When do you help a bird and when do you leave it?
If you can easily catch a bird it most probably needs help.
Even if the parents are around they won't raise the baby on the ground or keep it warm. If a human can catch it, any predator (cat, dog, rat, other bird) can as well. It needs help.
The exception for this will be birds that live and breed on the ground.
Fledgelings learning to fly will be up in the tree around the nest, by the time they are ready to come down to the ground it's difficult to catch them. If you can reach the nest of the baby bird (and you are sure it is the right nest) you can in some cases put it back and keep an eye to make sure the parents are feeding it.
Don't build your own nest, the parents will see the strange foreign object as dangerous and will not sleep in it or keep the little one warm.
If the bird is fully feathered but too young to fly, try to put him outside in a small cage during the day and allow the parents to feed and look after him. Make sure that they are indeed feeding him and that he is eating.
Cover half the cage for protection from the hot sun or cold wind or rain, and keep an eye on their movements. Bring the little bird in during the evenings or if the weather gets cold. Placing the bird in a cage is not enough, it has to be warm, so a thick sock or a soft fleece blanket will help. They can often be released to be with the parents in 2-3 days. This should be carefully supervised and if the parents disappear, he needs help.
If you are unsure whether to help or not, please phone a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and they will gladly advise you on what to do in our specific situation. That is what they love to do, and are there to help you.
If you can catch a sick or injured bird it needs urgent help.
Once you get hold of the bird, please start by checking its temperature.
- Feel the skin under the wing, the bird should feel a bit warmer than you.
- If the bird is cold, you need to warm it up A.S.A.P. Once a bird is cold it can't regain its normal body temperature on its own, therefor covering it with a blanket alone will not help. Use a beanbag or bottle with lukewarm water and a soft blanket, just make sure it doesn't get too hot (sitting wings away from the body or breathing with an open mouth is too warm!).
- A lamp with a bulb works well for keeping a baby warm but a bottle or bean bag is more effective to warm a cold bird.
- Keep the bird in a dark place to minimize stress and help it to calm down.
- Do NOT use cotton wool or energy-saving light bulbs!
Now that you have the temperature in check, the next step is to see if there is food in the crop.
The crop is just below the neckline, and one can easily feel if it is filled with seeds or soft food.
A dehydrated bird will have wrinkly skin (especially around the belly), a dry mouth, and eyes sunken in.
If the bird is dehydrated, the crop is empty or you are unsure, start with lukewarm electrolyte water. Preferably Darrows or Ringers, but you can make your own:
- 9g (about 2 level teaspoons) salt,
- 4 teaspoons of sugar, in
- 1L lukewarm (previously boiled and cooled down) water.
Fluids should be given very carefully and drop by drop every few minutes until hydrated.
DON’T force fluids down its throat or drip water directly into the beak.
The bird must be strong enough to at least sit up by itself.
NEVER give a cold bird food or fluids, always warm it up first.
Once you know that the bird is warm and in less danger:
- please contact us,
- post a picture of the bird on the group; or
- refer to the Baby bird album.
Remember that Southern Africa has more than 900 bird species and it might not always be what you think is it. We will gladly help you from there and give you advice about your specific bird.
The following are guidelines only.:
Only use in emergencies and when you cannot get hold of a rehabilitation centre or experienced person to help and advice.