KILDARE PET RESCUE: When baby birds need help

Kildare Animal Foundation

Dan Donoher


Dan Donoher


KILDARE PET RESCUE: When baby birds need help

Could you tell the difference between a nestling, which may need your help and a fledgling which doesn't?

We have now started taking in some orphan baby birds and nestlings which have been attacked by cats. This is when you know orphan season is well and truly underway.

Thankfully, not all of the birds need rescuing as they are mainly birds that have just fledged the nest. So, it is important to know if a baby bird is truly in trouble or should be left alone.

There are three stages in a baby bird’s development — hatchling, nestling and fledgling.

Hatchlings are birds that have literally just hatched, as the name suggests.

There are two types of hatchling birds, atiracial; those that are helpless, naked and blind when hatched and precocial, those that are covered with down, whose eyes are open and who able to move about, ie ducklings.

Most garden birds are the altricial type. If they fall from the nest at this stage, they will chill very, very quickly and die.

Nestlings may have been blown or pushed out of the nest and are likely to have some feathers still “in pin” but will also have bald patches, particularly under the wings and around the back and neck.

They will be unlikely to be able to hop about, and will just sit there or shuffle along on very weak legs.

Nestlings will generally gape their mouths at absolutely anyone in the hope of being fed.

These birds are defenceless and if they can’t return to the nest they will chill quickly.

Fledglings are young, feathered birds with stubby tails, which are not yet able to fly, but can hop and run from danger.

Fledglings are obviously vulnerable, but are expert hiders and their parents will be around to feed and protect them as much as possible.

They must be left alone to continue this vital part of their development. They are very prone to stress at this age and will refuse to be fed by hand. Sadly, they generally die if picked up by humans.

If the bird is not a fledgling, it will definitely need your help.

Firstly, pick up the bird and hold it in a loose fist. This will help the bird warm up. The first reaction is to try and give food or water to birds, but it is actually the worst thing that you can do to them.

If the bird is too cold, water will just worsen his condition and even if he is not cold, he is likely to inhale the food or water, which will kill him.

The parents of baby birds do not bring water to them; they get all of their liquid from the food that they eat. Never give a baby bird milk.

When the bird is warm, you can begin to look for a qualified rehabber or rescue centre that can provide the right environment and feed him the proper food to enable him to grow and develop properly.

Baby birds can be very cute, and it may be tempting to try and rear him yourself. Unless you have the correct equipment and food however, your efforts are unlikely to be successful.

Kildare Animal Foundation, located outside Kildare town, is a voluntary organisation that provides a safe haven for neglected or abused animals. Tel: 045 522929, email
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