how to help baby bird fallen from nest

In the third grade, my teacher found what she thought was an abandoned baby bird on the school grounds. She asked if someone in the class would care for it, and days later, the European Starling I named Bluego (for a reason I wish I remembered) was living in a cardboard box in my bedroom, padded with fake spider web left over from Halloween. As a child, I was thrilled to be on my way toward becoming a wildlife rescuer, but years later I wondered if it was the right thing to do.

As I’ve learned, it probably wasn’t. Like the vast majority of baby birds that people encounter, Bluego was a weeks-old fledgling—not a newly born nestling. And this distinction is critical, wildlife rehabbers say, because most fledglings don’t need to be rescued. “Eighty percent of baby birds that come in have basically just been kidnapped,” says Melanie Furr, education director at the Atlanta Audubon Society and a licensed volunteer at Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort. “They need to be taken back.”

Wandering from the nest is exactly what fledglings—which are just learning to fly—are supposed to do, she says. Its a normal part of a birds development, and though these chicks might appear abandoned, they’re likely under surveillance by their parents nearby. Of course, there is a chance that they could be injured, sick, or in danger, so there are some cases where a fledgling might require assistance.

Nestlings, on the other hand, are almost always in need of rescue. Whether they fell or got pushed from their nest, they’re “not ready to go off into the world,” says Rita McMahon, Co-Founder and Director of the Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit animal rehab center in New York. How to help them, though, can vary.

To know when you should intervene—and how you can help if needed—ask yourself the questions below.

How to Save Uninjured Nestlings

Once you’ve determined that a nestling is healthy, take these actions to save the young birds!

Use clean or gloved hands to swiftly replace a fallen nestling that isn’t hurt, trembling, or weak back into the nest if you find it and you can find the nest. Proceed to step 3 if you are able to return the baby to its nest. Proceed to step 2 if you are unable to locate or access the nest.

Make a new nest out of a small basket, kitchen strainer, or small plastic container with holes punched in the bottom if you are unable to see or access the original one. The “nest” should ideally have the shape of a cereal bowl, be well-padded with tissue paper, and be made of a non-slip material to prevent the bird’s legs from spreading out and becoming malformed.

Secure the nest in a tree branch that is shaded, near the bird’s original location, and away from any dogs or cats. As long as the nestlings stay within 10 yards, are responsive, and there are no people or companion animals hanging around, the parents will continue to feed them.

Make sure a parent returns to feed the nestling by keeping a close eye on things silently for a few hours. If the parent doesn’t come back, save the orphaned baby bird by following the instructions below.

Is the fledgling healthy?

When they are healthy, fledglings can stand straight and will firmly press their wings against their bodies. Respond to the following questions if you come across a fledgling on the ground. If any of these questions have a yes response, continue on to How to Save Orphaned or Injured Birds below.

  • Do the feathers appear matted or extremely ruffled, are there bloody wounds, wet feathers, legs that aren’t supporting any weight, or drooping wings?
  • Is the bird moving along the ground on its stomach or is it resting on its side, back, or both?
  • Is there blood around the nostrils? Is the bird’s head or body cocked to one side?
  • Is the bird cold to the touch and/or noticeably shivering?
  • Is the bird in the open, far away from any bushes or trees?
  • Are there any other animals, like cats or dogs, pursuing the bird?

Is the bird a nestling or a fledgling?

Nestlings are helpless if they are found on the ground because they have few or no feathers. These young birds cannot fly and are too young to leave the nest. Please continue to How to Save Uninjured Nestlings below if you have discovered an unharmed baby bird.

Juvenile birds that are learning to fly and have a mixture of adult and fuzzy down on their feathers are called fledglings. As long as they’re healthy, just leave them alone whether you see them hopping along the ground, perching on low-hanging branches, or hiding under bushes.

Note: When it’s not necessary, fledglings are frequently “rescued” from their natural surroundings.


Can baby birds survive after falling out nest?

Nestlings cannot survive outside of the nest and will most likely die if they are not re-nested or brought in for care. It is best thing for the nestling to be reunited with its mother. In order to do this, the baby must be warm. Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.

What to do if you find a baby bird on the ground?

If you can find the nest (it may be well hidden), put the bird back as quickly as possible. Don’t worry—parent birds do not recognize their young by smell. They will not abandon a baby if it has been touched by humans.

How do you raise a baby bird that fell out of the nest?

Wearing gloves, or with clean hands, gently pick up the bird and place it in a covered box with air holes and a cloth or soft bedding. Place the box in a dark, quiet place away from people and pets. Don’t give the bird food or water. Contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center to arrange for further care.

Can you touch a baby bird that fell out of its nest?

A baby bird will still be accepted by its parents if it has been touched by a human. Photo of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker nestling by B A Bowen Photography via Birdshare.