What to do if you find a baby bird on the ground

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources busts a couple of myths in its annual public service reminders of what to do when a baby bird has fallen from its nest. Most birds, for example, cannot safely eat worms.
Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reminds readers how to react to finding a baby bird that has fallen from its perch.

“It’s a beautiful spring day so you decide to go for a walk. You are strolling along the sidewalk in your neighborhood when suddenly you hear some loud chirping near your feet. You look over and see a small baby bird lying on the ground near a tree trunk.”

It is not unusual to find a baby bird on the ground during this time of year. Many birds are hatching and often leave their nests before they are able to fly, according to a statement from DWR.

“They usually spread along the branch of a tree and chirp and call, waiting for their parents to bring food to them,” Blair Stringham, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources migratory game bird program coordinator, said. “Sometimes, that results in them falling from their perch.”

The most common baby birds that people may discover are robins (which nest in trees) and swallows (which build their mud nests in eaves and on the sides of houses.)

If you find a baby bird on the ground, there are a few things you should do:

Put it back in the nest if it doesn’t have feathers

If the bird is very small and still featherless, place it back in its nest. If the person can’t find the nest, put the bird on a branch safely out of reach of dogs and cats.

“The baby will squawk and its parents will find it,” Stringham said.

Don’t be concerned about leaving human scent on the bird. Most birds do not have a good sense of smell so if you pick a baby bird up, its parents won’t even know you’ve handled it.

Never take a baby bird home. Most birds are protected by state and federal laws and it is against the law in Utah to possess wild animals without special permits.

Don’t feed the bird

While it’s fine for its parents to feed the baby bird, people shouldn’t attempt to give it food. Birds have a very specific diet and feeding them something that’s not part of their diet can kill them.

“For example, many people are surprised to learn that robins are among only a handful of birds that can safely eat worms. Most birds can’t,” Stringham said.

Just place the bird back on its branch or in its nest, and let its parents feed it.

Leave it alone if it has feathers

If the baby bird is hopping around, you’ve found a bird that almost isn’t a “baby” anymore. These young birds are called fledglings. They have most of their flight feathers and are very close to taking their first flight.

If the bird isn’t in danger, leave it where it is found. This awkward “hopping” stage typically lasts two to five days. It’s part of the natural process a baby bird goes through before taking its first flight. Its parents are watching the baby bird and are still feeding it.

Additional information about how to help baby birds is also available on the Wild Aware Utah website.

What to do with baby ducks

If you find a duckling on the ground that looks like it’s been separated from its parents, don’t move it or try to put it in water. Baby ducks should be left alone, unless they are trapped in a storm drain or somewhere else dangerous like in a swimming pool.

If you do discover a duckling in a storm drain, you can contact the nearest DWR office to report it or contact your city officials.