If you happen across a baby bird in your back yard, there are several things that you can do. First of all, you could decide to do nothing and leave the bird where it is, letting nature take it’s course. Depending on where you find the bird, quite often this means death either at the hands of a neighborhood cat, other birds, or by starvation. You could pop the little one back into the nest, if you can find it. You could grab the baby bird, put him in a shoe box and call your local animal rescue or rehab shelter and turn the baby bird over to the them. Maybe you know of someone in your community who takes in rescued animals. Or, if you are like my husband and I, you will decide to keep the baby bird yourself and raise him.
If you do decide to keep the baby, you need to be sure that you are up to the task. Raising a bird is a lot different that adopting a puppy or a kitten: baby birds, regardless of what type, are a lot of work.
Assessing the bird
Does he seem reasonably healthy? Is he limping, dragging a wing or bleeding? If so, you need to take the bird to a vet or a rehabber who specializes in birds. If the bird is bleeding, it could just be a surface wound or something more serious, like internal bleeding. If it is internal bleeding quite often the bird will have to be euthanized. A broken limb or wing will heal quickly and you will want to get the baby to see someone to reset the bone. Sometimes due to the position or severity of the break nothing can be done, and the most humane thing is to get the bird put to sleep. Some vets will euthanize a bird with any type of break: here you have to make the decision if you want to raise a handicapped bird. Or you may be able to find a bird sanctuary that takes in injured birds. But if the bird has to be euthanized, don’t feel bad. By taking him to the vet to be seen, he can die in a humane way, rather than injured in the wild.
So you’ve found the bundle of fluff sitting in your backyard, he doesn’t seem hurt and you know he’s young because he doesn’t have all of his feathers yet. He must be healthy, right? Not necessarily. Some parents can smell sickness on a baby bird and will boot them out of the nest. So even if the bird looks healthy, there still may be a chance that he doesn’t make it, due in no part to anything you do.
Housing a baby bird
So let’s say that the bird appears to be healthy, is hopping around your back yard and you decide to take him in your house. You need somewhere to put him, right? And unless you’ve done this before, you probably don’t have a birdcage just laying around your house. A box will do until you can get a suitable cage. The box should be big enough that the baby bird can move around in and the sides should be high enough that he can’t climb out. And grab some towels that you don’t want, a water bottle or heating pad. You need to keep the baby warm. Fill the water bottle will warm water and set it or the heating pad wrapped in a towel in the bottom of the box. If you have other animals in the house, particularly cats, you are going to want to be sure that they can’t get at the bird. Putting the box and bird in a bedroom and closing the door will work at keeping curious pets at bay. If you have decided to at least raise the bird until he can be let go, then you will need to get a cage. And don’t get one based on the size of the bird now. You will want to plan ahead so you don’t end up buying a new cage in a month. Just make sure that the bars are spaced close enough that he can’t stick his head out through them. While it might be cute now, there will come a day where his head goes out and doesn’t go back in, and you really don’t want that.
Feeding your baby bird
Your first instinct may very well be to try to give the bird some water or milk or some type of food soaked in water or milk. This is the last thing you want to do, as it may very well kill the bird. Wet dog food or dry dog food soaked in water will do the trick.. If you do soak the dog food, make sure there isn’t excess water when you feed the bird. The baby will need to be hand fed. If he is gapping at you with his mouth wide open, consider yourself lucky: all you have to do is pop a piece of food in his mouth. But if he isn’t gaping, you will have to open his beak to get the food in. A light squeeze on the side of his beak will do the trick. Then you plop the food in.
Baby birds eat a lot and almost constantly. They will usually want food around every half hour. And depending on the type of bird, it may be a few months before they completely eat on their own.
Yeah, but what is it?
Once you have the baby bird in a nice warm box and have given it something to eat, it’s time for some research. There are lots of websites out there for specific types of wild birds. If you already know what it is, great. You will have no problems doing some research to see what the particular needs are of that type of bird. But if you have a ball of gray fluff and no idea what it is, it’s time for Google. You can type in a brief description of what the bird looks like to find out what he is. If you are having no luck on line, you can also call local bird specialists or vets to see what you’ve got on your hands. This is very important because while the dog food will do in a pinch, certain birds have special diet requirements. Some are seed eaters, others need protein. And besides, it nice to know what kind of bird you have. The internet is also a great place to meet others who are raising the same kind of bird. These sites and forums can be a huge help as they are often run by people with experience hand raising birds.
To keep or release
Sometimes this decision is not in your hands. Once you have identified the bird, you need to check into your local state or provincial laws on keeping wild birds. It is illegal in certain parts of North America to keep certain wild birds as pets. If you discover that this is the case with the baby you found, contact a local animal or bird rescue shelter if you are not comfortable raising a baby for release.
At one time it was believed that if you touched a bird, it had your smell on it and would be attacked or rejected by others birds once released in the wild. While this is not true, whether you are releasing or keeping your baby bird will affect how you raise him.
If you are planning on releasing him once he is old enough, you will want to minimize your interaction with him. This means trying not to handle him and definitely no kisses! You want him to remain wary of you otherwise he’ll be snuggling up to every human he comes across once he’s released.
Sometimes you plan on releasing your bird, but this might not be a good idea. For example, if you have cats in the house and all the bird wants to do is cuddle up and play with them, you can pretty much be guaranteed that he will approach any cat in the wild and will most likely be injured if not worse. So if the bird does not have a healthy fear of humans or other animals, you really should reconsider your decision to release him. This is why it is so important not to handle him if you are releasing him. Daily handling will make the baby bird think you are part of his flock and he will become imprinted on you . If you think that the bird may be imprinted on you and you still don’t want to keep him, you should get in contact with rescue groups in your area.
If you are planning on keeping him as a permanent member of your house, you are going to want to do some training with him. This means handling him everyday and teaching him some basic commands. There are lots of great training sites on line geared specifically towards parrots, but most of the methods will also work on wild birds. The key to taming a wild bird is to have lots and lots of patience. Anyone who owns a bird that they have hand raised will tell you two things: that it was a lot of work and worth every minute of it.