Baby Birds: When Do They Really Need Our Help?

Local Residents Urged NOT to Save All Baby Birds

This spring across Ontario, thousands of baby birds will become orphans as a result of well-meaning human “rescuers”. The situation is putting an unnecessary strain on wildlife rehabilitators, including the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre (WBCC), the region’s only rehabilitation centre for wild birds.

The busiest time at the Centre is spring, when hundreds of baby birds are brought in by caring local residents. The problem is that many of these young birds do not need rescuing.

“It’s a matter of public education. People want to do the right thing when they come upon a baby out of its nest but in many cases these baby birds aren’t being rescued – they are being bird-napped,” says Mae Goguen, Executive Director of the WBCC, which cares for the more than 3,000 injured, sick, and orphaned birds each year.

Of the nearly 1,300 young birds brought into the Centre each year, about 250 are totally healthy and not in any apparent need of rescuing. Caring for baby birds is time-consuming for staff and volunteers. It also puts a strain on the charity’s limited financial resources. If fewer unnecessary orphaned baby birds were created, the WBCC could devote more time and resources to other injured and truly needy baby birds.

What to Do if You Find a Baby Bird

“The most important thing to do if you find a baby bird is to make certain it is truly an orphan before intervening,” says Goguen.

The WBCC is distributing an easy-to-use flyer that provides crucial information on what residents should look for when they find a baby bird, and what actions (if any) to take.


Residents first need to determine if the bird is an infant or a “pre-schooler”. If it’s featherless with pink skin, it’s likely a nestling that has fallen out of its nest. With limited mobility, these babies need get back to their nest. And yes, despite what you may have heard, it is okay to touch them.

“Birds will not abandon their young if touched by humans. In most cases, you can assume the parents are close by and will respond and help when they hear their baby calling,” says Goguen.

Young fledgling birds leave the nest before they can fly and spend a period of time on the ground, flightless, as they develop their muscles and plumage. Fledglings are like toddlers: they can hop and fly a little bit, but need a few days to develop their skills. As they are often found low to the ground and alone, fledglings are the most common animals to be unnecessarily rescued. The best way to help these birds is to keep cats and dogs away from them.

“Even though my cats are fenced in, I take additional precautions and keep them inside the house whenever babies are around and learning to fly,” says Sandra Iseman, the WBCC’s Member Engagement Coordinator. “While many people feel strongly that cats should be free to roam, there is a way to reduce domestic animal and wildlife conflict. Restricting your pets’ outdoor time during baby bird season is a great way to protect baby birds.”

Goguen encourages good intentions to be coupled with good information. “If a young bird is fully feathered, alert, able to walk or hop, and can perch on low branches, please leave it alone. It is normal for parents to leave their young alone for periods of time as they search for food and care for other fledglings.” However, this rule doesn’t apply to waterfowl baby ducks and baby geese, which Goguen says, “should never be left alone”.

Remember: Baby birds have the best possible chance of survival with their parents. Please ensure you have done everything possible to reunite them before removing them from their environment.

If you find a bird that has been attacked by a cat or dog, or it appears injured, it should be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. For more information on what to do if you find a baby bird, read our flyer and visit our website at www.wildbirdcarecentre.org.