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Photo © Al Tuttle

What should I do if I see a young bird out of the nest?

If you see a bird outside of its nest, the first thing to do is to determine whether it is a nestling or fledgling. Fledglings are fully feathered and alert, while nestlings often still have some bare skin showing. It is not uncommon for fledglings to look helpless, but once the bird has left the nest, it should be left alone – the parents are likely nearby. Contrary to popular belief, birds do not fly strongly as soon as they leave the nest. Fledglings often hop along the ground or among shrubs and are fed by their parents for a few weeks before becoming independent.

If you find a nestling outside of a nest, however, please follow the advice on this webpage. If the bird is injured, then call a local certified Wildlife Rehabilitator or Wildlife Veterinarian.  In the meantime:

  • Do not wait near the nest or nestling to see if the parents will return. If you are too close, they will not come back. Watch from a distance if you wish.
  • Do not try to feed the bird yourself. An incorrect diet can cause deformities, disease, or even death. Moreover, young birds need to be fed several times every hour, all day long: you will not be able to keep up.
  • Do not force-feed them water. Young birds do not drink in nature—they receive their water from the food they eat.
  • Remember that the longer you stay with the young bird, the less likely it is to survive.

In North America, federal laws prohibit handling and/or possessing wild birds without a federal permit, so do not keep or attempt to raise any wild birds that you find. Most often, this does more harm than good. Although it may be difficult to accept, a young birds’ best chance at survival is in the wild.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology