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Caring for Birds

From April onwards we often see many fledglings about that are apparently without parents, looking frightened and forlorn and making plaintive begging calls.

Most of these fledglings, however, do have parents and are just waiting for them to return with food, and any intervention by us could spoil the fledgling's best chance of survival. You may have to watch for several hours to be certain that it has been abandoned.

Unless the fledgling is in immediate danger, such as that posed by vehicles or cats, then it should be left alone. If it is in danger, you may move it to safety, but not too far away from where it was so that the parents can find it again.

When you handle a bird, do not squeeze it as this could break its bones or rupture its internal organs. Also take care of their claws and beaks - these can cause you an injury!

What about orphaned fledglings?

When you are certain that the parents are not returning - for example, you have seen one killed and the other parent does not return - then you may decide to help. Before you do help, consider why the bird may have been abandoned: it may be ill, injured or deformed and the parents are simply letting nature run its course.

What to do next?

First, decide whether you are going to take care of it yourself or let a wildlife sanctuary or similar organisation that may be better equipped and experienced to care for the bird.

If the bird is badly injured or very sick then it probably will not struggle when you try to handle it, otherwise you may need to throw a lightweight blanket or towel over it first. Be very careful with birds of prey, their bills and talons can cause serious injuries.

If the bird is panic-stricken or in shock, place it in a dark, quiet, well-ventilated, dry, warm (15-30°C) place where it is safe from any danger. A cardboard box with a lid is well-suited and will stop the bird trying to escape and causing itself further injury or distress.

Seek treatment and advice from the RSPB, RSPCA, a veterinary practice or wildlife sanctuary if the bird is ill or injured. Use the cardboard box to transport the bird safely.

A cardboard box is all right for a day or so, but after that a proper bird cage or a box with wire netting and a perch is necessary.

Feeding the fledgling is a laborious task because it needs feeding every couple of hours.

The food they need can depend on the species: sparrows and finches are seed eaters and so should be fed a seed mix; tits, robins and thrushes are insect eaters and should be fed insects or alternatives, such as mashed cat food, scrambled egg and raw finely minced meat.

  • A very young healthy fledgling can be fed by placing tiny morsels of food into its gaping mouth. Vitamin supplements are also recommended and can usually be obtained from pet shops.
  • Older fledglings will help themselves to food in a small bowl. The food can be coarser than for a very young bird and can also include cheese, seeds, mealworms and chopped earthworms.

You can use a pair of tweezers, forceps or a small paint brush to offer the food to the bird and avoid having nipped fingers.

Sooner, rather than later, the bird must be introduced to its natural diet and taught how to feed and fend for itself.

Pigeons, doves, water birds and birds of prey all need special diets and treatment. Their care is best left to the experts.

Back to the wild!

When the bird is capable of looking after itself - it's flapping its wings, flying around and eating food on its own - then that is when it must be released back into the wild.

Place the bird's box outside in the morning, but somewhere safe, and leave it to fly away on its own accord. Ideally, the bird should be released where it was found, however, if this is not possible then it should be released in its natural habitat.

After it has returned to the wild, it may return to its release point for a few days in search of food, so place some food there for it.

Wash your hands if you have been in close contact with a bird.