step 3. Vertical view.
Step 3. Vertical view. | Source
Step 4. Roll the top of the toilet paper down gentle to create a "lip."
Step 4. Roll the top of the toilet paper down gentle to create a "lip." | Source
Step 5. Fold the undersides of the toilet paper in towards the center (like closing the ends of a gift wrap). Start on one side and work your way around.
Step 5. Fold the undersides of the toilet paper in towards the center (like closing the ends of a gift wrap). Start on one side and work your way around. | Source
Step 6. Your finished product. These are great because they can be refreshed often.
Step 6. Your finished product. These are great because they can be refreshed often. | Source

What If You Have to Take Care of a Baby Bird Overnight?

If you need to house the baby bird overnight, depending on where you live, you may want to make sure the baby is comfortable and warm. Most birds are exposed to the elements, so as long as you have them indoors and they are safe and away from children or household pets, keeping them in an open shoe box with a towel and faux-nest will be great (so long as the fledgling is not mobile).

Keep the Bird Safe and "Immobile"

If the baby bird is mobile and you do not have a spare bird cage (sanitized!), you can bird-proof a room. You can use an empty closet, a walk-in shower, or a small room to enclose the baby. You need to bird-proof this room—that means removing anything that the baby can injure itself on or in (close toilet lids to prevent them from drowning!). Also remove anything the baby can get caught on.

How to Keep a Baby Bird Warm at Night

Heating pads are tricky and should only be used if you have experience with young. In wildlife rehabilitation, we use heating pads and even incubators (sometimes) for hatchlings, nestlings, and fledglings. Generally, we will run a heating pad on low and have a shoebox and a towel on top of the pad.

Note: You can cause thermal burns, overheat a fledging, and seriously injure and wound a baby bird if you are unsure of what you are doing with heat!

Any baby animal that is being subjected to a heating pad should have an escape route—that is, if it's too warm, they can get off or away from the heat source.

Crows Imprint Easily

Gaping crows imprint easily. Wildlife rehabilitates will wear visors to hid their faces when feeding baby crows. DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO IMPRINT. You put any species in danger if you allow them to imprint. They will approach any human later in life—friendly or unfriendly.

What Do Baby Birds Drink?

It is possible for baby birds to drown if they are provided a water bowl and they are TOO YOUNG to be near water. Also, you can drown a gaping baby by simply giving it too many droplets of water (with a dropper). If the baby bird is in your care for several hours, you really need to take it to the humane society or similar.

In wildlife rehabilitation, we use 1 mL syringes and often put catheter tips on them to offer baby birds water. This is drop-by-drop and we calculate the mL based on body weight. I repeat, it is possible to DROWN a baby bird by offering it too much water. You can also cool off a baby bird too much by feeding it water that is not room temperature or slightly warm. You can also cause crop burns by feeding water or formula that is too hot!

Sometimes you can soak a Q-tip in water and simple let the baby gape and mouth the q-tip to suck some moisture off of it.

What Do Orphaned Baby Birds Eat?

Again, if you are at this stage, you should be researching your nearest wildlife rehab. service. Songbirds, corvids, and raptor diets are extremely complex. Many of these species will eat while being forcep fed. Hummingbirds require a specific solution and can only be catheter-tip syringe-fed.

  • Some baby birds eat insects, seed, and rehydrated cat kibble (soft, fluffy, soaked overnight) in rehabilitation centers. Other birds strictly eat berries, seed blends, and rehydrated cat kibble.
  • Pigeons often get fed specific formula, seed, and get offered oyster shell or grit for digestion.
  • Corvids (crows) will eat rehydrated cat food (soft, fluffy, soaked overnight), thawed mice, seed, and fruit.
  • Owls and hawks (raptors) will eat thawed meat.

Hatchlings and nestlings (most species) require specific formula at proper dilutions and should not be fed solids.

Baby Bird Feeding Guidelines

Staple in Diet
Misc. Items
Soaked cat kibble (Science Diet)
Bird seed and berry blend.
Corvids (Crows)
Soaked cat kibble (Science Diet)
Egg (hardboiled), pigeon seed, mice, chopped fruit.
Exact (Formula)
Should be at body temperature. Tube fed by experienced rehabbers.
Sometimes less is more when caring for an orphaned baby bird—take them to a wildlife center.
Sometimes less is more when caring for an orphaned baby bird—take them to a wildlife center. | Source

How Can I Tell What Kind of Bird I Found?

If you are within North America or the United States, these are some of the most common native species on the Western Coast:


  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • House Sparrow
  • Lesser or American Goldfinch
  • Western Scrub Jay
  • Steller's Jay
  • American Crow


  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Band-tailed Pigeon

What Not to Feed Baby Birds

As mentioned, you want to leave the feeding to wildlife rehabbers because each species has a different diet and diets range based on the bird's developmental stage, species, health, place of origin, etc.

Do Not Feed

  • Milk
  • Gatorade
  • Cereal
  • Large seeds or nuts
  • Meat (to songbirds)
  • Bread
  • Anything seasoned or artificial
  • Anything not approved on a reputable site

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Layne Holmes

Have questions? Please ask!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      3 weeks ago

      hi im the manager here at 40 hyde park gate I found a young baby pidgeon i have him in a box with some seed and water looked around for his nest could not find it I think he has problem with his wing is there anywhere i send him to be looked after and have his wing fixed


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)