Friday, April 29, 2011

Touching Baby Birds Is Okay When Necessary

This is an important topic at this time of year when birds are nesting and reproducing.  The following is an updated post that I did a few years back.  I think it's time to share the information again.

The old myth that you can't touch birds is wrong, but you also need to know when to leave it alone and when to put it back in the nest.  If you have predators (neighborhood cats, hawks, etc.) you will want to get it back in the nest ASAP.

Touching Baby Birds Is Okay
by Donna L. Watkins

© Donna L. Watkins - Great-crested Flycatcher
I grew up being told you couldn't touch a bird or its mother would no longer feed it. I'm sure there was good intent in that statement so that children wouldn't go around messing with baby birds. However, it's not true.

Although usually true for mammals because they have such a strong sense of smell, most birds have a poor sense of smell and will even accept "foster babies" in their nests.

Take the cowbird for example. This bird lays its eggs in other birds' nests and lets them raise its young. Sadly, because it lays its eggs in birds that are smaller than the cowbird, the bird's own nestlings sometimes die for lack of food while trying to keep up with the bigger appetite of the cowbird.

I've put baby birds back in the nest after they've fallen out and the parents continue to feed them. It's always best to place the baby back where the parents can feed it. Even if you have to construct a different kind of nest for them. They will resume feeding so the birds can fledge. It's not easy trying to foster a baby bird and unless you've got a wildlife rehabilitator nearby, there's much chance for success since they need to eat every 20 minutes.

For reference sake, here's a few links on more information on this topic:

What To Do If You Find a Baby Bird
Baby Birds On The Ground - Are They In Need of Rescuing?
Top Five Myths About Rescuing Baby Birds

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Karen said...

We found a fledgling robin this afternoon with the parents nearby freaking out. My cat was outside and they were diving at him. I got him inside and eventually they calmed down a bit. We put the baby in a box wedged in a nearby tree, but then after speaking to an urban wildlife expert, we put the bird back on the ground where we found it. The parents seemed to stay in the yard, but I never saw them close to the bird. We left for a few hours, keeping all our animal inside. When we returned, the baby was dead. We threw its body away, and the parents have continued to stick close by and appear stressed. I feel really awful. I could not tell originally if my cat had injured it. There was no obvious wound, but I don't know. Any ideas, comments.
Heartbroken and guilt-ridden,

sharingsunshine said...

It is heartbreaking to see such a young life not have a chance to live, but sometimes bad experiences can help us to live better for the future.

If the bird had already fledged it would've been able to fly, so it must have been injured. Cats do a lot of damage to birds and because they do it by hiding, grabbing and carrying away, it is generally not noticed.

Cats well fed have no interest in the food aspect of the bird, but more the instinct of snatching food, so the bird is left to die on its own.

We have new neighbors who have 2 cats that they allow to roam and I've found 5 dead birds in the past two months. Who knows how many they've actually killed. I see them hiding under bushes in our yard and one attacked a squirrel a couple of weeks ago.

We bury them, offer a prayer, and hope to educate pet owners more about cats and wildlife.

You are an encouragement to me since many cat owners do not care about the wildlife losses their animals cause, so cheer up, consider the baby bird's sacrifice worthwhile and share the information below with others. provides this information:

There are about 90 million cats in the United States. 40 million are free to roam outside. This is not good news if you are a bird!

Cats are not a natural part of the ecosystem and compete with native predators.

Extensive studies show that approximately 60 to 70 percent of the wildlife cats kill are small mammals, 20 to 30 percent are birds, and up to 10 percent are amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin coupled a four-year cat predation study with data from other studies, and predicted a range of values for the number of birds killed each year in the state. By estimating the number of free-ranging cats in rural areas, the number of kills per cat, and the proportion of birds killed, the researchers calculated that rural free-roaming cats kill at least 7.8 million birds and perhaps as many as 217 million birds a year in Wisconsin.

Well-fed Cats Do Kill Birds:

Well-fed cats kill birds and other wildlife because the hunting instinct is independent of the urge to eat.

In one study, six cats were presented with a live small rat while eating their preferred food. All six cats stopped eating the food, killed the rat, and then resumed eating the food.

Cats With Bells on Their Collars Do Kill Birds:

Studies have shown that bells on collars are not effective in preventing cats from killing birds or other wildlife.

Birds do not necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, and cats with bells can learn to silently stalk their prey. Bells offer no protection for helpless nestlings and fledglings.

Cats are not ultimately responsible for killing our native wildlife--people are. The only way to prevent domestic cat predation on wildlife is for owners to keep their cats indoors!

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