Often, the first that you are aware of a baby bird freshly out of the nest is when you hear an insistent chirping from a corner of your garden or under a hedge. The baby bird will be crouching on the ground looking wide-eyed and innocent!
For the first day or two after they leave the nest, baby birds are not skilled at flying. They tend to manage to fly downwards easily enough, but flying back up to the safety of a perch in a thick hedge is much more difficult for them to master.
Young birds are very vulnerable at this stage in their lives. They cannot defend themselves and are unable to escape easily, and so they are easy targets for predators. The parent birds continue to feed their young for a week or two when they leave the nest, and will also try to defend them. You will often hear contact calls between the young bird and its parents.
During the early days, after they leave the nest, young birds always give us the impression that they have been lost and abandoned, and people are tempted to pick them up and take them into their care (or bring them to us at Brent Lodge). But if you watch carefully, you will see that the parents really do know where their young are, and continue to bring food to them regularly. All you need to do to help is to make sure you (and your neighbours) keep your cats indoors during the day.
It may seem to be a dangerous time for these young birds, but it is all part of nature's course, and we should leave them to take their chance, knowing that their parents will bring them the food that they need. At Brent Lodge we receive many young birds that have been unnecessarily deprived of their freedom by well-meaning people, leaving parent birds frantically searching for their offspring. Leaving young birds to be cared for by their parents is a much better option than taking their fate into our own hands.
The only times you should interfere with nature are:
- If the young bird has been caught by a cat: even if you rescue the bird and it appears undamaged, it needs antibiotic to counteract the bacteria from the cat's teeth and claws. This is one of the few times when you should bring the bird to us at Brent Lodge.
- If the bird has clearly fallen out of the nest too early, and is still mainly covered in down rather than feathers. In this case, put the baby bird back into the nest as soon as you can, handling it as little as possible. If you cannot reach the original nest, then you can easily make a substitute by hanging an empty margarine tub from a branch. The young bird will call to its parents, who will soon find it. Keep a careful watch from a distance to make sure that the parent bird has returned to it.
- If a nest really has been abandoned because both parents have been killed. However, if only one parent has been killed, the survivor is quite capable of rearing the young on its own.
If you do make the decision to rescue a baby bird, and you need to keep it for a few hours until you can get it to a wildlife hospital, DO NOT try to give it water. Instead, just liquidise some cat food mixed with a little water, and offer it to the bird from the end of a child's paintbrush.
If in doubt, call Brent Lodge for advice, rather than trying to help and possibly making things worse.