It’s not uncommon this time of year to find a baby bird that’s tumbled from its nest onto the ground, not quite able to fly and seemingly helpless.
It may be irresistible not to try to care for a fledgling that appears to be abandoned, but Amanda Helseth, environmental educator at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, has a list of things residents can do to try to assist without interfering too much with nature.
Helseth explained the difference between a fledgling and nestling. A fledgling typically has all of its feathers and a short tail, and is able to walk, hop and flap its wings.
“This is when they’re learning to fly and the parents visit and feed them,” Helseth said.
A nestling is a baby bird that’s still growing its feathers and has limited mobility.
If you find a fledgling on the ground, the No. 1 thing you should do is...nothing.
“Leave them alone unless you see that it’s injured, a dog or cat has had it or there are ants on it,” Helseth said.
If the fledgling is not injured, “you could put it in a bush and then leave the area. The parents are probably waiting for you, the predator, to leave.”
There's more to know this time of year:
If you know fledglings are in the area, drive slowly, as the young birds may not be able to get out of the way of your vehicle. Keep dogs and cats out of the area.
“Keep an eye out for the parents,” Helseth said. “If three hours go by, and you haven’t seen the parents, or if it’s lethargic or has ants or insects on it, they do need help.”
If you find a nestling, place it back in the nest if possible. Contrary to popular belief, birds have a poor sense of smell and will not abandon the nest or nestlings if you’ve touched them.
“The best chance of survival these birds have is with their parents,” Helseth said. “If you do find a nestling, don’t feed it or give it water. That could cause them to aspirate and lead to pneumonia.”
If you do find an injured bird, you may be able to contact a local vet who might know licensed wildlife rehabbers in the area who can help, or you can check SCDNR’s registry of licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers by county at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/rehab/index.html.
“One of the best ways to find a good local rehabilitator is to talk to a veterinarian in your community, said Greg Lucas, a SCDNR spokesman.
“They often deal with wildlife rehabilitators on a regular basis and will know which ones are passionate about this work. (Rehabilitators) are generally trained to take care of young animals and know the requirements of what each individual animal needs. Often times, the wildlife rehabilitator will take in the animal, care for it, and then perhaps release it back into the wild, if that's appropriate.”
Helseth volunteers for Carolina Waterfowl Rescue in Indian Trail, N.C. The rescue is in desperate need of volunteers this time of year for a variety of tasks, including feeding baby songbirds that need rehabilitation.
“Babies need to be fed all day long and shifts are three hours,” Helseth said. “It's very rewarding and you get to spend your time with cute little babies.”
For more information about how to help Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, click on the “How to Help” tab at cwrescue.org/.
Do follow these doe rules
SCDNR officials also urge well-meaning residents NOT to “adopt” fawns this time of year.
It’s common to find a spotted fawn alone in the woods or a field, but officials say it’s very likely the doe is still around.
A doe, after brief periods of feeding and grooming her fawn, will spend much of her day feeding and resting somewhat removed from her young, according to a news release. It's part of nature's plan for a doe to leave her fawn or fawns alone for their first few weeks of life. The fawn at this age is actually better protected away from the doe. The presence of the doe nearby would attract predators because the adult lacks the protective coloration of the fawn, and the older and larger doe has a much stronger odor.