This is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find an “abandoned” bird, so it is time for me to repeat my suggestions for such encounter.
This is peak nesting season for many species of birds in our area. You may encountered a fledgling on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with short tails and fluffy little chickadees fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may see. All of these birds likely have had their parents nearby though at first glance one may think they are on their own. It is best to leave them alone.
First, all birds are protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal to possess or relocate birds, unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The only exceptions are nonnative species: house sparrows, starlings and pigeons.
That being said, it is human instinct to want to protect the bird. If the bird is a hatchling, that is – it does not have feathers or looks totally helpless – you can look for the nest from whence it came and return it to the nest. The next best thing is to secure a basket in a bush or tree and place the bird in the basket with the hope, albeit slim, that the parent will find it and care for it. Most birds do not have a keen sense of smell, so handling a baby bird will in no way deter a parent from caring for it. Remember, even if you had 15 hours a day to feed and care for the bird, it would not learn the skills it needs to survive in the wild if it were raised by humans.
If you don’t know where the nest is, keep the bird warm and safe until you make arrangements with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for its continued care. Do not attempt to feed it or give it water unless instructed to do so by a rehabilitator. Any injured bird would also require the help of a trained rehabilitator. A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be obtained from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Web site at www.masswildlife.org.
If the bird is a fledgling – it has feathers and is just flightless -- and it is not visibly injured, it's best to leave it alone. Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly or fend for themselves. This is part of the “training” process for surviving on their own. The parent birds are almost always in the area, watching after and defending their young, as well as feeding the fledglings until they learn to feed themselves. If there is imminent danger, such as a cat, try to remove the danger, not the bird. Put the cat inside where it belongs or if it belongs to a neighbor, ask the neighbor to remove the cat.
So if you find a “helpless” bird, the best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave the bird alone. The sad statistics are that less than 30 percent of all hatched birds survive their first year. Cats are a major danger and should be kept indoors at all times.
Grackles and jays are notorious for raiding nests, as are crows. It is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. And although it isn’t always what we like, it is the way it is.